I'm praising God that HE gave us an amazing time at our Operation Christmas Child packing party on Saturday, September 25th. I'm calling it the Mid-Atlantic Family Packing Party because I truly believe it was a joint effort among all of us. Sure, it took place here in Erie but the glory goes to God and the resulting gospel opportunities are shared by all who prayed and supported this effort over the last months.
God moved in so many ways over the packing party on Saturday. Last year when we had our first large packing party I was so blown away by God's provision. This year I worried that I wouldn't have that same sense of wonder. I thought I knew what to expect and that I wouldn't have that same awe and surprise. Well, I was wrong.
The week of preparation was full of miracles. Last Tuesday Jim & Joline Urban's team from an hour away down in New Wilmington came together to get more than 6000 boxes onto our vehicles. It was a miracle. On Thursday the prayed-for crayons from Wal-Mart came in. Another miracle that was helped along by Pam Hatchell's call to Wal-Mart's corporate office and the prayers of many.
Last Monday I ordered 3" packing tape dispensers to be sent by UPS from the Staples store in Meadville--a city about an hour's drive from Erie. They stil hadn't arrived by the time I returned home from school on Friday so I called the Staples store to check on them and found they had never been sent. The only way to get them would be to drive a two-hour round trip to Meadville. I tried to think of someone I knew from that area who could pick them up and then I realized that Leigh Fisher, my Regional Director for Operation Christmas Child, was driving up from Baltimore to come for the packing party. I called her cell phone but didn't reach her and left a voice mail. About 5 minutes later my phone rang and Leigh said, "Kathy, I'm in Meadville. I got a late start because I had problems with my rental car this morning." I asked her if she'd received my voice mail and she hadm't. But she was just 2 miles from the Staples store and went to pick up the tape dispensers with no problem. It was a God thing that she was delayed in the morning and thus was in just the right spot at the right time to pick them up.
The prayed-for paper finally arrived on Friday but it turned out to be just three small cartons. Now I know why God allowed us to get all those free coloring books (because of a tip from Sherry McFaden--OCC Area Coord. in Lynchburg, VA.) We had some notebooks and filler paper but not enough for all the boxes.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights we worked on set-up. At times I thought it would never come together but by 11:00 pm on Friday night we were set up and ready. Leigh and her mom were here and God knew I needed that support so much. I also felt the prayers of everyone all week long. I didn't know what to expect on Saturday but I knew God had to be the one in control since I knew I wasn't.
We started at 9:00 with an opening in the gym with maybe 50-75 volunteers. What I didn't know was that there were more volunteers backing up into the hall. And they kept coming. My two favorite volunteers were Bob and Annette Poff who SURPRISED me by coming on the way back from their vacation to Indiana. What a joy to have them there for support. I also knew there were many more of you who would have absolutely been here if you could have been and though you weren't here physically you were definitely here in spirit and supporting us in prayer.
The volunteers kept coming and in the end there were 500 of them throughout the day from 25 different churches and organizations. There were over 100 Girl Scouts alone as well as JROTC members from a local high school and other students, senior adults, and families. The bad thing is that we weren't prepared for so many volunteers and it got a bit congested and people had to wait in line. The good thing is that I believe many of them weren't 'church folks' and it was a great outreach.
By about 9:30 we started cranking out the boxes and by 10:19 we'd reached 2000! For a while we were doing about 1000 every 20 minutes. I couldn't believe it. We were at 9000 at just before 1:00 when we took a lunch break. Our goal was 10,000 boxes and we hit that at 1:49 but the items were still holding out so we kept packing and packing. We ran out of all the Crest Spinbrush boxes and then the white Roy Grove boxes. It was a blessing that Jim Urban's team gave us so many extra boxes because God knew we needed them all. Then we started using plain shoeboxes that people had donated. The funny thing is that I had wanted to break down those boxes before we started because they were in the way and I thought we'd never need them. How wrong I was.
We ran out of toothpaste and then pens but kept packing until finally we couldn't do adequate boxes and knew we had to stop. We did 12,381 at the party and I'd packed 289 prior to the party for a total of 12,670. By 3:30 pm we were done and the volunteers circled around the truck and laid hands on it to pray for the boxes. Clean up was over by 5:00 pm and I was ready to head out to speak about OCC at a missions conference.
I'm just praising God for your partnership to bring together these 12,670 gospel opportunities.