Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Give Me A Vision

It's time to complete the ministry plan and goals for our Operation Christmas Child Northwestern PA Area Team. I've been looking back and evaluating our plan from 2010 and it's sobering to realize that we only completed about half of the goals we set last year.

I've been thinking a lot about goal setting. Our Operation Christmas Child training advises us that our goals should be SMART--Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely. I thought our goals last year met those criteria and yet they weren't completed. Does that mean failure?

I hate (or fear) failure more than almost anything else. That's what often keeps me from trying new things when I'm pretty sure I won't succeed. So when I look at last year's uncompleted goals I hate the thought of making more for this year. God is omniscient and He knows how the year will unfold, so I'd like for Him to let me know the contacts He's going to give us and where He plans for our success.

Make no mistake, He did give us success last year. He gave us an increase of 5100 boxes over 2009. He provided us with a huge community-wide packing party where we packed 12,670 boxes in less than 6 hours--so much more than I imagined. But I look at the things we didn't do--packing parties in smaller venues, a booth at a fair, completing the church affirmation program, getting 30 new churches involved, getting new members on the media team, etc. and I wonder why those things didn't happen while others that were not on our plan did. I prayed much over last year's goals only to see many of them not completed while other things not listed as goals were completed.

It seems so strange. But what else is there to do except to pray again and to set goals again and to wait on the Lord again and to watch Him bring it all to pass again.

Lord, please, help me to see once more the millions of children around the world who need to know Your love and then give our team a plan to reach them.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Over The Top

Look at all these kids in the photo just waiting so patiently to receive their Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. The thing is--there are millions more like them still waiting. Every time I think of that it makes me want to do more to get these 'gospel opportunities' into the hands of children around the world.

Last night we had our first Northwestern PA Operation Christmas Child Area Team meeting for 2011. I was so excited about revealing the total number of shoeboxes received in our Mid-Atlantic region for the 2010 collection season. I just heard it myself on Tuesday and planned a great way to reveal it to my team. I prepared six folders--each containing one of the numbers in the grand total and distributed them to my team.

But before they opened the folders to reveal the number, I asked how many remembered the goal number we'd been praying for all year for the Mid-Atlantic. And how many remembered? No one. Not one. I was astonished in a not-good way. I guess because I was lifting that 630,000 goal up in prayer so many times throughout each day I assumed all of them had been also. When they couldn't remember it I felt deflated and all the 'whoohooos' I felt were gone.

As I look back on that today I realize that I need to wake up to the reality that most other people are living their lives on other levels and not totally obsessed with shoebox numbers like I am. I suppose it's unrealistic to assume that everyone else is praying for those goals enough to remember them.

Still, when we did open the folders to reveal the astounding number of 640,778 (an incredible 12% increase over last year) they were happy. And I know the 10,778 children who can now receive boxes because God took us over the goal will be ecstatic.

Our national goal was 5.5 million this year and God allowed us to go beyond that goal as well.

This is the first time I remember blowing by those goals and it feels so great to see God take us over the top. It's not something I'll forget.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stripes Unlimited

The Candy Cane Caper for Operation Christmas Child continues. When I left for work on Monday, January 10th, I had 13,500 candy canes and was praying for 30,000 so we could put at least two in each of next year's Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

In the morning I got a call from one of my team members, Rose Dobson, who told me she picked up 1200 candy canes at their Walmart. I then called the Asbury Walmart to ask if they'd sell me their remaining candy canes for 10 cents a box. They agreed, but counted them and said they only had 208 packages remaining (2496 canes). I couldn't believe they were all gone since they'd had 15 cases on Saturday but instead of being upset, God gave me the faith to believe He would provide.

At noon time there was a conference call for the Operation Christmas Child area coordinators in our Mid-Atlantic Region. When they asked for prayer requests, I asked for prayer for more candy canes.

After school I went to pick up those 2496 candy canes and on my way home I got a call from Jim Urban, a fellow OCC area coordinator who lives about an hour away from me. "Hey, Kathy, I'm cleaning out a Walmart here and I have about 12,000 candy canes for you!" Jim said.

I was thrilled, astounded, amazed, and blessed. God answered my prayers so quickly and thoroughly.

I later found that Lana Lacey, a friend who'd told me she'd bought 'some' candy canes for me had actually purchased over 5300.

In the grand total God provided more than 35,000. Just think of the thousands of messy, smiling faces those will make.

PS--I found out what happened to the other 15 cases of candy canes they had at the Asbury Walmart. They were purchased by my OCC team's Community Relations Coordinator who packs more than 1000 boxes at her church. How great is that? God provided all we needed in every way.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Candy Cane Capers

Kids all around the world love sweets, so a small plastic bag filled with candy is a great filler for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. I wait until the first week of January each year for the Candy Cane Caper where I scour the stores for cheap candy canes. My goal is to get them for a penny or less each.

Our Target store finally went to 90% off yesterday so a 24-pack of candy canes was just 24 cents. My husband made a trip and I made a trip and we cleaned out the store. The problem is we only got about 4000 large candy canes and 4000 mini ones--less than half of what we got at the Target last year. I like to put 2 large candy canes and 3 other pieces of candy in each 'candy bag' so that means I'm looking for 30,000 candy canes and I'm still a long way off.

Several people have been buying candy canes and I've put the word out to my daughter who lives south of here so I may have more than I realize.

Still, this morning I headed out and made the rounds of 12 different stores. I hate asking managers for discounts or donations but God is giving me more courage to do that. I asked the manager at the 26th & Asbury Walmart (where they have more than 400 12-packs on the shelves if they'd reduce them or donate but they have to ask the store manager and get back to me. Praying for favor there.

But God granted me favor at the Elm St. Walmart where they sold me 485 packs for 10 cents each--another 5,820 candy canes. It started to snow as soon as I got them home, but I got them inside and the above picture is the view 3 ft. inside my back door.

I might have almost enough for at least one candy cane for each box but please pray with me for more. I know God has good and SWEET plans for these 2011 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cups for the New Year

After Christmas is one of the biggest buying times for items to put into Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. I prayerfully waited for the dirt-cheap prices and on Thursday, December 30th, I went into Target and found the dollar-spot items and the Christmas items were discounted 75%. I'd been praying that the wooden cars I'd had my eye on would still be there when the deep discounts came and God answered those prayers with 350 nice cars for only 25 cents each.

I went back to Target on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday also and they seemed to put out new items each day. Within a few days I'd also accumulated 150 small Slinky Jrs., 163 jump ropes, 78 yo-yos, 100 balls and at least another hundred miscellaneous other filler items--all for a quarter each.

On Friday afternoon--New Year's Eve--I got an e-mail from a friend telling me that Christmas items were marked 75% off at Walmart. I begged my patient husband to stop at one of the stores on the way to our family dinner and we picked up 189 6-packs of hard plastic cups with stripes or snowflakes that were only 25 cents. They make great filler items and the price of 4 cents per cup was awesome, too.

That night I couldn't sleep as I made plans to attack (er, visit) other Walmarts in the morning. I left at 6:30 am on New Year's Day and drove about 25 miles through hard rain to Edinboro Walmart. I found tons of cups there and stacked a cart full. I'm not very brave about asking for discounts but God gave me the courage to go to the service desk and ask if I could get a reduced price if I bought all the cups they had. The store clerk was nice enough to call a manager who agreed to sell the 6-packs of cups for just 15 cents. I bought almost 2400 cups there.

Then I traveled to another Walmart that also had tons of cups and asked a manager there if he'd matach the deal. He agreed and I netted a few thousand more there. It took three trips through the pouring rain to get them all to my car, which by now was pretty well stuffed with plastic cups.

On Sunday morning we had to unload 7,620 cups from our minivan into the storage container at church. God provided a few volunteers to help but I wish I would have had a video of the scene when we opened the back hatch of the car and cups started cascading out and rolling down the driveway. We grabbed boxes and bins--anything we could find to capture that cupfall. We still need to get them organized into boxes but at least they're out of the car and contained.

Now I'm praying for Target to mark their Christmas items to 90% off so I can buy candy canes. I need about 30,000--but that's another story.

In the meantime, I think of how Jesus said we are blessed just by giving a cup of cold water in His name.

I hope giving a cup in His name brings a blessing too.