Sunday, March 20, 2011
This picture was taken by my Regional Director, Leigh Fisher, when we went to the Dominican Republic on an Operation Christmas Child distribution trip. If you've been following my blog you might have sensed the undertones of discouragement I've struggled with in recent months. I just returned from the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference for year-round volunteers and I wrote some thoughts on how God used it in my life. (in third person--just because I like it that way)
As the Connect Conference approaches you think of the last two conferences you attended and the brokenness you felt as you confessed sin that needed to be confessed. You think of all your leadership failings that need to be corrected. But you also think of how nice it would be if you could just somehow hear God’s voice; if He would let you know He loves you.
Then your Regional Director finds someone who can be blessed by that registration you were going to cancel when the team member who was going with you couldn't attend and she suggests a carpool situation so you don’t have to drive all seven hours to the conference by yourself. You’re assigned a prayer partner who’s a dear friend and fellow AC who shares your struggles and you commit to pray for one another. Your Prayer Coordinator promises to cover you in prayer. Hope sprouts.
God blesses with good weather and safe travel for the drive to Philly and on the way you look ahead of you and see the sun shine down through the clouds just the way it did on your distribution trip to the DR. Hope grows.
From the time you come into the hotel lobby you begin to reconnect with friends. Every hug soothes the rubbed-raw spots in your heart. When you get to the Mid-Atlantic Welcome gathering, the sheer number of volunteers there brings amazing reassurance that there are other people who focus their lives on OCC. And the silliness of the event is strangely calming.
When the evening session begins you expect a challenge. You’ll undoubtedly be convicted of how far short you fall when it comes to all things OCC. What you don’t expect is Barlow Girl. You’ve heard their music on the radio and you can sing along but you wouldn’t normally be at a concert. When the music starts, though, you sense a presence. And when the band launches into “Never Alone” the words and music gel into a transcendent experience. You close your eyes and in the pulse of it you hear the heartbeat of the children—the heartbeat of God. And in the midst of that loud rhythm comes His whisper, “I love you.” It’s what you’ve been straining so long to hear. It’s the answer to your prayers.
The evening only gets better as one of the Barlow sisters shares an amazing story about vines that have water withheld from them so they will grow deep and last long. You think of the Mid-Atlantic regional theme of being rooted in Christ and how you’ve been meditating on that for so long in your dryness. And the whisper gets louder, “I love you.” Hope lives.
You attend training sessions over the next two days that deal with leadership, but unlike other similar sessions you’ve attended before these don’t depress you. Because of the hope, you are not overwhelmed.
You’ve packed boxes for special access countries in the last few years and the frequent letters you used to get from shoebox recipients have stopped. You’ve fielded questions from church members who want to know why you would send boxes to a country where the gospel cannot be openly shared. So on Friday night when A. shares his ministry in one of these countries, when his wife gives a clear picture of the lack of affection children in this country experience and what a simple shoebox can mean in their lives, you get a renewed sense of purpose. The buying and toting and storing and packing become holy work. Hope climbs.
You’re excited to see Mary Damron come to the stage on Saturday morning because you expect her to share from the Word. But instead of sharing from the Word she shares from her heart and in the process she shares God’s heart with you. With the conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit she proclaims God’s message to you. It is Mary’s voice that speaks but it is God’s voice you hear when she affirms, “This IS your calling. This IS your life.” Tears stream down your face but they are not tears of brokenness. You feel God’s touch. You feel God’s approval. Hope leaps.
Randy Riddle shares the national goals and vision for OCC and instead of being threatening it’s exciting. You see that area teams are important. You understand in a new way that the struggles you live with in trying so feebly to develop a team are worth it.
And then the session called “Go!” recasts the vision of OCC as a multiplication ministry. Thinking of ministering not just TO the children but THROUGH the children is astounding. A strong army of children are being raised up who will, in the power of the Holy Spirit, take back Satan’s territory, and the gates of hell will not prevail against them. Hope soars.
Commissioning services are always wonderful but to see the theme of the conference reiterated in such a cohesive way is powerful. Singing together Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Follow” and thinking of what the unleashed potential of the Holy Spirit alive in 300 volunteers could mean is breathtaking for you. Then you watch as the power of prayer spreads light into the darkened room. You pray for friend after friend and know that in just minutes you’ll be spread around the country to take that light with you. You feel the smile of God. You’re full. And you know that a tank is filled so that it can give power to move forward. And now you’re ready. Hope goes.
Posted by Kathy Schriefer at 7:09 PM