Monday, February 27, 2012

Jesus Selects His Team

Tonight I spent an hour on the phone interviewing a potential team member for my Operation Christmas Child team.  I really have a lot of respect for their 'High Impact Process' for team selection, training and management, but as I went through the interview questions I couldn't help but think about how Jesus selected His team.

What if Jesus had asked his potential disciples these interview questions?

Jesus:  Peter, what do you love to do and do really well?
Peter:  Uh, well, I like to fish a lot.
Jesus: (looking for a measure of commitment)  So, Peter, how long have you been fishing?
Peter:  Pretty much my whole life.  Do you have a fishing team?  I mean, I'm not really that good at working with people but I sure can fish.
Jesus:  What do you think a friend would say about you, Peter?
Peter:  Um, well, I guess they'd say I'm pretty up-front.  I say what I think.
Jesus:  Tell me about a time when you found yourself in a challenging situation:  How did you handle it?
Peter:  Well, I guess I'm the kind of guy who just jumps right in.  I can handle anything.
Jesus:  Have you been part of a ministry team before?  What experiences have you had that lead you to believe you'd be good at being part of changing the world?
Peter:  Experience?  Um, no, I don't think I have any experience.
Jesus:  How do you handle conflict?  What are some things you' have found to be helpful when dealing with conflict?
Peter:  Well, I have this sword I keep close at hand.  I've found it pretty useful in conflict.

Jesus turns to James and John---
Jesus:  So, James and John, tell me about a time when you had to stick to something in difficult circum...
James and John:  (interrupting in unison)  We're not really into 'difficult'.  In fact, we were wondering if we could sign up to sit on your right and left hand when you rule the team, er, the world.

So the Bible says Jesus prayed all night and then He selected His team.

Oh, boy.  I guess He could have used some High Impact Training.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Strategic Storage

Storage for the items for our Operation Christmas Child boxes has always been a big issue.  We're blessed that Grace Church has provided a 40 ft. storage container for us next to the church.  But we're trusting God for enough items to fill 20,000 boxes this year so we need to make use of every bit of this space.

Today we packed our car with 1100 stuffed animals (11 garbage bags each holding 100 animals) and 33 cartons of coloring books.

When we stacked the cartons of T-Shirts we left just enough room at the top to fit garbage bags of stuffed animals standing up.  I never like to pile the stuffed animal bags on top of each other for fear of suffocating (uh, crushing) the menagerie.

My husband rigged up 'steps' out of cartons for me to climb up to the top of the T-Shirt cartons and then we placed boards on top of those cartons to distribute my weight so I wouldn't crush them.  Good thing I've been doing that Biggest Loser contest at work.

Sorry I don't have a picture of me climbing up there and wrestling the bags into place.  I'm sure it would have been good for a laugh.

There are 1700 animals in the ark now.  Just praying for 18,300 more.   But I figure that our God who "owns the cattle on a thousand hills" will be able to get those with no problem.

He can certainly spare 18 cows per hill.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blessed Today

Sometimes this Operation Christmas Child life is a real stretch for me.  I've been fighting a cold this week and learned as the week began that my Operation Christmas Child area team's Prayer Coordinator was praying about stepping down from that role because of her heavy family responsibilities in caring for her elderly parents.  She's been my Barnabas and while I know God is in control, the prospect of losing her support in the role of coordinator was hard to imagine.

Wednesday night we had our area team meeting.  Interestingly enough, none of the team members who were at January's meeting were able to be at February's meeting and vice versa.  I planned and prayed for the meeting but wondered how it would go.  I'm praising God that it was very encouraging.

We laughed a lot together and felt like a real team.  Tracey stepped up to make a new table display for an upcoming event and Terri said she'd put together a gift basket for that event and also would plan an upcoming recruitment meeting.  Heather came with "save the date" notices for September's packing party already made and Cindy volunteered to take charge of coordinating refreshments for meetings.  What a relief to hand off those details.

But last night as I lay in bed with my thoughts churning I found it hard to sleep. One of my team members, Pat, says that I "fret too much."  As I lay there contemplating the new team member application I just received and had to process and wondering if we'd lose our prayer coordinator and praying about the thousands of items we're asking God to provide for our packing party, I began to fret that maybe I was fretting.  (after all, FRET is a four-letter-word for us as Christians.)

So I got out of bed and reviewed verses I'd memorized and determined to claim them.  I went back to bed and fell asleep surrounded by those promises.

And today was bright with blessing.  Linda, my Barnabas/Prayer Coordinator, sent an e-mail me to tell me that not only did she feel God's confirmation that she should remain as Prayer Coordinator BUT she is also going to the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference with me.

What a blessing.  What an answer to prayer.  What a stretch.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Not Knowing

Here are the 4th grade volunteers who helped me with the Operation Christmas Child stuffed animal drive at Belle Valley School.  By the end of the day on Friday, February 17th the students had brought in a total of 972 stuffed animals.

I'm very encouraged that this went so smoothly with no parent complaints and that almost all of the animals were new and usable for our big shoebox packing party.  The success of this drive has made me pray and strategize about how to get other schools involved in doing collections also.

If I could get 10 more schools to do this and they were all this successful--well, that would take care of almost half of the 20,000 stuffed animals I'm praying for this year.

I've been fighting a cold the past few days and feeling pretty miserable.  I've also tried to be a good Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinator and make calls to do 're-ups' on my team members--checking their information and finding out if they still want to continue on the team.

Sadly, I've already had to put one team member on inactive status and another coordinator is thinking about stepping down because of heavy family responsibilities.  We're still praying about that.  If she does step down that leaves me with just one coordinator on the team.

As I think and pray about my team it's hard not to listen to Satan's jibes as he reminds me of my failures.   But I'm going to metaphorically put my fingers in my ears and keep trusting.

I believe God has good plans for our team.  Despite the fact that we don't fit the typical Operation Christmas Child high-impact team model yet, God keeps blessing us with more boxes every year.

On the other hand, it would be so much easier if we had a full complement of healthy team members to divide the responsibilities.  Somewhere in Erie, Crawford, and Warren counties God is preparing just the right people to partner in this amazing ministry of Operation Christmas Child.

The agony is not knowing who they are.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What Is My Job?

Every day I'm doing something for Operation Christmas Child  but often I wonder if I'm doing the right things.  Many days it involves chores like sorting and washing stuffed animals or shopping for pens and then opening the packages those pens come in and storing them in boxes.

Right now we're running a stuffed animal drive at the public school where I work, so every day after school I've been hauling heaping bags of stuffed animals into the house for processing.

It's necessary work, but is it the job I'm supposed to be doing?  I know that as a volunteer Area Coordinator for Operation Christmas Child it's my job to build and lead a team to take over these responsibilities.  I've been struggling with this for nearly five years now.

Sometimes I'm encouraged and think we're making progress as a team and sometimes I get discouraged when I see how far we are from being a really cohesive well-working team that supports one another.

Instead of hauling stuffed animals I should probably be making some phone calls to recruit new team members or to support those already on my team.  I should be planning something fun to do at our team meeting next week.  I should be concocting some sort of plan to build unity out of our God-ordained diversity.   Oh, but that all sounds so very, very hard.

I think I'll go hug some stuffed animals.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stuffed Animal Safari

I am on a constant safari for stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  This week we started a stuffed animal drive at the public school where I work as a school nurse.  I have to say I was a little uneasy about sending home flyers with the "Operation Christmas Child" name on them.  It just takes one parent complaint to cause an uproar.

But there haven't been any complaints yet and we've collected almost 500 animals so far. 

Soon it will be yard sale season and the real safari hunts will begin.  Today I had a deal for a free T-Shirt on Vistaprint so I made this one to wear when I go to yard sales.  Now I won't have to be so bold and do all the asking myself and maybe some other shoppers will see my advertisement (something similar is printed on the back of the shirt, too)and offer me some of their animals.  

I know God knows where each of these 20,000 precious animals are going to come from and I can't wait to haul them home. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Shoeboxes in Haiti

In Operation Christmas Child world there are many people longing to go to another country to distribute shoeboxes to the children.  To see those smiling faces firsthand is a dream for many who have labored long and hard at packing shoeboxes for years.

Today this picture arrived on my phone, sent from a mission team from our church that's ministering in Haiti right now.  They had the unexpected pleasure of distributing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes at a school there this morning.

The amazing thing to me is that when another team went from our church last year at about this time they also had the opportunity to distribute Operation Christmas Child boxes.  To have this happen to a team from our church two years in a row seems beyond belief.

I'm so happy that more friends from our church, including our senior pastor and another staff member, had this chance to see for themselves what these boxes mean to the children who receive them.  

Hopefully, they will have an even better idea of what it means that they've been willing to let us take over the church for a week at the end of September for the past three years.   They'll see those smiles and understand the value of having an ugly 40 foot storage container nestled against the side of their pristine church building all year long.

Last summer one of the church's staff said, "If we spent as much time promoting every ministry as we do promoting Operation Christmas Child we'd never have any time left in the service."

 I hope that seeing these children's faces will help them to see how grateful I am for every minute Grace Church has taken out of their worship time to make an announcement, every inconvenience they've suffered and every dollar they've spent to support three huge community-wide packing parties and three church-wide shoebox collections that have resulted in nearly 37,000 Operation Christmas Child boxes being sent.

37,000 boxes sent out over the past 3 years.  That's a lot of smiles.

And it's worth it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Never Once - God's Fatihfulness

Here we are back at the time of year where all of us in leadership with Operation Christmas Child--volunteers and staff alike--are setting goals and planning for another year.  

I think I speak for all of us when I say that starting over is the hardest part of every year.  Satan whispers things like, "Do you really want to do THAT again?  Remember how much work it was?  Remember all those roadblocks you had? "

This morning when we sang this worship song in church I couldn't believe how well it related to the journey of Operation Christmas Child.  In all of the work of the past year, NEVER ONCE did God leave us alone.

He was the author and finisher of all of it.  If you're an Operation Christmas Child staffer or volunteer (whether you work year-round in OCC or work to pack shoeboxes in a more seasonal way) please watch this and read the truth of the words.

Just as God stood with us while we were kneeling on the battleground of 2011, so He stands with us for 2012.  

He will never leave us.  NEVER ONCE.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

$5 of Shoebox Stuff for Free at Michaels

Look at these cool garden tools I got for my Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes today for FREE at Michaels.  They only had 4 of them left so I threw in a jump rope to make it $5.00 even.  Then I used the coupon that you can print here to take $5.00 off and got it all for FREE.  I didn't even have to pay PA state tax.  The coupon is only good for today so print it out and see what you can get at Michaels for your Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and comment here to let me know.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Praying By The Numbers


Today is the quarterly Day of Prayer and Fasting for Operation Christmas Child.   What a joy it's been to pray through pages of prayer requests from many countries around the world and to praise God specifically for what He's doing in each of them.

Last weekend I was blessed to go to Maryland for our Operation Christmas Child regional area coordinators' retreat.  In 2011 we were praying that God would bless us with 700,000 shoeboxes in our region and He went way beyond our expectations to give us 723,327.

At the retreat our Mid-Atlantic goal for 2012 was revealed--800,000 boxes.  As I've said before, I love numbers, so I've been looking at the numbers of shoeboxes collected in our Mid-Atlantic Region in past years.

From 2007 to 2008 we increased by about 38,000 boxes (over 8% increase)
From 2008 to 2009 God gave an increase of 47,750 boxes (over 9% increase)
From 2009 to 2010 the increase was almost 69,000 boxes (over 12% increase)
From 2010 to 2011 God increased us by almost 83,000 boxes (12.88% increase)

The growth is still incremental but it seems to be accelerating.   We stand amazed at all God is doing and at the teams He is building.

At the same time, I don't want to fall into the danger of taking this growth for granted and thinking that increased growth in 2012 will happen automatically.  Over those past four years there were countless hours of work and prayer invested by thousands of volunteers.

Today as my prayer coordinator, Linda Bennett, and I prayed over the phone we asked God again for His miracles for 2012.   We are trusting Him for His provision for every goal but we never want to think that God doesn't want us involved.

I'm reminded of a quote by Martin Luther that reminds me of the tension between prayer and putting our hands to the work,

"Pray like it all depends on God, then when you are done, go work like it all depends on you."

And all those numbers?  Each one of them represents a child waiting to know God's love.  So I'm going to pray without ceasing and ask God to move me to get busy.