Monday, November 26, 2012

Last Day Off

This was my last day off of Thanksgiving vacation.  I always have a hard time knowing how to use these days when I'm off work--whether they should be productive or restful.

Now that the Operation Christmas Child boxes are gone, I had fun today packing a different kind of box.  This one was full of Christmas gifts for 16 children in an orphanage in Haiti.  It was fun to pack this box knowing that the missionaries we support will be able to give them to the children directly.

The first box I packed was too small to hold everything.  So I had to get a bigger box.  The second one was too big but that problem was easily remedied by filling it with more stuff.

I found a home for the 8 deflated soccer balls that I couldn't find ball pumps for.  Last night's shopping trip took me to four different stores to find the perfect 8 African-American Barbie dolls and God provided.  It was so much fun to stuff that carton with 33 pounds of stuffed animals and jewelry and cups and toothbrushes and coloring books and cars.

In the afternoon I sent out seven press releases to newspapers about the Operation Christmas Child local totals and I already got a response from an editor in Warren.  That's a real blessing.

But the best blessing of all came as I looked up and read the promises in Psalm 41:1-3.  Here's what God has to say:

"Blessed is the one who considers the poor!  In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.  The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health."

I claim this promise for my friends Sarah and Shawn who are traveling today to meet the special little girl they are adopting from Eastern Europe (the 3rd girl with special needs to be adopted into their family from that area.)

And I claim this promise for my friend Mary Damron who has been responsible for motivating millions of OCC shoeboxes to be packed and is now valiantly battling cancer.

I claim this promise for my tired OCC team member, another adoptive mother, who needs the strength to lead a two-hour rehearsal for a children's musical tonight (yikes!)

And I claim this promise for myself.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giving Thanks

Our local newspaper asked readers to write about what they were thanking God for at this Thanksgiving season and my response was published on Saturday.  Here is what I wrote:

"I am most grateful that God invites us to join Him in His work in the world.  In my role as volunteer area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child I am privileged every November to see churches and community groups all around northwestern Pennsylvania come together to bless needy children around the world by packing simple, gift-filled shoe boxes.

It's amazing to me that our sovereign God who lacks nothing would allow us to participate with Him in changing lives through this project and others that bring hope and healing to so many.

Of all my many blessings, I cherish most this opportunity to join God in making a difference for those who have so little."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Aftermath

The past weeks have been so busy with packing parties and speaking engagements and relay center visits that I've been just piling all the Operation Christmas Child paraphernalia in the spare room.

Today I spent some hours trying to sort and pare down all the papers and items. I took apart old church kits (all but last year's) and saved a pile of OCC posters, bumper stickers, etc.  I saved the outer folders to offer to churches that might want to use the pictures for bulletin boards or displays.

I filed media articles and meeting agendas and I separated supplies--balloons and pens and special report magazines and brochures and videos.

Then I followed some rabbit trails down memory lane as I perused old files from nearly a decade ago.  I wasn't a year-round Operation Christmas Child volunteer then, but I still spent a fair amount of time accumulating items to pack a few hundred boxes every year as a church project leader.  I actually thought I was busy with OCC then--ha!

All around the world there are Operation Christmas Child volunteers who have invested millions of hours in this project his year.  Even today thousands of volunteers were working at 7 processing centers around the country, inspecting boxes and preparing them for shipping.

And as my duties here in the US begin to slow for a few weeks, the National Leadership Teams and volunteers in the receiving countries are gearing up for the height of their busy season as they prepare to train volunteers and distribute shoeboxes.

Today I ordered 3600 filler items for next year's boxes even as I sorted through last year's chaos.

 I guess we're never really in the aftermath.

Monday, November 19, 2012

On the Eighth Day--Blessing My Socks Off

(singing)  On the eighth day of National Collection Week the good Lord gave to me eight bitten nails, seven volunteers, six relay centers, FIVE ANSWERED PRAYERS, four carton pallets, three wide rolls of tape, more than two full trucks, and another great collection victory.

This is by far my favorite day of the year--the final day of Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week.  Hundreds of times--even thousands of times-- I prayed this year the same prayer, "God, please give us 40,000 boxes from Northwestern PA."  

Our team prayed.  We recruited.  We prayed.  We met.  We prayed. We worked.  We prayed.  We went on safaris for stuffed animals.  We prayed.  We spoke at churches.  We prayed.  We gave out brochures.  And.......we prayed.

And after all those days and weeks and months, today it came together in boxes full of cartons filled with precious gift-filled shoeboxes, aka Gospel Opportunities.

I spent the day doing heights and weights and vision testing on 40 kindergarten students.  I don't know who was more antsy--me or the kids.  None of us could contain ourselves.  Believe me, it's not easy to keep five-year-old kids focused on identifying tiny squares and circles and apples and houses when all you want to do is call your relay centers and FIND OUT WHAT THE NUMBERS ARE.  

Finally, at 3:30 I got the totals. 

And my socks flew off.

It was hard to contain myself as I headed to the local Chick-fil-A in Erie where Casey, the owner, and Tina, the marketing director, had graciously arranged to feed our team dinner for the "big reveal".  

After our terrific meal it was time to share the big news.  So I handed out five folders--each containing one digit of our team total.  Starting at the end of the number, we revealed the 5th digit (6), then the 4th digit (7), then the 3rd digit (3) and then---

We had the persons holding the folders with the 1st and 2nd digits reveal them simultaneously and the result was---

Praise God!  I just keep playing Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons/Bless the Lord Oh My Soul" over and over.  

Only in my version it's 40,376 reasons.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

On the Seventh Day

(singing) On the seventh day of National Collection Week the good Lord gave to me--seven volunteers, six relay centers, FIVE ANSWERED PRAYERS, four carton pallets, three rolls of wide tape, two almost full trucks, and another great collection victory.

It's hard to believe that another Operation Christmas Child total will be in the books by tomorrow.

I had some great conversations today with folks who came to bring in boxes.  Got a lead on a possible new relay center for next year, talked to the pastor of a small Spanish church who was so excited to do OCC for the first time, and took pictures for a dear family who learned about OCC when they read a blog about activities to do with your children for advent.  They brought 5 boxes--each packed by a family member--and I'm still laughing at the faces their little boy made when we tried to take the family's picture.

I've been working my calculator hard all day and adding and re-adding relay center numbers.  I don't have totals for four of my relay centers so the final outcome is still a mystery.

And there's still an hour or so of collection at some of my centers in the morning, so who knows?

I've been checking lists of last year's participating churches and looking to see who has not brought in their boxes yet.  I really hope everyone gets their boxes in on time because I don't want to be mailing in boxes again this year.

I feel like we're closing in on the goal but the victory isn't secured yet.  It kills me to know that there's enough stuff left in the storage container to pack more boxes but I just couldn't figure out a way to get more done.

If we miss this goal by less than 100, I may be forced to buy a battery-powered spotlight and pack boxes in that dark storage container tomorrow.

I'm not good at waiting.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

On the Sixth Day

(singing)  On the sixth day of National Collection Week the good Lord gave to me--six relay centers, FIVE ANSWERED PRAYERS, four carton pallets, three wide rolls of tape, two fuller trucks, and another great collection victory.

Today = 9 hours.  150 miles.  4 relay centers and a packing party

What a great day for Operation Christmas Child fun.

Started the day at the relay center in Waterford where Kim Kinnear and her crew have about 800 boxes in cartons already.
While I was there two women came in bringing 28 boxes from a new participating church.  I had so much fun talking with them and hearing how excited they are already to do more boxes next year.  They have plans for collecting items year-round so they can pack more.  What an amazing start that was to the day.  Oh, I also loaded 20 of their extra cartons into my van to take back to Erie.

Next it was on to Corry.  They had a wonderful packing party last night but had run out of boxes.  So I pulled a couple of cartons of "GO boxes" out of my van and started folding.  I also pulled out boxes of extra fillers and toothbrushes and coloring books I'd brought along.  We packed another 100 boxes while I was there and then loaded some of their cartons into my van since I was heading to their collection center.  They've already collected over 1200 boxes (a 20% increase over last year.)

On to Warren I went.  where Collection Center Coordinator Patti Seth and her crew have collected about 1000 boxes.  God blessed them with a great front-page newspaper article today.  That article was probably the most accurate and comprehensive article about Operation Christmas Child I've read in any newspaper.  Everything you need to know to pack a box was included.  I'm praying many people in Warren will be at WalMart today buying items for shoeboxes to bring to Patti's collection center tomorrow.

In Warren they showed me a carton containing one huge box (size of a file box) that took up 1/4th of the carton space.
The donor had included a note on the top of the box "Teenager Girl.  Size Large (but narrow in the body) White vest.  $12.00 for shipping."  We had a good laugh over that one.  If only we could get people to understand the benefits of packing regular size boxes that allow us to utilize maximum carton space.

Leaving Warren I headed to North East where I found that Bryon Switala, our relay center coordinator there, had to travel out of town for work this week leaving his wife to man the relay center.  I think he owes her!  She's done a great job and collected about 650 boxes already this week.

Next I headed back to Erie and arrived as the last few participants were cleaning up from a packing party hosted in the home of my brother and sister-in-law for 16 members of their former church.  This church, Fellowship Baptist, has participated in Operation Christmas Child since 1994--longer than any other church in Erie County.

This year this group of 18 precious folks packed 320 boxes for OCC.  This will be the last year for Fellowship Baptist to be listed on the OCC Shoebox Drop-Off Logs.  They recently donated their church and land to become a satellite of another church in the area.  I can honestly say I've never seen another church group with more giving hearts.  Though only a few were left when I took this picture, you can see the joy on their faces.  What a way to end my OCC day today.

Well done, Fellowship Baptist.  Well done!

Friday, November 16, 2012

On the Fifth Day

(singing) On the fifth day of National Collection Week the good Lord gave to me--FIVE ANSWERED PRAYERS, four carton pallets, three wide rolls of tape, 2 still half-full trucks, and another great collection victory.

Blessed this morning to find a front-page newspaper article in the Erie Times-News about Operation Christmas Child with a color picture.  I'm so grateful for at least some mention of Operation Christmas Child in the newspaper on each of the last three days.

I stopped at the collection center after my school day and made it there 5 minutes before it closed--just in time to drop off the last 21 boxes I packed last evening.  They didn't take in many boxes this afternoon but a second truck was dropped today so it's ready and waiting for the harvest from the relay centers.

The only box I have yet to complete is the one pictured above.  A few months ago I found a brand new pair of Red Wing leather work boots at a local discount store for only $2.00.  Couldn't pass them up, so I filled them with some tools to make a tool-themed box for a 10-14 year old boy.  (yeah, I know the box is big, but I'm believing God has someone special to receive these size 9B boots)

On the way home from the collection center I stopped to drop off extra shoebox items at my brother and sister-in-law's home.  They're hosting a packing party tomorrow.

Heading out tomorrow to visit relay centers.  Can you believe National Collection Week will be over in just three days?


Thursday, November 15, 2012

On the Fourth Day

(singing) On the fourth day of National Collection Week the good Lord gave to me four carton pallets, three rolls of wide tape, two half-filled trucks, and another great collection victory.

It's hard to believe that National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child is already half over.  Tonight when I got to the collection center the wall was lined with about 800 boxes so the three of us got to work putting them into cartons.

Only one donor came this evening and brought 18 boxes.  That gave us a chance to get those boxes into cartons.  We worked hard to pack 50 cartons and at the end of the night there was one box left over.

Here it is--sitting by the wall.  

And as I looked at that one small box tonight I remembered why we do Operation Christmas Child.  I saw a little boy excited over the Spiderman pictures on the box.  I watched the joy on his face as he opened a box with treasures just for him.  I heard his giggles and I felt his excitement.  

The box sitting on the floor all alone is really a little boy.

And that is why we do Operation Christmas Child.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On the Third Day

(singing)  On the third day of National Collection Week the good Lord gave to me three rolls of wide tape, two filling trucks, and another great collection victory.

I can't believe three days of our collection for Operation Christmas Child are over already.  I don't have a lot of new updates but I found out that Pat Carter's relay center in East Springfield took in 800 boxes in the first two days.  That was great news.

Things started off slowly at the Erie collection center.  Soon after I arrived to volunteer tonight, though, Rose Dobson came with a caravan of five vehicles filled with more than 1000 shoeboxes.  And Rose still has more loads to deliver!  She's pictured above with some of her shoeboxes.

Rose buys items and packs year-round in her garage.  Last year she packed 1,737 boxes and this year she packed 1,500.  And she doesn't use "GO" boxes.  Most of her boxes were salvaged from our local Target.  She's developed a good relationship with the employees there and they let her choose the empty boxes she wants from the shelves.  Many of them are a beautiful deep red and are the perfect size.

Rose struggles with chronic medical problems but she still works tirelessly to bless children around the world.  She told me, "When you keep working you don't hurt so much."  

She trusts God to provide for her boxes and has amazing stories of how He's given her all she needs.

On the third day we had Rose.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On the Second Day

(singing)  "On the second day of National Collection Week the good Lord gave to me two empty trucks and another great collection victory."

Well, actually I don't have any victories to report yet except that all the relay centers are open as far as I know.  I wish I got reports from each relay center every day and could keep track of how many boxes have come in but maybe it's better that I don't know until the end of the week.  

In the meantime, I've enjoyed brief phone calls with a few of our relay and collection center coordinators.  I especially enjoyed talking with both Ron and Carol Johnson--the relay center coordinators in Bradford.  Each time I talk with them I can sense God's love flowing through them.

Back in 2010 Ron had open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic and Carol left him there to come home and run the relay center.  It's what they both wanted because of their dedication to Operations Christmas Child.

Tonight Carol told me that when she recruits volunteers to serve at her relay center she tells them there are three qualifications--

1)  You have to smile
2)  You have to be encouraging
3)  You have to pray with each shoe box donor before they leave the relay center

How great is that?  I wish every collection volunteer (including myself) would just keep those three rules.  We'd sure be blessing a lot more people on this side of the box.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On The First Day

(singing) On the first day of National Collection Week the good Lord gave to me another great collection victory.

Here's a picture of my minivan last night packed with 350 boxes ready to drop off at the collection center today.  All over the country similar minivans loaded with boxes have been pulling up to relay centers and collection centers with their precious cargo--each box destined to bless a child in the name of Jesus.

After a busy day at school I headed out to drive to Meadville and Conneaut Lake to visit the relay centers there.  And for the third year in a row I made that drive through heavy rain.  Showers of blessings might have been okay but the downpour I could do without.  (This is, however, better than 2008 when we had 2 feet of snow on the Monday of National Collection Week.)

Meadville collected over 900 boxes already today and there were several hundred at Conneaut Lake.  I could almost picture those hundreds of children a few months from now getting their special boxes after hearing a gospel presentation.

I have no idea how Erie or Warren collection centers or the other relay centers did today, but I'm trusting God for great things.

The victory is already secure.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pint-Sized Packers

Yesterday I traveled about 80 miles south to Jim Urban's church for a packing party.  What a joy it was to see those boxes filling up and be there when they passed their goal and filled the truck with 7,264 boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

This evening brought another packing party--this time for the Kidz Praisz children's musical group at Grace Church.   I planned to arrive at the church at 5:30 but when I saw the light fading already at 4:45 I got nervous and left early.

We have no light in our storage container and even though I'd moved most of the items we'd need to the front of the container this morning I was still concerned about unloading in the dark.

God sent just the right number of volunteers and the six of us were a great team as we folded boxes and arranged the cartons of items on the gym floor.

At about 7:00 the children burst into the gym, fresh from their rehearsal and ready for action.  I didn't even get an exact count of our packing contingent, but I think there were about 35 or 40 of them (or maybe it just seemed like that many.)

It made me smile to see them so excited about choosing items for their boxes, and I was glad we'd decided to leave the cartons on the floor.  The kids loved crawling around and pawing through all the choices.

We had a hard time keeping up with labeling all their boxes and had to do some rearranging to get some of the lids to close, but in less than 45 minutes they'd packed 200 boxes to bless children in the name of Jesus.

We prayed before we packed their boxes, and I encouraged them to keep praying for the children who will open these boxes some months from now.

There will be nothing pint-sized about the love these boxes hold.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Packing Party Eve Revisited

Today is Packing Party Eve--again.  But they're not my Operation Christmas Child packing parties.  I'm not responsible or in charge.  Tonight my only job is to pray and I'm taking that seriously.

This is my favorite time of my Operation Christmas Child year.  It's too late to be feeling guilty about not making phone calls or doing more to promote the project.  It's just time to pray and watch God bring in the harvest.

But for a lot of my Operation Christmas Child friends around the country this is a big weekend for packing parties.

I'm excited to travel a couple hours south to volunteer as my friend Jim Urban and his team pack 12,000 boxes.  I can't wait to share their excitement as God shows up again in amazing ways.

A few more hours south of that will be another 12,000 box packing party at Shannon Krater's church and over in Maryland Jeff Mauler will be working with a team for the second weekend in a row to add another 7,000 to last weekend's 7,000+ packed shoeboxes.

Down in Florida my Facebook OCC friend, Sindia Perez, is trusting God to do something I can't even imagine.  Sindia was given a great donation by a church TWO DAYS AGO with instructions to buy items to pack as many shoeboxes as possible at a packing party tomorrow.

I would be so overwhelmed by that challenge, but Sindia stepped right up and made her 48-hour plan and now she's watching our awesome God meet her every need.  She's planning for 850 shoeboxes but I'm praying for 1200 and waiting to see what God will do.

In my own area, Meadville Alliance Church starts their first-time packing party at 10:00 am tomorrow with the goal of packing 400 boxes.

Won't you pray with me for these (and other) packing parties that are happening around our country.  Each of those boxes represents one more precious child who will know God's love.

This is the kind of Packing Party Eve that I live (and pray) for.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Hurricane Sandy has come and gone with no effect on my immediate area except enough rain to keep me from running all week.  So many in our Mid-Atlantic region, though, have not fared so well and we continue to pray for them as they trust God to meet all their needs.

For me, today was a day for looking back; a day for returning to the elemental reason I got involved with Operation Christmas Child in 1995; a day to remember the joy of packing a box and knowing it will go into the hands of a child half a world away and bring him or her joy.

My OCC Church Relations Coordinator, Heather Rogers, was the first person to join our area team when it formed in 2007.  Even before that we had been packing shoeboxes together for years.  

Today we teamed up again to pack boxes in the Wesley Church basement the way we used to do before we started having large packing parties.  One by one we chose the right items to fit each box--carefully matching the size of the stuffed animal or clothing item so that each box was well-filled but not overly full.  

And while we worked we talked.  She encouraged me and gave me perspective on some of the problems that have plagued me recently.  The routine work was both mundane and marvelous.  

Better yet, we had a private concert by the Wesley Praise Band who were rehearsing in the sanctuary above us.  "10,000 Reasons/Bless the Lord" and several of my other favorite songs blessed me in new ways.

I was overwhelmed with emotion as I remembered the encouragement of our former pastor, David Streets, who always got excited about Operation Christmas Child and once asked, "I wonder how many shoeboxes it would take to fill the whole church?"  As tears came to my eyes, I told Heather, "I don't think we would have had this team or kept packing thousands more boxes if it hadn't been for David Streets."  

I remember 2008--the last year we packed all our boxes at Wesley Church--when we had 7,272 boxes stacked all over the church.  They were in pretty much every spare space we could find on two floors of the building and you know what?--no one complained about it.  Instead, people were excited.

Carrying the boxes up and down the stairs (what we've always called a shoebox workout) made us hungry enough to go to Wendy's for lunch--another thing we used to do back in those days when we packed 100 boxes or more nearly every week all year long.

This day was a joy and a balm to my soul.  Something to remember.

On the other hand, if all we did was pack boxes like this we wouldn't be able to bless as many children as we can bless by involving the community in a large packing party.  That's something to remember, too.