Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ringing Out and Ringing In

Can you believe there are only about 28 hours left in 2012?  This Operation Christmas Child year has passed unbelievably quickly.  Yesterday I put new pages in my OCC notebook for 2013.

Now, you'd think that collecting items all year long to pack 21,521 gift-filled boxes would necessitate having well-organized computer spreadsheets to keep track of all the items.  Well, I'm here to tell you it doesn't.  Low-tech works just fine for me.

I keep a column or page for every item and add them up as I go.  I like having a book I can page through and see all God's blessings from past years.

That's what I was doing yesterday--paging through this notebook and reminiscing about God's provision from year to year.

I was so excited in 2000 when He provided miraculously for us to pack a "perfect 300" boxes.  I'll have to tell that story here sometime.

Another year we prayed for pumps to go with the soccer balls we'd purchased and, again, God provided them for free through a miraculous connection on eBay.

Sometimes He provides through great sales, through steady and even unexpected income, through coupons, through the generous donations of other believers, and sometimes through strangers--but however He does it--it is ALWAYS God who provides.

These carefully kept written pages are a journal of God's goodness in this Operation Christmas Child journey that has taken me from packing 3 boxes in 1995 to packing 21,521 this year.

Every year I marvel at what God does and I never want to lose that sense of awe that the God of the universe inclines His ear to my prayers and pours out His blessing.  This year, for example, I spent only $405.28 more than I did in 2011 (yeah, I try to keep track of every penny).  BUT we packed 3,744 more boxes.

Before you try to send me a message asking me for hints, I have to confess--I don't know how this happened.  I don't have a magic formula for this.  But this I DO know--God answers prayer.

I look at my blank pages for 2013 and my nearly empty storage container and I know that God will fill them up in the next 9 months.  Not because our team is so great and efficient and high-impact, nor because we are well-resourced financially (though I have been blessed with a good job)--

But because our God is faithful and He keeps His promises, because our God hears the prayers of His people around the world, and because--

As each year rings out and a new one rings in--our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal God NEVER CHANGES.

That I know.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Throwing In More Towels

This morning I went to Target and discovered that the Dollar Spot items with a yellow circle on the tag are 70% off.  The sign still read 50% off but when I took an item and scanned it I found it rang up at 30 cents.

The only items our Target had that were Operation Christmas Child shoebox-worthy were these hand towels. I got 92 of them.  I guess towels must be the OCC "item of the week" for me.

Seeing all these towels gets me thinking about the Bible account of Jesus washing the disciples' feet.  I think of all the disciples who never really considered the idea of taking on the role of a servant and washing feet.  I think if Jesus had flat out told them to do it, they might have obeyed.  But they didn't think of it on their own.  How many service opportunities do I miss every day because I just don't notice them?  God, give me Your eyes to see.

Then there was Peter who was too proud to be served by Jesus.  He wanted to be self-sufficient.  Oh, and that's me, too.  Lord, help me to see my need and accept the help, because no matter what I think, I need it desperately...

or I'll be throwing in that towel.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Throwing In The Towel

Shopping for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes is an ongoing affair.  I'm always looking for bargains but am sometimes disappointed when the stores in my area don't have the items that other OCC volunteers report finding.

After my husband got the 8 inches of snow shoveled off the driveway yesterday I headed out to a few more Dollar Tree stores to buy more pencils on sale.  But I couldn't find any.

Then I went to Walmart in search of the washcloths in holiday colors that other OCC volunteers had reported finding on sale for only $2.00 for a pack of 18.  Unfortunately, I didn't find those, either.

I remember hearing of a former shoebox recipient who told of being so excited when he got a washcloth in his box.  He said that he had to share a towel with a number of other children in his orphanage and when he got a washcloth it was like having his own little towel.

As I said, I didn't find any washcloths yesterday, but while combing the bath section of Walmart I did find 6 of these full-size heavy white towels for only $1.00 each.   Maybe someone out there is just waiting for a towel of his own.

I think the key is to always be on the lookout for good deals, buy anything you find (as long as it's not on the 'inappropriate items list') and then pray for God to get it to the child who needs it.

Today I didn't leave my house.  Yet God still blessed me with shoe box items as my OCC team member, Cindy Kerchoff, just showed up at my door with 5 bags of stuffed animals.

The next time I'm tempted to throw in the towel I just need to remember God's goodness.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


On our lazy Christmas day I made an online order to buy some visors for our 2013 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and today I made some more purchases of pencils.  I love buying these things and knowing they will go to children who need them.

I was troubled, though, by an early-Christmas Eve conversation with someone close to me.  I was complaining a bit about a local charity that successfully  raises large sums of money to grant expensive wishes for children with life-changing health conditions.

The person quickly reminded me that I had no right to be negative about another organization, reasoning, "After all, you send a bunch of unethically manufactured stuff that's non-sustainable to poor children."  Ouch.  Maybe I deserved that.

Of course, this had me thinking all day, even as I combed the stores looking for good prices on "unethically manufactured stuff."

It's unexplainable to those who don't understand the truth that these boxes are more than simple gifts--they are opportunities for children to receive the message of the gospel.  The pencils and clothing and crayons and toothbrushes and toothpaste will be used up or wear out or be lost.

But the gospel message IS sustainable.  The hope that comes from the gift IS sustainable.

I do support Samaritan's Purse and other organizations who drill wells and build schools and provide other sustainable resources for the desperately needy people around the world.

I admit, though, that my main calling for some years now has been Operation Christmas Child.  While others have been called to pour their lives into providing clean water or medical care or education or food for those in need, God has clearly led me to this simple but complex ministry of packing gift-filled shoeboxes.

If some of the items I send in shoeboxes are not ethically manufactured, I am sorry for that.  I have a strong sense of God's desire for justice in all economic areas but I don't always know how to work that out in practical ways.  I will trust God to bring to my mind injustices that I need to participate in righting.

Meanwhile, I will unapologetically keep doing what God has called me to do.  The Bible talks often about how God loves to give good gifts to His children.  I think the same Lord who turned water into wine at a party--meeting not a sustainable physical need but a need for social pleasure--must be pleased to see precious children receive cuddly toys and new clothes in His name.

Bringing a sustainable gospel message with sustainable hope.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fear Not

Wow--I didn't realize it's been over two weeks since I posted here.  In addition to writing a bunch of thank you notes to Operation Christmas Child participating churches, I've been busy getting ready for our family Christmas which has now come and gone.  My three daughters were home together for about 26 hours and during that time we celebrated with a big gathering of extended family and then had our own family Christmas yesterday morning.

I'm praising God for so many answers to prayer over the past days as He blessed us again and again with guidance in making preparations and with safe travels and a great time with our family.

This morning when I returned from dropping my oldest daughter at the airport at 6:00 am, I spent some time praying as I looked at the lit Christmas tree in our darkened living room.  How wonderful to have this day to ponder, as Mary did, what it means to be blessed with Emmanuel--God with us.

I remember today the first announcement of Jesus' birth made to shepherds by a host of angels.  Our pastor last week reminded us that angels in the Bible are not cute cherubs.  They are awesome and terrifying beings and that is why the first thing an angel usually has to say when making a visitation is "Fear not."

I think of those poor socially-ostracized shepherds who had a crummy job with no status.  No one really ever paid any attention to them.  No wonder they were petrified to see that angel-filled sky.  But the swift assurance came to them, "Fear not."

I just came from what feels like a meeting with angels.  On this Christmas Eve day, Lorelei and Chuck Millet made the 20-some mile drive from their home to bring a truck filled with paper to our storage container--56 boxes containing 280 reams of new paper to bless children in their Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in 2013.

Somehow God is seeing the needs of children around the world and meeting them through the willing service of Lorelei and Chuck.  Angels, I tell you.

I start this 2013 Operation Christmas Child journey with a nearly-empty storage container and the firm expectation of God's provision once again.  Will He do it?  Will He fill this container with good things to bring gospel opportunities to children around the world?

As my husband and Lorelei and Chuck and I joined arms and prayed together this morning before they left in their truck, I heard in my soul an angel's whisper--

 "Fear not."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

6.5 Million and Taxing

I've been watching with excitement to see the rising unofficial total of Operation Christmas Child boxes processed at the seven processing centers in the US.

We are well beyond last year's total but still nearly a quarter million boxes away from the 6.5 million goal we've been praying for.

I also realize that as our OCC project begins to wind down for a few weeks, the project is escalating for our international partners who work to train volunteers to distribute these precious boxes and  facilitate The Greatest Journey discipleship program.

I often pray for the National Leadership Teams in these countries, and one of the things I pray about is that they will be granted tax exoneration for the shipping containers of boxes.

The need for those prayers came home to me this weekend in a new way.

We support a missionary who works in Haiti and has been trying to help a fledgling orphanage with 17 needy children.  My missionary friend asked for Christmas gifts for the children, and it was fun to put together a box.  I had some shoebox leftovers and made one small shopping trip to round out the box--not really investing a lot monetarily.

The shipping to Florida wasn't very expensive, either, but then the charges to have the box flown from Florida to Haiti via Missionary Flights International cost almost twice what it cost to ship it from Erie to Florida.

The kicker is that I was chagrined this weekend to learn that the missionary who received the package was charged $100 by Haitian tax collectors.  This seems crazy to me.

My missionary friend explained to me, though, the difference in value of the items between the US and Haiti.  She said she priced a cheap knock-off Barbie doll in Haiti and it would cost $30.00.  Here in the US I could buy a nice brand name fashion doll on sale for about $6.00.  No wonder that box looked so valuable by Haitian standards.

Seeing this play out made me realize again the struggles many of our National Leadership Teams go through as they try to get tax exoneration for shipping containers of shoeboxes.  

Even as I keep praying God will grant our prayers for 6.5 million boxes in the US and 9.1 million worldwide, I'll also be praying that He will move on behalf of our National Leadership Teams to get these boxes through customs and released to be delivered.

What a taxing job!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

And So It Begins....

Today I began working on writing thank you notes to all the churches in Northwestern PA who packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child in 2012.

I'm sad because I couldn't make the trip to an OCC Processing Center this year so I've been keep track of the progress on the Connect Extranet and on Facebook pictures.  Just think...millions of boxes and each of them starting their journey to bless a child in Jesus' name.

Today the 100 millionth shoebox was delivered to a little girl named Brenda in the Dominican Republic.  Just think....100 million children and families touched with a gospel opportunity.  It boggles the mind and buoys the spirit.

Each of those gifts is only the beginning for helping that child to know God's love.

AND I just got a donation of 400 stuffed animals--the first load for 2013 (see picture above) so my living room looks like a scene from "Elf".  Now we only need 20,600 more before September 28, 2013.

And so, it begins....