Sunday, April 28, 2013

T minus 5 Months

Five months from right now I will be basking in the glow of God's goodness after another Operation Christmas Child packing party.  Lord willing, by the evening of September 28, 2013, there will be another 21,000+ packed shoeboxes on a truck ready to be sent to give a gospel opportunity to needy kids around the world.

Today my husband and I loaded another carful of stuff into the storage container and within the next few days we have two pallets containing 6300 filler items being delivered.

Space is already getting tight in the container.  We've tried to strategically use every inch, but we have more variety in different sizes of boxes than we had last year so it hasn't been as easy to keep it organized.

Right now we have only 2500 stuffed animals and we're praying for 19,500 more.  Where will they go?  Maybe God will bring them all in during the week before the packing party so we don't have to store them?  Who knows--He always has good plans for us.

And so we rest on His promises and expect His provision and cherish your prayers....

While we wait.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chasing the Dream

While I'm living out this Operation Christmas Child journey my husband has been on a parallel journey of his own.

It's been just about ten years since Jim retired after 31 years of teaching.  He felt God calling him to a ministry of building and repairing homes for low income persons in our city and he was prepared to chase that dream.

He didn't know, however, how long that chase would be.  Over the past decade he's presented this vision to a number of different organizations looking for a nonprofit with which he could partner.  There have been some short-term relationships over the years but no sustainable ministry has developed.

The time has not been wasted.  Through the years he's led a group of men to build wheelchair ramps and repair some homes.  They have met genuine needs.

He spent a year as a site supervisor for Habitat for Humanity and led volunteers in building new homes for clients.

In the past two years he's even flipped a few houses for profit.

Still, he's continued to chase after the vision of training men in building skills as they rehab a house to provide a home for someone in need.  He dreams of using this as a means of forming friendships with needy men and giving them an opportunity to learn job skills and life skills.

Over the past few months he's made some hopeful new contacts with the possibility of a grant being written that could fund the start of the dream.   The dream looks closer than ever, but after so many disappointments over the years it's almost frightening to think about

Tomorrow he has another meeting with a local agency to discuss prospective plans.  Would you pray for God's leading in this chase?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Retro--1997--Too Much

Here's a story from the beginning of my Operation Christmas Child journey.  In 1995 I first heard of OCC from a newspaper article and I packed three boxes.  I didn't have a brochure and didn't really understand the concept, so each box only included a teddy bear.  In 1996 I understood the program better and packed five nice, full boxes.  Then in 1997 God started to give me a larger vision and here's the story...

Too Much--1997

            “This is too much,” I grumble to myself as I struggle up the ladder to the attic carrying four heavy shoeboxes filled with gifts.  I heave myself up the last step and use my arm to wipe the perspiration from my face before placing the last box on top of the neatly stacked piles.  I’m finished.  I’ve toted all eighty shoeboxes up—four at a time.  After making my last descent I push up the folding stairs.  Twenty trips up.  Twenty trips down.  Me snarling all the way.
            For the past week the shoeboxes had a nice cozy home in the bedroom that belonged to my oldest daughter before she went to college.  We don’t use that room for anything.  It’s empty--the perfect place to store a resplendent array of eighty shoeboxes that are waiting to be shipped off to children in other countries for Operation Christmas Child.
            But my husband didn’t see it that way.  “Can’t you get rid of these shoeboxes?” he complained.  “They’re all over the place.”
            “They’re hardly all over,” I defended myself.  “I have them stacked up nice and neat on Amy’s dresser and bedroom floor.  They’re not bothering you.” 
            But it seems they did bother him.
            So after he mentioned it for the third time, I harrumphed to the attic opening, yanked down the stairs, and hauled up all eighty boxes.  I had to maneuver the rest of the assorted attic treasures to make room.  And I wasn’t nice about it.
            Last year I packed only five shoeboxes, but then I started thinking that if I collected items on sale throughout the year I could do more.  The number forty kept running through my mind, so I decided to set a goal of filling forty shoeboxes.  Then I started shopping.  The problem was, God led me to so many bargains the items started piling up.  For example, using double coupons I netted sixty free tubes of toothpaste and several hundred free bars of soap.  I stashed all my finds in the attic, and in the summer I collected and wrapped forty shoeboxes so they’d be ready to fill when fall arrived.
            In October I began the happy task of stuffing the shoeboxes, and I soon felt like the widow in the Bible whose oil never ran out.  I filled all forty boxes and still had piles of items left.  So I made several trips back to the shoe stores begging for more boxes. 
            Finally, I had whittled the piles down to only a few lonely leftover items.  The boxes were all wrapped and filled, and I counted the stacks to get a final tally, “seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty,” I whispered.  Exactly twice the number I had trusted God to provide.  I was excited.
            Then my husband, Jim, the omnipresent Voice Of Reason, looked up and down the rows and said, “See, you never plan ahead.  Now how are you going to pay for the donation for shipping these?” 
            “I don’t know,” I said with a near-moan.  “I know it’s a lot.”   Samaritan’s Purse, the organization that spearheads Operation Christmas Child, requests a five dollar donation to cover the shipping costs for each shoebox.  I hadn’t budgeted for that. 
            My joy hissed out, and the stacked boxes began to form a wall of resentment.  A wall that I just transported to the attic with a disgruntled attitude.  Now that Jim doesn’t have to look at the problem, maybe it will go away. 
            Over the next few days, I realize the problem isn’t going to disappear.  I trek to the attic and see that the bright Christmas wrapping on the shoeboxes is crinkling in the heat, making them look as wrinkled as I feel.  “What can I do about this, God?” I pray. 
            A plan forms in my mind.  Maybe there are people at church who aren’t packing shoeboxes themselves who would like to contribute to help pay for the shipping.  I suggest this to Jim, and he says, “That’s a good idea.”  Well—a positive comment.  Of course, he’s not offering to be the one to ask someone at church about this. 
            I hate asking for help.  I vow never to get into this needy situation again.  Next time I’ll plan ahead and not do too much. 
            It takes three weeks and a lot of prayer before I grab all of my miniscule supply of courage, wipe my perspiring palms on my jumper, and approach our pastor, David, with my request. 
            “That’s no problem,” he says.  Why was I so afraid to ask?  A few minutes later he stands up to give the morning announcements before church starts and says, “Kathy Schriefer packed more shoeboxes than she expected.  And now she can’t afford to pay for the shipping unless she sells one of her children or something.”  Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.  Then he continues, “So if you want to contribute to help with this, put your contribution in an envelope and mark it for shoeboxes.” 
            Two weeks later I write a letter to Samaritan’s Purse, enclose my church’s check for $400, slap on a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox.  Easy.
            God, you are too much.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Celebrating in Warren

Thank You, God, for so many answered prayers today.  We scheduled a first-time Operation Christmas Child Celebration Meeting in Warren County.  Our prayer team prayed diligently that God would bring the right people to this meeting but our church relations coordinator, Heather Rogers, and I weren't sure what to expect.  As we talked on the one and a half hour drive there, we said we'd be happy with 10 in attendance.

God blessed us beyond what we imagined as the room filled with 25 people to share praises to God for what He did in our area in 2012 and to look ahead toward what He has in store for us in 2013.

The meeting was held at Pleasant Community Church, our collection center there in Warren.  Our collection center coordinator, Patti Seth, had done her work and made phone calls to personally invite people to attend.  What a work for the Lord that was!

No one asked for an application to become a team member but we had two more persons sign up to receive e-mailed prayer requests and many seemed to enjoy discussing ways to promote the project in their churches.

So tonight we're celebrating this great celebration and looking forward to doing it again two weeks from today in Meadville.

And we're looking forward to seeing the fruit of this day in future celebrations.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Meeting Night

I chose this picture because I could use some laughs tonight.  Some days are just like that.

This afternoon found me teaching my second-worst-ever puberty class to fifth grade boys.  Talk about laughing.  They could not control themselves.   You'd enjoy hearing some of the questions they asked, but they're not exactly blog appropriate.

Thankfully, after school I got to switch gears and put on my Operation Christmas Child hat to get ready for tonight's team meeting.   It was good to have nine of our team members there to discuss how we can inspire our area to greater involvement.

We went through the "Discovering the Heart of OCC" training program and shared some highlights from the Global Connect Conference.

We discussed potential new contacts in our community.  Well...okay...truthfully it wasn't as much of a discussion as I'd hoped...but we tried.   And we shared prayer requests.  I think we're better at praying than discussing.

I guess that's okay.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Manna Musings

I love seeing how God provides for us in such a unique manner.  Like that creative manna He sent to nourish the Israelites while they wandered in the desert, God is always up to showing His provision in rare and wonderful ways.

This weekend I was praying for 300 stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child shoebox packing party.   I know God can and will provide all we need by the end of September.  Still, we're behind where we were last year at this time, and as I read through blogs from 2012 I am reminded of how much prayer and hustling went into getting enough for last year's packing party.  We certainly need to be praying and searching.

I thought it was a longshot that we'd reach 300 this weekend.  I was only able to get to one church rummage sale (44 animals) and one thrift store (86 animals).  But a box arrived last week from a friend in Bradford, PA and today there were two bags left at the church.  Also at the church I found a box of adorable animals (some of them are pictured above) that was mailed from Cheryl Lawrence in Indiana.  I couldn't make contact with her via e-mail or Facebook, so if you're reading this, Cheryl, thank you for blessing me in a week I really needed it.

So the weekend animal count stands at 214 but I've heard of another bag dropped off at church after I left and I need to meet someone to get three more bags tomorrow night.  The manna is still falling--just on time.

Not only did God provide the manna in the wilderness but He made sure His people's clothing and shoes did not wear out.  I was just noticing the other day that my gray dress pants are looking a little old...but guess what I found at the church rummage sale on Saturday?

A like-new pair of GAP gray dress pants that fit perfectly.  At the 'bag sale' for 50 cents I got 4 new clothing items for shoeboxes, 3 sweatshirts for the kids at school to wear, and these pants.  Another great provision!

And though I haven't seen any manna on the front lawn this week I did receive some coupons from the newly-expanded food department at our Target store.  Using the coupons I spent less than $3.00 and got enough items to make four meals.

I love seeing more and more manna.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

4788 Water Bottles on the Wall

When I got home from the Operation Christmas Child Global Connect Conference last Sunday there was a surprise waiting for me--fifteen cartons full of water bottles.

I've been praying, as always, for God to provide nice clothing or accessory items to put into each of the shoe boxes at our community-wide packing party in September.

A few weeks ago I contacted a vendor who sold me three pallets of visors two years ago and was blessed to find out he had more for sale.  They are good quality sturdy cloth visors and I was able to buy 9,072 from him (all he had).  The last shipment of them were delivered two days before I left for the conference.

Then a friend gave me a tip about the water bottles.  I received those 15 cartons and another 17 cartons are on their way for a total of 4, 788.

This means God's provided almost 14,000 major items in a period of a few weeks.  The total stands at 21,733--so close to the goal of 22,000.

Now on to praying for 20,000 stuffed animals and waiting for God to fill the ark.

Monday, April 8, 2013

OCC 100 Millionth Shoe Box Celebration Video

When I watched this video I realized there wasn't really anything I could write that would explain as well this evening of celebrating 100 million shoe boxes.  So watch and enjoy....

Okay-- maybe there are a view details I'd like to add.  One is the enjoyment of watching Mary Damron tell the story of her involvement with Operation Christmas Child alongside Franklin Graham.  Franklin talked of a song Mary'd taught them to sing and Mary started singing boldly--

The God of the mountain
Is the God of the valley,
The God of the day
Is the God of the night.

I have been joining a crowd of OCC friends in praying for Mary over the past months as she's battled cancer.  We prayed fervently for God to allow her to be at this celebration and it was a blessing to see Him answer those prayers.  Mary was sick through the week but made it through by God's grace.  After Mary sang, Franklin led the crowd of 10,000 in praying for her.  Please join in continuing to pray that God will be glorified in Mary's life and bring her healing.

And in case you don't catch it, here's what I think is the best quote from Franklin Graham of the evening, "Every shoe box is an opportunity for Jesus Christ to wrap His arms around a child."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Clobbering the Big 'Q'

If you've read this blog for very long you probably realize that I'm pretty transparent about this Operation Christmas Child journey.  Maybe too transparent--but you'll have to judge that for yourself.

So even though I still have a few other blogs I want to complete about my experience at the OCC Global Connect Conference, I want to tell you about a battle I fought even as we celebrated 100 million boxes this weekend.

The battle in my mind started on Friday evening and intensified on Saturday--fueled by fatigue (why can't I fall asleep at night?) and the overstimulation that I get from large crowds of people (even really sweet fellow believers).

This conference was so well-done.  Every detail was attended to with excellence.  Nevertheless, we were very busy.  In between all these wonderful general sessions I've been blogging about were training sessions and workshops.
These were wonderful, too, but I could feel my crankiness bubbling under the surface.

On Friday afternoon I attended a 3.5 hour workshop on High Impact Leadership.  I believe in this leadership model.  And the activity we were to participate in as a group at this workshop was well-crafted.  But I was tired and all I could think was--hey, I get it.  I know what you're trying to teach me here.  Could you just let me sit this one out?

After another night with four hours of sleep, Saturday brought a lunch meeting where I discussed packing parties with a few friends followed by an Area Coordinator Roundtable.  I was fading.  The discussion activities were good but Satan was waging war in my mind.

As I tried to focus on how to plan for multiplying my team to birth even more teams all I could think of was that I still need coordinators for the team I've been trying to build for six years now.  Yes, SIX YEARS.

Just to show you how the downward spiral works--I sat there happily cooperating with my fellow-area coordinators while the 'Q' word just kept repeating itself in my mind.  Like this--

You've been trying to do this for so long and you're not getting it right.  (and the whisper came--quit)  You don't even have a team how can you plan for more teams (a little louder--quit)  You know it's just too hard (the voice in my head ramped up another notch--QUIT)

I obediently turned over my worksheet page and tried to follow the instructions to write 6 goals to complete in 6 weeks.  Where to begin?  I thought of the litany that ran through my head when I tried to sleep last night--plans to travel to another school to do health screenings on Monday, my mother's upcoming 100th birthday party, my daughter's upcoming wedding, ideas, random thoughts but not goals.

I jotted down a few ideas and then turned to the friend next to me.  Wait, do these have to be SMART goals?  She shrugged.  My brain fogged.

And the voice said--QUIT.

But here's the good thing.  I'm learning to talk back to those voices.  I'm learning to plug my ears when Satan shouts those condemnations into my sleep-deprived psyche.

So I took a deep breath and quit--I mean I quit trying to think of goals.  I just stopped.  Sometimes it's okay to quit on the little things so you don't give up on the main goal all together.

I decided to listen to God's promises and I quoted a few to myself.  And I resolved to wait for the goal-setting until I'd had at least one good night of sleep.

And I aimed to pay attention to God's voice in the encouraging people around me.   And one of those agents of God's voice came as our shuttle van pulled up at the airport terminal this morning.  As she left the van, that sweet OCC friend from Texas whose name I don't even remember looked back at me and said, "Now remember Hebrews 10:39 'But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.'"

Not quitting.

Will Graham--OCC Global Connect 4/7/13

It's hard to believe we're already at the end of this 2013 Operation Christmas Child Global Connect Conference--this God-appointed celebration of our first 100 million shoe boxes.

Former shoe box recipient Izabella McMillen has done a phenomenal job as 'master of ceremonies' for these sessions.  Her energy and stage presence coupled with her radiant smile have brought a special spark to this conference.

And then, of course, there's the Tommy Coomes Band leading worship.  I guess the TCB is to Franklin Graham as George Beverly Shea is to Billy Graham--longstanding partners in ministry.  We enjoyed worshipping for the last time with our brothers and sisters from 102 other countries and singing some of "Blessed Be Your Name" in French was so meaningful.

Then Will Graham came to lead us in devotions on the topic of 'authority'--

You and I are under authority—in our work lives and our personal lives.

As an example Will shared a story of his father, Franklin Graham, who was at a board meeting with a man named Frank Coy.  The man was older than Franklin and he’d been taught by his parents not to address his elders by their first names, so Franklin called him Mr. Coy.  The gentleman went to Franklin and said that since they were equals at board meetings he wanted Franklin to call him my his first name—Frank.  At the next board meeting Franklin did this and his father, Billy Graham, became very upset.  Franklin said, “He told me to call him Frank.  What am I supposed to do?”  Billy replied, “I’m your father.  Do as I tell you.”

How much more does our heavenly Father have authority?

In Matthew 28 Jesus told His disciples, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”  God’s authority is behind evangelism.  Nothing belongs to us.  It all belongs to God.

We hang onto our wallets like they belong to us.  But they don’t.  Time is a precious resource, but you don’t own it.  God owns it. 

All authority was given by God to Jesus (not by the Democrats or the Republicans.)  We’re His ambassadors and we represent Him.  It all has to do with Jesus. 

Only Jesus can change a person because He has authority to do it.  A shoebox can’t change a life.  Christ changes hearts.  The shoebox is merely a tool.  People can receive all the shoeboxes in the world and still go to hell.

Jesus has used His authority to give us three commands:

1)  The command to LEAVE
--in order to fish you have to go where the fish are.  You can’t stay where you are.  You have to GO in His authority.
--you have to GO and make disciples; Jesus told us to tell others He is alive and make disciples

2)  The command to WIN OTHERS
--I want to encourage you to be a soul winner
--you can pack a lot of shoe boxes and never tell anyone about Jesus
--you represent the King.  Don’t shrink back!

3)  The command to FELLOWSHIP
--Samaritan’s Purse is not your church
--Jesus died for His bride, The Church--not for Samaritan’s Purse
--Never let Samaritan’s Purse be an excuse to neglect church involvement.

Jesus said “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  ALL things—not just some of them.

The great promise of evangelism is one of the greatest promises of the Bible--"I will be with you always."  

Emmanuel='God with us'--The creator came down and has given the Holy Spirit to guide us.

The King is with you.  The King changes everything.  We've got God in our plan.  Who could be against us?  That's what sent missionaries all around the world.  

What next?  What do we do?  Hebrews 6:3 "This we will do.  If God permits."
--Keep telling people about Christ
--Keep moving forward with the gospel
--We have to be dependent upon God
--It's going to cost us to be a Christian.  Jesus said, "If they hate me, they'll hate you."
--Everyone gets excited until the cross comes in.  It's going to take everything you have to move forward but He is always with you.

Revelation (the end of the story) is there.  The King of Kings is coming for His bride.  And, Will said, "I hope it's a shoe box that brings that last one into the fold."

After a moving communion service, Will reminded us, "It's a victory meal.  Jesus is coming again."

--The Greatest Invitation is:  Come, follow Me.
--The Greatest Promise is:  I am with you always.

Worship started again, but unfortunately I had to leave in the middle of it to catch a shuttle to the airport.  A whirlwind of connections made and yet, sadly, still there were friends I missed seeing.  

There were friends who have encouraged me via Facebook and e-mail--from Iowa and Kansas and Hawaii and California.  It's unlikely I'll see most of them face to face again until we pack the next 100 million boxes and can celebrate again.

So....let's get packing!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Glory to God--Jim Harrelson at OCC Global Connect Conference

There is something very energizing about being in the presence of a true servant leader like Jim Harrelson.  One proof of the fact that Jim is such a humble leader is that even though he runs the ministry of Operation Christmas Child I can never remember his exact title.

My husband and I first met Jim at the Operation Christmas Child processing center in Boone in 2006.   He was working beside us on the line inspecting shoeboxes.  When my husband asked him what his job was, Jim told him, "Oh, I just work downstairs."  I'll bet he would have washed our feet if we'd been wearing sandals.

Jim shared with us from his heart this Saturday morning about all God has done in the first twenty years of OCC.

He started by reminding us, "It's so amazing that God Almighty would choose to work through His children and allow us to participate in this."    Everything we do culminates at the foot of the cross.

Jim said, "When all is said and done our relationship with Jesus is all we have left.  The time for sharing Him will be over.  We have this opportunity to mobilize the Body of Christ through the powerful High Impact model."

He read from Philippians 2:1-11 and commented, "This is the Jesus we serve--the gospel we serve--the model of selfless humility."

He spoke of this Global Connect Conference as a time of sweet, sweet, sweet fellowship and pointed us to John 4 where the Bible speaks of sowers and reapers rejoicing together.  He said being face to face and heart to heart will strengthen us and only heaven can replace this experience of being together and talked of the incredible teamwork required to bring the conference together and recognized the staff responsible for it all.

Jim reminded us that this ministry is our opportunity and privilege and turned us to the verse in Rev. 7:9 with a picture of all nations praising God together.
We want, however, immeasurably more--more volunteers--more children--more and more around the throne of the Lamb.

Every gift has a huge potential and the power of prayer is crucial as we face opposition from Satan who vehemently opposes us.  But we are victors.  Jesus has overcome sin and death.  We need to share fearlessly and with boldness.  The Lord is accomplishing His redemptive plan in His will.  Every act of service He will use.

OCC is strategically positioned for worldwide evangelization.  He recounts how when Franklin Graham was preaching recently in Bolivia people began running to the stage halfway through the sermon.  God is preparing hearts to receive Him.

The High Impact process allows us to recruit, select, train and develop volunteers.  God has His people everywhere and will lead you to the right people to serve.

We need to be prepared; we need to know our enemy; we need to pray and to put on the armor of God.   Prayer is our chief weapon and is vital as the battle will be intensifying.

Romans 1:16 reminds us the gospel is the power of God while I Peter 3 tells us that with God one day is as a thousand years.

Matthew 18 tells us that we need to become like children to enter the Kingdom of God but children have the benefit of already being childlike.  According to Matthew 28:20 and Acts 1:8 children can go and make disciples.

In Luke 10:2 Jesus tells us to pray for laborers for the harvest.  We need to concentrate prayer for this.

We are in a spiritual war.  We need to focus on unity and be spiritually prepared.

Jim closed with a benediction "May the Lord bless you and protect you..." and left us with the encouraging reminder that "His Kingdom is being added to every day."

More Numbers for OCC--4/14--Dr. Luis Bush at OCC Global Connect Conference

Dr. Luis Bush, international facilitator of Transform World Connections and the 4/14 Movement brought a message on Saturday morning at the Operation Christmas Child Global Connect Conference.

This numbers thing is getting a little confusing.  Last night I blogged about how OCC is heading toward the goal of 10:4 (10 million boxes and 4 million children being discipled per year from the US).  And I mentioned how that made me think of the 10/40 window.

This numberophile was excited again this morning to learn about how OCC fits into the 4/14 Movement.  But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself...

Dr. Bush began by saying, "Operation Christmas Child can transform a whole generation.  OCC can transform a community."

He told how he, as a 13-year-old boy running the streets of Sao Paolo, was led to Christ by his older brother.  Dr. Bush then talked about how around the year 2000 he began to identify the concern of the 4/14 window--the years between the ages of 4 and 14 when a child is most ready to receive the gospel.  This is a demographic perspective rather than a geographic perspective like the aforementioned 10/40 window.

Operation Christmas Child is uniquely able to meet this challenge.  It's a moment in time of great opportunity.

We live in a time like no other.  Minds and hearts are open to release and raise up children as agents of great mission.  We can raise up a new generation from the 4/14 window to change the world. This could be the time.  This could be the hour.  And you (I) could be the agent God is calling.

He presented some startling statistics about the decline in the percentage of those who identify themselves as Christians--
--in the Builder's Generation - 60%
--in the Baby Boomers - 30%
--in Baby Busters - 15%
--in Gen Y -  4%

Youth are asking "Where are the hearts of the fathers?" and there is a growing despondency.  A survey of youth in China revealed that 47% reported they had thought about taking their own lives in the past 3 months and 37% reported they had actually attempted to take their own lives in the past 3 months.

In a study of declining civilizations it was found that the extent to which a culture fails to respond to the challenges it faces will lead to its decline.

There is no more significant response to the challenges in our society than focusing on children.  Dr. Bush believes that to see children raised up as agents of mission will take four steps:

1)  Reach the children (the OCC shoebox gifts lead to a gospel opportunity)
2)  Root the children (The Greatest Journey discipleship program)
3)  Request the Lord to save them (bathe our ministry in prayer)
4)  Release the children to ministry--(even with an attrition rate of 50%, with the program growing at the present rate 1 billion children could be released into ministry by 2021.

Dr. Bush concluded by saying, "As a volunteer you can influence the face of global missions in our generation."

(Wow!--way to translate the cause, Dr. Bush.  Well done!)

Friday, April 5, 2013

10/4 for OCC at Global Connect

So what does 10-4 mean to you?  Well, if you were a trucker with a CB radio, the phrase means 'okay' or 'I hear you' but as Randy Riddle spoke to us this morning at the Global Connect conference for Operation Christmas Child, 10:4 took on a new meaning.

Randy explained to us this morning that the five year goal of OCC is to, by God's grace, provide by 2017--

10 million gospel opportunities (shoeboxes) sent around the world from the US
4 million children discipled every year by OCC-US

And why this 10:4 goal?  Because...
--there is urgency in the gospel
--billions of children are waiting
--God has blessed OCC as a way to usher children into His kingdom
--discipleship and multiplication are the mission fulfillment of OCC

The picture above is of sweet little girls waiting to receive OCC shoeboxes on my trip to the Dominican Republic in 2009.  The biggest thing I learned on that trip is how many are still waiting.  I remember the children who stood outside churches at distributions and peered in through the barred windows with their little hands wrapped around the bars.  When the gifts ran out, some of them were left waiting.

The OCC staff has been strategizing plans to increase the number of shoeboxes so that millions more children can receive a gospel opportunity and it was thrilling to hear Randy bring the structure of those plans to us today.

That 10:4 goal reminds me also of the 10/40 window--that area of the world where the most unreached people live.

Whatever longitude or latitude children live between, more of them are being born every day and they all need to hear about Jesus.

After hearing these goals and counting the cost, I'm ready to redouble my efforts and the efforts of my team to pray and plan and pack.

Hey, good buddies, are you with us?

And all the people said, "10-4"

OCC--Friday Evening Global Connect--Skip Heitzig

Back again for another evening session at the Operation Christmas Child Global Connect Conference on this Friday night.  It's still hard to get used to being in such a large group of people praising God together.

The evening began with Dennis Agajanian's amazing guitar rendition of "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus".

Franklin Graham then came to the podium (casual tonight in his baseball cap despite all the SP & BGEA board members there in suits) and said of being at OCC shoebox distributions, "I never get tired of when a little child will tug on your jacket and look up at you with big eyes and say 'thank you'.  So, thank YOU."

Tommy Coomes Band followed with a worship set of 'Everlasting God', Our God', and 'Awesome God'.   It felt a little like deja vu because we sang two of those last evening, but then I realized it's probably not easy to get translations in five different languages of many worship songs.  That could explain a limited set list.  And those three are all great belt-it-out worship songs.

Next, Izabella McMillen introduced a shoebox recipient from Rwanda--Alex Nsengimana, who shared a heartwrenching story of being orphaned at a young age and living with a grandmother and uncle who he then saw killed by a member of the enemy tribe.

After going to the capital city to live with an aunt, fleeing that home and living on the street for two months, and then being in a refugee camp for several weeks, Alex and his brother finally went to live in an orphanage.

It was there that they received shoebox gifts and Alex remembers receiving a comb that he used for three years and also the treat of a candy cane.

As he began to read the Bible he learned of the need to forgive those who had wronged him and he also developed spiritually as he sang with the African Children's Choir.

Just a few weeks ago Alex returned to Rwanda to distribute shoebox gifts with OCC and God opened doors for him to meet the man who killed his family members and offer forgiveness to him.

Alex ended his amazing story by saying, "God is using each of these boxes for His glory and changing the lives of kids.  Your hours and time are not in vain."

After two standing ovations for Alex, Franklin Graham came back to the stage and reminded us to "Pray that God will use these boxes.  And He does."  He then introduced Skip Heitzig, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Albuquerque and a friend of the ministry.

The Body of Christ---

God is doing two great endeavors--
1)  Evangelism
2)  The Church (Jesus said, "I will build up My church.")

What do people assume when they look at our lives? One hundred million gifts show the world there's a God who loves people.

Skip talked of going to Baghdad, Iraq and driving 24 hours each way from Jordan to get there.  They met with two cabinet members there and the Minister of Foreign Affairs said, "We always thought Christians hated us but I'm overwhelmed by all these gifts for children and now I know you love us."
Skip thanked us for all the hours, the miles, and the prayers invested in shoeboxes and assured us, "It's worth it!"

Shoeboxes are a reflection of the Body of Christ.  Each shoebox is different but they're all for the same purpose--to show the glory of God.  They are only done as we come to work together.

Jesus wants the Body of Christ to be His best representatives of Him on earth and there are four ways for us to do that--

1)  Recognize Variety--
--we have different gifts but the same Spirit
--God loves to create variety in nature and even Jesus' healings were done in a variety of ways
--sometimes we want to create spiritual molds but God requires the right to use people we don't like or agree with
--even those who have the same gifts will use them differently
--don't fight the variety God has planned for the body--embrace it.

2)  Emphasize Unity--
--the head of the Body is Christ and He keeps it together
--what happens when one part of the body won't cooperate?  The whole body suffers
--the world looks at the Body and often sees a spastic, stifled expression of God
--whatever member of the Body you are, that's where God has placed you

3)  Maximize Equality--
--If the whole body was and eye, where would be the hearing?
--the church at Corinth was elevating certain gifts but all parts of the body are useful
--even the parts that seem invisible are important (can't live without those kidneys)
--the church is guilty of putting people on pedestals and setting them up for failure while making others feel inferior
--unnoticed does not mean unimportant

4)  Minimize Self-Sufficiency--
--the eye cannot say to the hand "I have no need of you"
--our society has a 'Lone Ranger' mentality that cannot enter into ministry
--we're part of the greatest organization in the world--the Body of Christ

The God of the universe not only condescended to be born as a baby but He condescends to use us.  We're on the winning team.

"Brothers and sisters, let's give the Devil a black eye.  If we recognize variety, emphasize unity, maximize equality and minimize self-sufficiency we will send him running."

OCC--Al Newell--Global Connect

Today Al Newell came to the podium sporting a pair of Mickey Mouse ears with the instruction, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear," and he had plenty to say.

First he confided, "If they'd offered me 100 tickets on the 50 yard line at the Super Bowl in exchange for ONE ticket here I'd have laughed at them."  Clearly, this Global Connect is the place to be.

Al went on to expound on the High Impact model of volunteer ministry from a framework of the life of Gideon from Judges 6-8.

He first reminded us of the definition of High Impact, "Restoring a biblical model of volunteer ministry and experiencing organization-wide, powerful ministry effectiveness."

It begins in the heart and every principle is biblical.

The word 'volunteer' really means servant or, more precisely, bondservant--one who chooses to the role of a servant.  And the piercing question:  Are YOU (am I) a bondservant of the living God?

Seven Principles:

1)  Jesus loves you and has an impossible mission for His bride.
--100,000,000 with the process of multiplication added in is not far from a billion
--in Exodus 19 Moses gave God's covenant to the people and basically said, "Will you marry me?"  Keep my covenant and you will be my special treasure.  But we easily lose our first love.  In Judges 8:33 we read how easily God's people played the harlot and wandered away.
--Al outlines four temples in the Bible: 1) Moses' tabernacle 2) Solomon's temple 3) Zerubabbel's rebuilt temple 4) the Living Temple (God's dwelling in us)
--When is the time for building?  Set your heart and soul to serve the Lord your God.

2)  God has an impossible mission for you -- If you feel weak and overwhelmed join the club.  God has you right where He wants you--dependent on Him

3)  God does not see you as you see yourself
--God sees you as a masterpiece
--God designed you in the womb for a purpose
--We are priests unto God and have the power of God
--We are living stones and valiant warriors

4)  A little task is a big deal to God
--in Judges 6 Gideon was working at a small task
--Are you faithful to the little tasks?
--Our faithfulness shows our heart

5)  God chooses the qualified but improbable team
--Gideon's army was whittled down to 300 who were truly qualified
--Jesus prayed all night and then chose 12 men who were improbably but qualified

6)  Exhausted but pursuing (Judges 8:4)
--They were 300 crazed lunatics chasing 120,000 Midianites
--One man in God's power is everything
--"Brother and sisters--YOU are those crazy fools"
--You are the pursuers by faith
--Look at examples of the heroes around you and persevere

7)  Finish the job
--Gideon killed the two kings and finished the job
--Jael finished the job


**Personal Note:  As Al talked about being exhausted I watched an international volunteer sitting in front of me begin to cry.  She was wearing headphones to hear the message via an interpreter so I thought language might be a barrier between us.  I didn't know the exact cause of her pain but I identified with it.  I know what it is to be exhausted, spent, too weak to carry on.  So when the session ended I rushed to her and put my arms around her and we just held onto each other for a long, long time.  She said in English "thank you" and I hugged her again before turning away.  It was just a hug, but it may be the most moving experience of the week for me.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

OCC--Louie Giglio--Immeasurably More

Tonight was our first general session for the Operation Christmas Child Global Connect Conference and it was a mind-blowing experience to be worshiping with brothers and sisters from 102 countries around the world.

After Randy Riddle led us in a time of rousing praise to God (complete with noisemakers) in celebration for 100 million shoeboxes, he was joined on the stage by former shoebox recipient Izabella McMillen who reminded us, "I would not be able to stand here today without your faithfulness."  Seeing the video of Izabella's story helped us focus on what each of these precious boxes means to the child who receives it.

As he came back to speak of the history of OCC in the United States, Randy Riddle spoke of the exponential growth of those early shoeboxes by saying, "When it was paired with the gospel it became something God blew His breath on and it exploded."

And Franklin Graham said, "It's something God has done and we want to give Him the glory."

Ross Rhoads, pastor of the first church to pack shoeboxes in 1993 told of how their church collected 11,000 boxes in just 14 days that first year--a foreshadowing of God's hand on the project.

Executive Director of Samaritan's Purse Canada, Sean Campbell, spoke of the  boxes his country packed in that inaugural year of 1993 and joked that it was the only year Canada packed more boxes than the US.  On a more serious note, he spoke of the Bible's warning that in the end times "the love of many will grow cold," and reminded us that packing shoeboxes is a way to keep our love alive.

Sean told the story of giving a shoebox to a 10-year-old boy in a psychiatric ward in an Eastern European country.  When he pulled a Beanie Baby out of his box and smiled, his doctors were amazed.  The doctors explained that the boy's parents had been executed in front of him four months earlier and this was the first time since that he had smiled.  "It's all about the Prince of Peace," Sean said.

After some phenomenal guitar and worship music by Dennis Agajanian and the Tommy Coomes band, Franklin Graham introduced Louie Giglio--

Speaking about the global presence in the room, Louie said, "We are better when we are in the company of people from the whole world."

There is a plaque in the Georgia Dome that commemorates that largest gathering ever held in that venue--a Billy Graham event.  Louie said we're here to remember the legacy of a faithful God.  "We're not here tonight to underestimate the power of God....We're here to celebrate that God will expand His kingdom."

He admitted that he can't comprehend 100 million shoeboxes.  It's supernatural.

But we also can't fully comprehend that God emptied Himself and took on the skin of a baby and appeared as the gift of God to the world in that original mission of Operation Christmas Child.  Into a manger came majesty--majesty in a mess.

How amazing that God gave the news of His coming first to the shepherds.  They were too dirty to go to church and God said when you can't make it to me, I'll come to you.

What Louie felt God wanted him to bring to us tonight was a personal encouragement that the God of 100,000,000 shoeboxes is on our side.  There are huge hurdles in each of our lives tonight where we're trusting God and the truth of Ephesians 3:20 is that God is able to do immeasurably more than we can imagine.  To HIM be glory.  We're in partnership with the God who does immeasurably more.

When you walk in the door of God's faithfulness, it marks you.

You can count shoeboxes but you can't count changed lives.  You can't quantify the healing God brings through a shoebox.  You can't count the immeasurably more.

In that night glory came into the mess of a manger and peace with God is now possible.

Those who were rebels against God can become the worshipers of God.

It's not just on a grand scale;  it's on a personal scale.  We cannot count God out because God can do immeasurably more.

I AM--the God who spoke the world into being.  It's the power of the gospel to do immeasurably more.

Louie went on to say that the Old Testament word for glory meant 'weight'. He explained the working of an elevator where a weight or counterbalance is used to make the elevator rise.

The weight came down in the presence of Jesus and we were lifted up.  His resurrection was the counterweight to our sin and rebellion.  When the weight of the gospel comes down our worship comes up.  The gospel and worship are never separated.  Without the gospel there is no worship.

It's not about serving because we 'ought to' it's about the privilege that we MAY serve.  When the weight comes down, craziness (worship / service) goes up.

We all have a supernatural testimony.  Sin makes us not just bad, but dead.  The gospel is what makes us alive.

God can do immeasurably more than we can imagine.  100,000,000 is a huge number but God can do 500,000,000 or billions.

God knows the name of every kid on earth and I think there's a shoebox waiting for every one of them.

OCC Connect--Finding Your Joshua

God blessed us with a great trip down to Orlando for the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference.  This place is amazing!  The service and surroundings here at the Hilton Orlando are extraordinary and seeing so many of our brothers and sisters from around the world is beyond words.  I can hardly wait for us to all worship together in another hour.

Dinner tonight was a buffet of international foods that were beyond compare.

We got here in time this afternoon for the last of the three pre-conference sessions and I chose to attend one entitled "Finding Your Joshua."

After giving us two minutes to list all the things we do for Operation Christmas Child in a typical week the presenter asked us, "Who would do those things if God called you home or moved you to another place?"

I thought of the myriad of strange tasks I do in a week--from sorting stuffed animals to writing blogs and fielding phone calls.  Truthfully, many of those things don't have anything to do with my job as an Area Coordinator and I probably need to gain more focus.

But even when I assess only the true tasks that fall into my job description, I'm not sure who would do those in my absence.

It was sobering to realize that Joshua was on the scene right from the crossing of the Red Sea and that Moses worked for many years to prepare him to assume leadership.

Who is my Joshua?  I don't know, but I realize I need to focus some serious prayer toward asking God to prepare that person who will take the baton from me when I finish my leg of this OCC race.

Is it you?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Seeing Jesus

My husband and I were preparing to lead our small group in a study of the proofs of the resurrection.  As we looked at attitudes and beliefs of the disciples following the resurrection it became clear that most of them did not believe in the resurrection--at least not at first.

In Luke 24 we read the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus who were unknowingly in the presence of Jesus.  In verse 24 the disciples said, "Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see."

Apparently even seeing the empty tomb was not enough.  They needed to see Jesus.  And, because He loved them, He appeared to many of them so they could grasp the important truth.

And, really, not much has changed.  Because unless we see Jesus we usually don't believe.

This is what my Operation Christmas Child journey has done for me.  I know these simple gifts have power to change the lives of children and families around the world, but they have also changed my life.

OCC has allowed me to see Jesus in ways I never could before.  Little by little He has wooed me to trust Him for greater things and in the process of seeing the miracle of His provision I have SEEN Him.

I am leaving in less than 12 hours for the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference in Orlando, Florida, where we will celebrate the 100 million boxes God has provided through a series of miracles over the past 20 years.

I'm hoping to blog through this weekend so stop back and visit.  Together, I know we'll see Jesus.