Saturday, September 28, 2013


God did it.  Again!

Well, of course we knew He would.  That's what faith is.  But it still delights me in a new way each time.

To see God move throughout this Operation Christmas Child packing party weekend leaving His fingerprints on every detail is incredible.

There are too many stories to tell in one blog but so many of them are strange sequels that live over and over each year.

I don't know why it works this way, but it always seems the thing I feel I have plenty of is the first item we run out of.  This year it was pens.  I left extra pens at home this morning because I KNEW we had plenty.  Go ahead and laugh.

And all that angst I had over the past weeks when I couldn't figure out why the records didn't jive and I thought I was short 1,000 boxes of crayons.  Well---there were two large boxes of bagged crayons left over.

Because she read on my blog that I was nervous about running out of soap, Amy Gibson brought extra soap from Cleveland and saved the day on that front.

Oh...and the stuffed animals?  Well, once again I'm not sure how that happened exactly, but even though my last records showed we were short by 3,000-4,000 we had enough right up until the end.

Pam Dumont from Erie Christian Fellowship Church prayed and hunted and eBay-shopped for them right up until last night with a final count of 3,500.  She was washing them through the night last night.

And there were the usual logistics snafus.  We ran out of boxes.  Again.

We ran out of cartons.  Again.

We only had room on the truck because we piled 12 of the stacks of cartons six high.

There were many, many times when I just couldn't get a handle on what was going on.  And there were stretches of time when I hid in the corner praying while I worked on inspecting radios to be put into boxes (another story).

We struggled all day to have enough fillers and then ended up with 2,000 leftover radios and cases of paddleballs.  Again.

Even with all the chaos the whole packing event was finished before 2:30 pm.


The trucks have a grand total of 22,490 precious gift-filled shoe boxes on them.  Oh, and there was one more box that was found late and never made it into the cartons on the truck.  Again.

Thank you all for your encouragement, your messages, and most important of all--your prayers.

In these two days a community of 650-700 volunteers from 39 different churches and 13 community organizations, supported by the prayers of believers around the country,  joined in watching God do what only He could do.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Off and Running

When we billed it as a "youth packing party" I don't think we even anticipated how young they could be.  This little one was SO precious as she chose items for her Operation Christmas child shoeboxes.  What joy!

This morning our intrepid packing party team leader, Elizabeth Randolph, bravely hosted 18 students in 5th through 8th grade from a Christian School in Clarion for a morning packing session.  They packed 1,267 boxes to kick off the day and did a wonderful job.

There were the usual glitches of the day.  The truck was placed in the wrong spot in the night, but, by God's grace, the driver cheerfully moved it when he came to drop the second truck.

I kind of freaked out when I found out that at the morning packing session they could not get 23 boxes in a carton and so packed 22 in each of them instead.  My calculations showed we could possibly run out of both cartons and truck space with only 22 in a carton.  I asked the prayer team to pray that we could get 23 in each carton.

Today, when I got to the church I started working on the cartonizing problem, and I found I could get 23 in a carton.  Then my husband showed up and we had a little "discussion" about this.  He was pretty adamant about putting only 22 in a box.  Finally I walked away from the situation (not sure that counts as submission) and the result was that some cartonizers put 23 in a box but most only put 22 in a box.

I can't wait to see how that works out tomorrow.

Meanwhile, those energetic youth packed 5,650 boxes tonight for a day's grand total of 6,917 in the truck to start the day tomorrow.

My thoughts as I looked around the room--
Wow--this is moving way too fast.  It doesn't look like we have enough stuff left to pack another 15,000 boxes.

Then I made the mistake of counting the cartons of soap we have left and deciding we'll be short 1,000 bars even though I know I ordered 22,000 bars.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story tomorrow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Get Ready, Get Set

Tonight was the end of four evenings of Operation Christmas Child packing party set-up.  Another great crew worked tirelessly (well, they seem tireless even though I'm sure they were tired.)

It's always hard to know what we should be accomplishing each night and there's always more that could be done.  It's amazing how much packaging needs to be opened and removed to get those treasures ready for easy access.

We now have 14,000 boxes labeled and ready to be filled.

There are always so many unknowns and this year is no exception.

I wonder how these boxes will work out and whether getting them closed properly will cause a bottleneck at the end of the line.

I wonder if the fillers will hold out and the boxes will be full enough.

On the other hand, I wonder if the fillers and stuffed animals may be too large and cause the boxes to bulge.

Tomorrow morning a group of 5th through 8th grade students from a Christian school near Clarion arrive to pack boxes and in the evening we'll host our youth packing party.

So all those questions will soon be answered.

Ready...As set as we can be....GO!

The answers to those questions will soon be revealed.

Memorial Stones

Just as the Israelites set up "memorial stones" to help them remember times of God's goodness and deliverance, I have a journal where I often record those times of deliverance in my life.  And many of those in recent years revolve around Operation Christmas Child.

Last night I couldn't fall asleep so I got up and tracked down my journals from the times of the packing parties in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  What a blessing it was to read how God worked in unique ways in each of those years.

In 2009 I wrote of the night before the party, "I couldn't fall asleep...I kept repeating Psalm 37:5 "Commit your way to the Lord.  Trust also in Him and He will do this."  Then I fell asleep.  I wrote later of the actual packing party day, "Things moved more quickly than I thought.  I ended up sending Jim over to Wesley to get more notebooks which we never ended up needing but he was also able to get candy, which we did need.  The thing I thought we had the most of was toothpaste and we ran out of that first, along with pencils and stuffed animals.  By 1:00 we'd packed 5,577 boxes and we were all cleaned up by 2:00."

Then came 2010:  "This year I thought I couldn't be surprised at the packing party but I was.  About 500 volunteers from 25 different churches and organizations were there and by 3:30 pm we'd packed 12,381 boxes.  We used every single box we had.  It was chaotic and people had to stand in line waiting but it was such a blessing..  I could sense all the prayers going up because I had a peace I knew was beyond myself."

In 2011:  "So many miracles once again.  We got the double shipment of tape and labels (the first shipment was never dropped with the cartons).  They dropped a 28 foot truck on Friday instead of a 53 foot truck but then were able to change it out in the middle of the night.  On Saturday morning we heard that Aaron Crossman who was going to run sound was sick.  When I got to Grace at 7:00 am we weren't sure what to do and then Dustin Craig who runs the worship team at Harborcreek just walked in (at 7:00 in the morning?) and took care of it.  When he turned on the sound "Bless The Lord Oh My Soul" was playing.  Not a coincidence.  ....  the truck was filled with 670 cartons and still we kept packing and filled 16,145 boxes--strange, since we were only supposed to receive 16,000.  Now we have 32 cartons left over than wouldn't fit on the truck and so much stuff left over that we could pack hundreds more boxes."

And then there was last year--when we ran out of white boxes and had to pack GO boxes to get to the goal of 21,106 shoe boxes and still had so many, many items left.

In just a few days I'll be writing about God's blessings on our 2013 packing party.

Because our Faithful God never runs out of miracles to remember.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday To-Dos

Grateful for another wonderful night of work as six team members and ten other volunteers wielded box cutters and filled the dumpster with cardboard.

More items were stacked and sorted.  Packaging was removed so items are ready for the packing lines.

And so far we have the boy/girl labels stuck onto 7,000 boxes.

The Tuesday To-Do list is knocked out and we're looking forward to Wednesday.

Monday, September 23, 2013

So It Begins...

It's the story of my life.  Everything always takes longer than I think it will.  And when it comes to preparing to pack 21,500 or more boxes...well, it takes a long time.

The day started with a true miracle.  My husband got two friends to help him with moving the delivery of boxes and cartons this morning.  While they were doing that, another truck arrived with the delivery of frisbees we thought would be delivered on Tuesday.  What a blessing to get both deliveries at the same time--when volunteers were there to help.

Tonight was the first night of packing party set-up.  A group of six team members, six adult volunteers, and one youth did an amazing job of making a dent in the tasks.

In the picture above you can see some of them hard at work putting labels on the boxes.  They finished 2000 out of the 22,000 tonight.  A good start!

Others worked hard to open boxes of coloring books, soap, and pencils.  The more we can get prepared in advance the better.

Stay tuned to hear of our progress night by night.

We're on the way.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Flying High

If you've been following this blog you know I've been praying for God to provide enough nice items to fill at least 21,500 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes at next Saturday's community-wide packing party.

With all the basic items obtained, my team and I have been praying specifically for stuffed toys and filler items--those special little treasures that make the precious boxes complete.

On Friday morning I got a call at work on my cell phone.  I try not to answer my phone at work and I was talking to another staff member at the time, but when I saw the call was from out of state I picked it up.

I'm so glad I did.

The call was from a dear Operation Christmas Child friend who brought a huge answer to those prayers we'd been praying.  He told me a shipment of 22,400 mini frisbees specially designed to fit into our boxes was being sent to us by truck.  He just wanted to confirm the address of the church for the delivery.

When I asked him what I could pay for them, he said "nothing" and told me he and his employers who manufacture these special items were "just being obedient to God."

And, OCC friends, please don't start messaging me to ask where you can get some of these.  I almost didn't blog about this because I don't want to: a) put the donor in a bad spot or: b) make it look like I rate some sort of special deal.

The truth is--God provides for each of these boxes around the world in His own way.

And, yes, I've struggled to remind myself of that when I've heard of others who've received amazing donations.

Today, though, was His time for a miracle right here.  A miracle that came from a special gift from fellow-Christians.  These folks are being obedient and meeting the needs of children around the world.  They're just allowing their gifts to pass through Erie, PA, on the way and bless us, too.

I've been flying pretty high since Friday.

And just think how high I'll be flying by this time next Saturday!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How Many?

Look at this adorable hand-tie-dyed T-shirt.  My new friend Rachel Hillen made 11 of these for our upcoming Operation Christmas Child packing party.

Here's the neat thing.  Before I received this gift from Rachel our clothing items totaled 21,990.  With these shirts from Rachel we now have 22,001.  Isn't that a great number?

While some folks have been spending time on fantasy football I've been spending lots of time fantasizing about how many shoe boxes we will pack on September 27 & 28.

Last year our packing party total was 21,106.  Our team agreed that was pretty much our maximum.  But I couldn't help but believe God could take us just a LITTLE higher.

It was hard to know how to answer when people asked, "What's the goal this year?"  I didn't want to state it too high, so lately I've been saying--21,500.

Still, I ordered 22,000 shoe boxes and purchased 22,000 bars of soap and 44,000 pencils and 44,000 pens and over 22,000 coloring books.

And even though God's brought in over 1200 stuffed animals in the past few days we are still 6,000 short.

Now, with Rachel's help, we have over 22,000 clothing items.

The tricky part is not knowing how the filler items will hold up.  I so want to be sure each of the boxes we pack will be a blessing to a child and not a half-filled disappointment.

What's your guess?  How many boxes will we pack?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Managing Blessings

God has His own timetable--that's for sure.  We've been praying for months for stuffed animals and also for another relay center (or two) for our Northwestern PA Operation Christmas Child Area Team.

But no new relay center seemed to be in the works and we started this week 7,000 stuffed animals behind where we were at this time last year.

Now here I am in the busiest time of my year.  The last week at school was the most stressful and busiest ever, and this week isn't looking any better.

So now God decides to open the windows of heaven.

Someone from a local church contacted OCC through the main website with the message that they'd like to be a relay center.  And then today alone I had 850 regular sized stuffed animals and another 100 or more teenie Beanie Babies donated.

Tonight I spent several hours sorting and stowing stuffed animals to clear the living room before our OCC team meeting at my house tomorrow night.

God, help me manage all these blessings.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


I love seeing how God works things together in this Operation Christmas Child journey.  In the midst of an exceedingly trying week at work there were plenty of God sightings.

I and others have been praying for God to give us 7,000 more stuffed animals and enough fillers for our packing party on September 28th.

This week a huge box from Oriental Trading arrived full of pencils, filler items, and small stuffed animals.  I didn't order them.  They were sent by Beth, a woman who lives in another state whom I've never met.  She sent them for our packing party and also sent a gift of money through Paypal to help with shipping of our shoeboxes.  What a blessing!

Today I trekked to a few yard sales.  I only found two stuffed animals and one of them I later noticed has a tear in it.  BUT while I was out hunting I got a phone call from a woman who wanted to donate new Beanie Babies.  I met her at 11:45 and picked up 106 animals.  Another God sighting.

Tonight the blessings continued.  Our team has been praying for at least 26 new participating churches for Operation Christmas Child in our area this season.

The phone rang an hour ago and it was the pastor's wife from a local church saying she wants their church to do shoeboxes.  Hallelujah!

What I love most is the intersections behind this call.  This woman attended a gospel sing in Lebanon, PA a week or two ago.  There she talked with an OCC volunteer and was given a packet of materials and a few brochures.   As she was considering getting the project started at her church she picked up a copy of a local free newspaper called Senior News and read an article they printed about our upcoming OCC packing party and got my phone number.

So--the faithfulness of an OCC friend in another part of the state who
 manned a display table combined with the faithfulness of Pam, our media team member, who submitted information to Senior News.

These intersections were used by God to answer our prayers and the prayers of children around the world.

God sightings.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Taking The Mantle

My Bible reading this morning was in 2 Kings and as I read chapter 2, my mind went back to Leigh Fisher, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for Operation Christmas Child, who focused our Area Coordinators' Retreat last January on this passage.  It's the story of Elisha's succession to Elijah's ministry.

Knowing God is going to take him to heaven soon, Elijah tries three times to leave Elisha behind, but Elisha is having none of that and refuses to leave Elijah.  He's just not ready to give up his mentor.

Elijah then takes his 'mantle'--his ordinary but most necessary cloak--and uses it to strike and divide the water and give Elisha one more exhibit of God's power.

Then easing Elisha into the inevitable, Elijah asks him what he can do for him before he goes to heaven.  And Elisha wisely and boldly asks for a double portion of his spirit.  What a gutsy request.  And Elijah promises he will get what he asks if he sees Elijah leave.  Elisha will have to let go of the man who is most precious to him to take hold of his destiny.

"As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them.  And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven."  vs. 11  -- In the midst of the ordinary "going along and talking" came the extraordinary.

"Elisha saw it and cried out, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen."  And he saw Elijah no more.  Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces."  vs. 12 -- His first response is pure grief.

"He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan." vs. 13 -- In the midst of the grief he TOOK the mantle and STOOD.  

Then...."He TOOK the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and STRUCK the waters and said, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha CROSSED OVER." vs. 14

In his grief over the abrupt change and loss of his mentor, it was all he could do to take the mantle and stand.

Then, looking for God, he actively struck the water--He challenged God to come and meet him and then he crossed over.

What mantle is God asking you to take up today?

I have a friend named Rose who struggles with a chronic illness yet took up the mantle of packing two thousand shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child in her home this year.

I have a friend named Heather who has taken up the mantle of inviting groups from her community into her home to pack shoe boxes regularly--totaling several thousand a year.

I have a friend named Pam who lives on a fixed income but trusts God to provide materials to allow her to crochet adorable stuffed animals for our shoebox packing party.  She's made more than 200 already this year.

God has a mantle for you.  And for me.

Pick it up.  And stand.  And strike.  And cross over.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Prayer Pause

For the past few minutes, while trying to choose a picture for this blog, I scrolled through images of Operation Christmas Child adventures over the past eight years or so.

I wonder how many prayers have been prayed over the years for these boxes?

I thought of all the specific prayers I'd prayed over the years--prayers for ball pumps and shoes; prayers that I'd be there when certain items went on sale; prayers for better prices and favor with store managers; prayers for volunteers and stuffed animals.

And, most of all, prayers that each of these 'gospel opportunities' would bring a harvest for the Kingdom.

When I think of recent months, though, I wonder if my prayer concentration for Operation Christmas Child has been slipping.

Last year, for example, I focused on praying for God to supply a goal number of stuffed animals each week.  I shared the goal on Facebook and asked others to pray along.  And God provided week by week in wonderful ways.

This year my life has been a little more complicated with family priorities and the weekly prayer concentration for stuffed animals has fallen off.

When I realize we have only 13,500 stuffed animals with less than four weeks until the packing party I wonder if the lack of prayer has been a part of that.

On the other hand, I actually feel peaceful and am trusting God to work this out and provide all we need to fill the boxes He wants filled at the packing party.

I don't want to presume on God's grace without spending time seeking Him in prayer, though.  After all, He commands us in Thessalonians 5:17 to "Pray continually."  That's pretty clear.

I can't do anything about the past months but I can ask God to renew my focus now.

I know He will hear.  Will you join me?