Monday, April 28, 2014


I just need a reminder today of all the ways God has blessed our Operation Christmas Child project in the past, so here's a story from 2006--

Whispers -- 2006

            Maybe you should scale back this year.  You prayed for all that toothpaste, and now you’re overloaded with tubes of it and you probably won’t have enough clothing items. 
            Whispers of doubt about the Operation Christmas Child project creep over my soul almost every day.  Today is no exception.   The sidewalk sale is going on again at Gabriel’s and I’m concerned, as always, that I’ll miss their bag sale.  A few days ago my husband said to me, “What’s the big deal if you miss one?” 
            “The big deal,” I replied, “is that I’d miss out on several hundred high-quality brand name clothing items at dirt cheap prices.” 
            The bag sale shouldn’t happen until this weekend—most of them are on Sundays—but what if they have it this Saturday?  We’ll be at a church growth group retreat on that day.  My mind spinning, I stare out the window and pray, “God, I don’t want to miss this sale.  If it’s Your will, please help me to be there when it starts, and somehow I pray that this will bring glory to You.”
            Putting aside my bag sale obsessions, I boot up the computer and open an e-mail from Heather Rowley.  Heather’s a fellow shoebox fanatic from Iowa who shared about Operation Christmas Child during her recent appearance on the national TV game show Wheel of Fortune, and we’ve been corresponding for a few weeks now.  I wrote to congratulate her on the article I just read about her on the Operation Christmas Child website, and I sent her the piece I wrote about how God provided for the shoeboxes we packed in 2005 after the tsunami in South Asia.
            Heather writes “I am AMAZED at your stories. The Tsunami one I think was my favorite so far.”  Her comment makes me decide to read that piece again, so I click open that file and read of all the ways God worked to allow us to put together over 400 shoeboxes in just a few weeks.  How quickly I can forget that God is the one in control of this project.  Thanks to Heather, I have the reminder I need this morning.
            Buoyed by memories of God’s grace, I drive out to Gabriel’s to do my daily check of the sidewalk sale.  It’s only 9:00 on this already-sweltering August morning, so I have plenty of time to scope things out and then make it to church by 10:00 to meet another Heather—Heather Rogers—so we can organize our shoebox storage room.
            I feel the heat of the pavement through my soles already as I cross the parking lot and approach the racks of clothing lined up on the sidewalk.  There is no cashier outside yet—only a lone male employee whom I’ve never seen before.  He isn’t even wearing the usual Gabriel Brothers’ blue employee vest. 
            I inspect some of the shirts that are already starting to get fade lines on the shoulders from days of hanging in direct sunlight. “I wish there was some way they could shade these clothes,” I comment to the man.  “It’s a shame that they get ruined from the sun by the end of the sale.”
            “I know,” he answers.  “I keep tellin’ ‘em they oughta get a roll-out awning to cover the sidewalk so we don’t haveta take all the stuff in every time it rains.  But they don’t listen to me.”  He shakes his head.
            “Well, our church packs shoeboxes of gifts to send to kids in other countries, so I’m always waiting for the bag sale to start.  We get lots of good deals that way.”
            He nods his head and moves off toward the store.  There’s still no cash register or cashier in sight out here, so I go into the store to look for bargains.  A few minutes later, as I’m perusing a rack of children’s clearance items, the employee I met outside ambles up, leans near my ear, and whispers, “Just so’s you know.  There’s gonna be a bag sale today.  All you can stuff in a bag for $10.00—just for today.”
            “Wow!  Thanks!”  I say, but he’s already walked on.  I rush toward the front of the store, grab a shopping cart, and head outside.  With frenzied movements I start yanking little girls’ shorts from their hangers, and in less than a minute I’ve cleared a whole rack of them.  Next I start grabbing shirts with the hangers still attached and tossing them into my cart.  I can always get the hangers off later.  I’m alone out here right now, but you never know when someone might come to challenge me for these treasures. 
            Now I spot the cashier getting set up at her table, even though no cash register has appeared as yet.  My cart is already whispering groans under its burden of several hundred items.  I still don’t see any signs confirming that there’s a bag sale, so I stride to the cashier and ask, “Is there a bag sale today?”
            “Oh, no,” she says, “it’s still just half off whatever price it’s marked.  They’ll probably have it at half off all week and then have the bag sale on Sunday.”
            I glance at my load, heart sinking, and reply, “But someone inside told me there was a bag sale today.”
            She shakes her head, “Not that I know of.”
            Disheartened, I begin the daunting task of replacing all this stuff.  It only takes a few minutes to get all the shirts that are still on hangers returned to their racks.  Then I cringe when I see the hundred or so pairs of shorts mounded in my cart that will have to be reattached to the hangers I left swinging on their racks only minutes ago.  Sighing, I pick up the first pair.  Might as well get started.
            Out of the corner of my eye I see the manager walking up to the cashier with papers in his hand.  Whispers of hope flutter around me like August fireflies.  Then I hear him utter those magic words, “There’s a bag sale today.”
            A bag sale on a Tuesday.  Amazing.  And I didn’t miss it.  Incredible.
            I feel that familiar adrenaline surge, and I turn to yank those shirts off the racks again.  There is still no one else here, and within fifteen minutes I have gleaned all useable items and reaped a bountiful harvest of ripe bargains.   Leaving my cart by the cashier, I sprint to the pay phone to call Heather Rogers and tell her I’ll be late for our meeting at church, then I hurry back to claim my treasure.
            A half hour later the cashier finishes putting clothing into the last of the eight filled bags.  “That’ll be eighty dollars,” she says.  And when I hand her the money, she continues, “Sorry about the mix-up.  I really didn’t know there would be a bag sale today.”
            “Oh, that’s okay.  I pray every day that God will help me to be here when these sales start, and He answered my prayers again.”  She smiles and starts to pile the bags into my cart.
            Two hours later, Heather Rogers and I stand in the church basement where we have just finished sorting, folding, and counting the clothing in those eight bags.   The grand total is 465 wonderful clothing items.  “Just look at all this stuff,” Heather says. “Calvin Klein, Guess, and Aeropostale shirts and all these nice shorts.  What a haul.  And just think—you almost missed this sale.”
            “Yeah.  If that man hadn’t whispered to me about it when I was inside the store, I would have just walked out and drove over to church.  I mean, there was no sign of a bag sale outside, and they’ve never had one on a Tuesday.”
            “And if you hadn’t pulled all those shorts off the hangers and felt you had to put them back the way you found them, you would have been gone before the manager even came out with the bag sale signs,” Heather reminds me.
            She pulls out a calculator so we can check the ‘per item’ cost for these piles of clothing.  Her fingers move over the keys, and then she proclaims, “Only seventeen cents each!”
            I shake my head and hear new whispers—memorial stones to mark God’s goodness being quietly placed on the altar of my heart.  And a still, small voice that reminds me, “I will never leave you.  Even on a Tuesday morning at Gabriel’s.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Decade of Partnership

This evening I had the blessing of being at First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant to present them with a plaque honoring them for more than a decade of service to Operation Christmas Child as a relay center and then a collection center.

I figure that over the past decade this church has been the hub for collecting and sending out more than 100,000 gift-filled shoe boxes to bless children around the world.

I don't think we could have grown the ministry in our area at the same rate without their joyous participation--without them opening their facility and using their heat and light to bless our donors--without the volunteers from their church who worked tirelessly to pack boxes into cartons, pray over them, and load them onto trucks.

We are so grateful to our friends at FPCC and to all those churches and facilities around the country who serve as relay and collection centers.

May God bless you abundantly for your faithful partnership in the gospel.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Something Better

These little girls in the Dominican Republic were waiting to receive their Operation Christmas Child shoe box gifts.

Like them, I too am waiting.

I think of all the prayers I have prayed asking God to give our NWPA Operation Christmas child team a Community Relations Coordinator and a Network Coordinator.  All the prayers prayed for items for our packing party this year.  All the prayers prayed for salvation for loved ones.

This morning I read these verses in John chapter 11--

John 11:5,6--"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he (Lazarus) was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was." 

 Because Jesus loved them He stayed where He was instead of coming to heal Lazarus. Because He loved them, He didn't answer their prayers for healing right away. Jesus had something better. 

I look at all the seemingly unanswered prayers I've been praying and take courage. 

Jesus has something better.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Christmas In April and Resurrection Rolls

Ho, Ho, Ho...the air temperature was in the 'teens' here in Erie, PA today and the ground is covered with a blanket of white snow.

I feel like it's Christmas in April--and not just because of the snow.

I got a great donation of nearly 200 handmade stuffed animals from our team member--Pam Suter.  Each one took hours to make and so much love was stitched into them.  I can just picture the joy they will bring.

Pam also donated a couple of bags of filler items, some colorful handmade scarves, and even three perfect little blankets.

I also received two more bags of toys from a generous little girl and boy to add to the collection.

Best of all, I had a great visit yesterday from Leigh Fisher, my Operation Christmas Child Regional Director, who took the time to drive across the state to listen to me and cry with me and pray with me.

Last evening the three coordinators from our area team sat around a table with Leigh and me and we talked about some of the problems and 'roadblocks' that keep our team from functioning optimally.

Have you seen the recipe for Resurrection Rolls?  To make them you need a tube of 8 crescent rolls and 8 regular size marshmallows.  We dipped each marshmallow in melted butter and then rolled it in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar (I used equal parts of brown and white sugar.)  Then we placed each marshmallow (representing the body of Jesus--or, in our case last night, those seemingly giant challenges) inside one of the crescents of dough and made sure it was totally encased with all the edges sealed.

Then we baked them in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes and...those giant marshmallow 'problems' disappeared leaving us with yummy 'empty tombs' that symbolized God's power that raised Christ from the dead and still is available to us today.

As we discussed the pros and cons of hosting our 6th large Operation Christmas Child packing party this fall it became clear to all of us that we need to move forward in faith.

We don't know where all the items will come from or how they will be financed.   What we do know is that though there have been challenges this year we have not seen God firmly close a door on this packing party venture.

So, as a team, we move ahead.  Again.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

No News Is...No News

My Operation Christmas Child blog posts this year have been more infrequent than those of the past two years.  I think that's because, frankly, no news news.

You can only post so much about the empty storage container and the lack of items.

I'm still praying about whether God wants us to host a large packing party this year.   A few months ago I was certain that He did and now... not completely.  When things are slow going it's hard to know if God is asking us to wait on Him and push through or if He is closing doors.

Through the intervention of another Operation Christmas Child volunteer I was able to purchase 18,158 washcloths at a pretty good price.  But now I have to figure out how to get them here from the other end of the state.

We have paper.  We have washcloths.  We have some leftover pencils.  We have 1350 stuffed animals.

We have little else.

We do have 11,000 coloring books, but I found out they are not acceptable for the special boxes we pack at our large packing party.  We'll be giving them to folks who are having regular OCC packing parties in our area or sending them to the processing center as fillers.  So I keep telling myself that all the hauling of them is worth it.  They will still make some children happy.  But they won't be filling the corners of empty boxes at a large packing party.

No's not necessarily good news.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

My Life Changed 55 Years Ago Today

This little brown New Testament is falling apart.  The spine is gone and the pages are loose.  But it's still my most prized possession.

On April 6, 1959 I attended an after-school children's evangelistic service in the basement of my church led by a team of men from Word of Life Camp.

I had been in Sunday school since nursery age, but this was the first time I ever heard the entire gospel, including the story of the crucifixion.  Though I was only 6 years old, God gave me a clear picture of my sin and the weight of it.  I began to sob inconsolably--so hard I couldn't tell the men who were leading the program what was wrong.  They were at a loss.

I couldn't tell them that what I needed to know was how I could ask Jesus to forgive me.

My father, a non-believer, drove up to the side door of the church to get me.  I jumped in the car and asked him, "Daddy, do you know how I can ask Jesus to forgive me?"  He didn't have an answer.

When we got home my fifteen-year-old brother was the only one there.  When my father was out of earshot I asked my brother my question.  Fearing my father, he cupped his hand around my ear and whispered the truth--all I had to do was ask Jesus and He would forgive me and make me new.

So I went into my bedroom and knelt by my bed and made the best decision of my entire life.  I didn't see any angels but I had peace.  I knew my life was changed.

My brother brought me this little brown Gideon Bible New Testament and wrote in the back a confirmation of my decision and left a blank for me to sign my name, and I happily printed it.

The problem was that my father realized what had happened and became angry. After the yelling was over, he gently put me on his lap and explained that he knew more than those people at that church.  He told me I didn't need to have any sins forgiven and that the stories I heard at church were just that--stories.

So I took a pen and scratched out those words in the back of that New Testament--thinking I would take it all back.

The next day, though, my brother was alone with me as he made my lunch.  He gave me assurance of the reality of God and my decision was reaffirmed.

I printed my own confirmation in the back of that New Testament.

Now, 55 years later, I am still amazed by God's grace and forgiveness.  I still have that New Testament...and I still have peace.