Sunday, March 29, 2015

T minus 31 days -- Colombia & Siloam

Back in 2009 I went on an Operation Christmas Child distribution trip to give out shoe boxes in the Dominican Republic.  I'm afraid I had some fairy tale expectations for this trip--the dream trip of a lifetime to see the work of OCC firsthand.

Don't get me wrong; there were some wonderful moments on that trip.  But I also struggled--overwhelmed by my failure to connect with the children as I wanted to; uncomfortable in another culture.  I took a packed shoe box with me to give to a child, but I lost track of it in the chaos of a distribution and never was able to actually see it opened.  

The main thing I learned on that trip is how many children are still waiting to receive a box to let them know of God's love.  I saw what I needed to see to be able to give that message to churches and groups in our area.  And I told people I'd need a clear message from the Lord to get me to go on a mission trip again.

So I was surprised right before Christmas when I got a call from our regional staff members extending an invitation to go on another shoe box distribution trip--this time to the country of Colombia from 4/30-5/4/15.  They needed an answer in two weeks.  I told them I'd pray about it, and I did.

I prayed about it a lot.  And, finally, God helped me realize the trip was not about me in any way--not even about me being able to minister directly to anyone in Colombia.  It's about giving me an opportunity to see what He is doing through Operation Christmas Child so I can share that with others as He allows it.  So I committed to go.

A few weeks ago I got another confirmation about this trip as I was in a group studying the miracles of Jesus, based on Mark Batterson's book, "The Grave Robber."  We were discussing Jesus's healing of the man born blind as recorded in John 9.

John 9:5-7 reads "'While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.'  When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam' (which is translated, Sent), so he went and washed, and came back seeing."

Mark Batterson explains that the pool of Siloam was quite a distance away from the area where Jesus first encountered the blind man.  This man could not see Jesus spit and make mud--he only felt the mud applied to his eyes.  And Jesus never even promised the man he would be healed.  Jesus simply told him to go wash in the pool, and he had to make the choice to obey and make that trip.  He had to walk quite a distance, unseeing, and travel down many stairs to do what Jesus told him to do.  But he was rewarded with vision.  And did you notice that Siloam means 'sent'?

Reading that story convinced me Jesus is sending me, too, and as I obey He will somehow allow me to see what He wants me to see.

Will you pray that happens?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


I'm still trying to adjust to being retired and not having a set schedule for my day.  This morning I wondered what to do with myself and thought about spontaneously going to volunteer at a local food bank.

As I was pondering that I had a random thought about going to our local Big Lots store to check for bargains. I remembered getting winter slippers there for 90% off at about this time last year.  I had no reason, though, to think they'd be on sale this week.  I hadn't even been in that store for months.

I dismissed the thought for awhile, but I couldn't entirely shake it.  Finally, I decided to make the trip, thinking I could stop at the grocery store at the same time.

So I got to Big Lots, grabbed a shopping cart, and headed to the aisle where I thought I'd find winter footwear.  Nothing.

I decided to leave and turned my cart down another aisle to make my way out.  That's when I saw the sign--

It was pretty amazing.  As I started loading my cart with nice slippers, another shopper came up behind me and started taking some from the rack also.  I tried to allow her to choose what she wanted and told her I'd take the rest.  She ended up with about 25 pairs of slippers and I left the store with 65 pairs.

If I'd listened to those first promptings I'd have gotten there a bit earlier and maybe avoided the competition.  I did have a nice time talking about Operation Christmas Child with the manager in the check out line, and she told me to call her in the future and she'll let me know when things are going to be reduced.   Apparently I missed out on the 90% off on winter hats and gloves they had recently.

Here are some of those cute treasures--

The ones in the foreground were .60 each and the cute boots in the back were $1.00.  Those nice Dearfoams ones were $1.20.

These soft, cuddly ones were .50 each.

I think the three pairs of fluffy pink boots were my favorites.

Well...and these cutie patootie ones with bear faces for 60 cents.

There's another Big Lots store on the other side of town, so after stowing my treasures in the back of my minivan I headed there.  When I arrived at that store I grabbed my cart and headed to the slipper display only to find they were marked at regular price.  I took a few pairs to the cashier to have the prices checked and they all came up at regular price.

I told her they had been 90% at the store on the other side of town and asked her if each store had individual pricing.  She said they did not, but also said their store never discounts below 50% off.  Weird.

Still...getting 65 pairs of cute and sturdy slippers for $48.00 is a pretty good way to spend a day of retirement.

Thanks for praying.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

#tbt Twilight Zone

 (photo from 2010 Operation Christmas Child packing party in Erie, PA)

I have a love-hate relationship with technology.  I'm in the process of switching my use from the MAC laptop I purchased in 2008 to our new MAC laptop.  Did I mention I hate change?  I find myself frequently having to go back to the old computer to find an old e-mail or address that I need.

My daughter put many of the photos that were stored on the old computer into Dropbox but I can never figure out how to access them when I need them.  I just went to the old computer and sent myself a picture to use on this blog.  I really need to figure this out before the old computer dies a certain death.

So...imagine my surprise when I just did a search in my e-mail account on my new computer only to have a bunch of old 'sent' messages from 2010-2012 pop up.  Now, these are messages that I feel sure I deleted from the old computer years ago.

This is a true "Throw Back Thursday" that I never planned.

But...what a blessing these messages have been.

Yesterday my husband and Pam, our area team media coordinator, joined me on a trip to Warren, PA to visit our collection center coordinator there.  It's a three-hour round trip and on the way home we were talking about our 2015 Operation Christmas Child community packing party planned for September 18th & 19th this year.

As we discussed some of the challenges and mused about the fact that several people at the recent OCC Connect Conference told us they'd stopped doing large packing parties for various reasons, my mind started to spin with doubts again.

Is this really what God wants us to do?  That's always the basic question.  Because if God is for us, then who can be against?

Still, as we talked about the possibility of having several different shifts and whether that would increase or decrease our volunteer pool...

And as we talked about all the thousands of items we still need and how to obtain them...

And as we talked (again--do we ever stop?) about how God will provide the funds for these boxes to be shipped...

Those persistent whispers echoed in my mind telling me it would be a WHOLE lot easier to just cancel the whole thing.

So...this morning, inexplicably, I am bombarded with my own messages about God's provision for our packing party in 2010.  I wrote this e-mail in response to questions from an OCC staff writer on 9/27/10--

"God moved in so many ways over the packing party on Saturday.  Last year when we had our first large packing party I was so blown away by God's provision.  This year I worried that I wouldn't have that same sense of wonder.  I thought I knew what to expect and that I wouldn't have that same awe and surprise.  Well, I was wrong.

There were a number of obstacles that came up in the week before the party.  On Thursday afternoon the last 3000 boxes of crayons came in, which was a true blessing since they'd been on order for almost 4 weeks.  The paper that was to be donated did finally come on Friday afternoon but it was much less than I expected--only three small boxes of paper--and not nearly enough for all the boxes.  It was a blessing that God had provided thousands of free coloring books for us.  

I ordered 4 of the 3" wide packing tape dispensers a week ago and they were to be sent via UPS from the Staples store in Meadville--a city about an hour's drive from Erie.  They stil hadn't arrived by the time I returned home from school on Friday so I called the Staples store to check on them and found they had never been sent.  The only way to get them would be to drive a two-hour round trip to Meadville.  I tried to think of someone I knew from that area who could pick them up and then I realized that Leigh Fisher, my OCC Regional Director, was driving up from Baltimore to come for the packing party.  I called her cell phone but didn't reach her and left a voice mail.  About 5 minutes later my phone rang and Leigh said, "Kathy, I'm in Meadville.  I got a late start because I had problems with my rental car this morning."  I asked her if she'd received my voice mail and she hadn't.  But she was just 2 miles from the Staples store and went to pick up the tape dispensers with no problem.  It was a God thing that she was delayed in the morning and thus was in just the right spot at the right time to pick them up.  

total boxes packed = 12,670  (if you remember from some of the totals I gave you in advance, this is quite a few more than I anticipated.  The first thing we ran out of was toothpaste and then pens but we kept packing as long as we had enough items to make decent boxes.  We used every usable box we had.  I had wanted to discard some of the regular shoe store boxes that were littering the storage area before the party but I'm glad I didn't because each one ended up being filled.

We expected around 200 volunteers BUT we ended up with 500 volunteers from 25 different churches and organizations. There were over 100 Girl Scouts alone.  The neat thing was that I believe many of them were not 'church people' and it was so great to bring them into the church for an event like this.  Our space was a bit overloaded and they had to wait in line to get to the 'shoebox packing line' but it was still wonderful.  

The packing was over by about 3:30 and it took until 5:00 pm to totally finish the clean-up but packing 12,670 boxes in 6 hours was amazing.  At one point we were doing 1000 every 20 minutes which is way beyond anything I ever imagined.   I was TOTALLY SURPRISED once again by our AWESOME GOD.  Even a few years ago I never could have imagined anything like this."

And there were a dozen other e-mails in this bunch, too.  Messages of thanks to team members that reminded me of all their efforts over the past years; messages between me and fellow OCC volunteers who have been my prayer partners; messages from relay center coordinators with their numbers of shoe boxes collected in 2010 and 2011 that remind me just how far God has brought us.   

I still have absolutely no idea how these precious reminders of God's provision that I'm certain were deleted years ago ended up in the e-mail on my new computer this morning, but God used them as memorial stones of His goodness today.  

And, after all, His goodness is always a mystery.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Dr. Jack Graham--Leaving A Legacy--2015 OCC Connect Conference

(message by Dr. Jack Graham--pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas.  This church began participating in OCC in 1994 and has produced about 600,000 shoe boxes)

The shoe box is a tool, but there’s another story of a box in the Bible—the story of Mary and the alabaster box she broke over Jesus.  Jesus said, “Wherever the gospel is preached what she has done will be a memorial unto me.”  And we’re still talking about it.  How many millions of dollars have come into the kingdom because of that lady and her alabaster box she presented to the Lord.

So I guess it’s a sign of age when we think about legacy.  We really shouldn’t be thinking about leaving a legacy but about living a legacy.

Mary of Bethany lived a legacy.  Every time you meet Mary in the Scripture she is at the feet of Jesus. 
--she was at the feet of Jesus with her time (while Martha was serving)
--she was at the feet of Jesus with her tears (Lazarus' death)
--she was at the feet of Jesus with her treasure (her box of ointment)

When she anointed Jesus, though some denounced her for this act of love, Jesus defended her.

When I look at you this evening and what you have done.  You may think it’s not big but it’s a beautiful thing to the Lord.  It’s what we can do—each one of us.

This legacy we give to the Lord can be criticized.  It’s a criticized work.  When Mary gave her box, they said, “we could have given this to the poor.”  I can tell you how never to be criticized:  say nothing. Do nothing.  Be nothing. 

Some will hate us for the message we bring.  The one who led the criticism against Mary was Judas.  Judas didn’t care about the poor; he cared about the money.  His criticism was a subterfuge for his greedy heart.  The people who love Christ the most love the poor the most.  What we’re doing is making an eternal difference in people’s lives. 

When you’re criticized, what happened to Mary will happen to you—

--Jesus will defend you
--those who criticize you have the problem, not you
--Mary most likely didn’t even hear the criticism because she was focused on Jesus

I wish I had 10,000 lives to waste serving Jesus Christ.  It was worth it to Mary to pour out everything she had saved for the Lord.  Worship and worth are connected.  What you value, you worship.  There’s no greater love than to pour out your life in serving Him.  She did what she could and Jesus commended her for it.

Mary was more instrospective than Martha.  Mary wasn’t all that talented but she gave what she had.  She broke the box and gave it to Jesus.

God uses all of us—Marys and Marthas—in big things and in little things.  Moses had a rod but it was God’s rod and there was power in it.  David had a sling shot but God won a battle with it. 

The point is that it’s time to quit comparing ourselves to what others do for Jesus and start doing what we can do for Him.  God will only require of you what He’s given to you. 

Mary did what she could; she did all that she could..  Some people say, “If I had a million dollars I would do great things for the Lord.”  But I tell them,, “You’d do the same thing with a million dollars that you do with the ten dollars you have.”

Mary’s was a criticized work but it was a commended work.  It was also a coatly work.  She didn’t save any for a rainy day.  She didn't save anything for retirement.  She didn’t hold anything back.  She gave it all.  Satan tells us to hold on to what we have. 

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to break the box?”  As pastors we’re always teaching people to give generously. 

What we do, we need to do now.  Mary anointed Jesus just one week before He died.  
Jesus poured it all out.  He didn’t save one drop of His blood.    Mary, before His burial, anointed His body.  She was listening to Jesus.  Jesus had been telling everyone He was going to the cross.  Mary was listening and because she was listening—she did what she could.  She did all she could;  and she did it when she could..

Don’t keep your alabaster box in your closet too long.  Do what you can do now.  We’re in the business of preparing people for death.  That’s what Mary did.  That’s our business.  Don’t wait until it’s too late to witness, too late to serve, too late to give what you have.

Mary didn’t count the cost; she gave it all.  And she could never have comprehended the consequnces.

She did what she could, she did all she could, and we’re still smelling the sweet perfume of her sacrifice today.  Your legacy is not a material legacy.  It’s what you do with what you have for Jesus.   Not everything we do in life is going to last.  Sports won’t last; clothes and cars won’t last.  What’s going to remain when you’re gone.  Your living legacy is what you do for Jesus. 

This is our watch.  This is our opportunity.  We can’t do everything but we can do what we can, we can do all that we can, and we can do it when we can. 

These will remain;  your motive; your ministry; what is done for Christ.  What is it about your life that will count for all eternity? 

Daniel 12:3 says  “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever..” 

 You are the stars of this ministry.  What you are doing is going to last beyond your imagination.  What value is just one life changed for Jesus Christ?  You can’t measure that, but God is measuring it.  You can’t even give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name that He doesn’t notice.

Thank you for taking your box, your gift, and breaking it open and pouring it out on Him.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dr. Kent Brantly--OCC Connect Conference

(Message at the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference on 3/12/15 from Dr. Kent Brantly, staff doctor working with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia who contracted the ebola virus, was brought back to the US for treatment, and by God’s grace made a full recovery.)  

When I read Scripture through the events of July & August 2014 everything seems new. 

I Corinth. 1: He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.
We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

I feel like I could have written that passage to our supporters and to many of you who lifted us up to the throne room of God when I was sick.  Thank you for praying for me, for my family and for holding us up before the Lord.

My wife Amber and I moved our family to Liberia in Octoer 2013 to be full-time medical missionaries.  How do you know God called you?  I know God called me because He has called all of us.  In 2 Corinthians 5 God calls all of us to be His ambassadors.  God reconciled us to Himself and gave us this glorious message of reconciliation.  We moved to Monrovia as part of the Samaritan’s Purse post-residency program.  This was the next natural step in a years-long journey of walking with Christ.  We all have different starting  points.  Amber and I were raised in Christian homes and along life’s path we each had transformational experiences.

One of those experiences happened between  my sophomore and junior year in high school when I left my small denominational Christian school and moved to a larger school.  This seemed like a tragedy to me but broadened my view of God’s world and His church.

Another transformational experience came in the form of mentors who encouraged me.  I want to ask you, “Who in your life are you in a position to mentor?  Not to say to them ‘come emulate me’ but to put your arm around someone and tell them ‘walk with me and let’s try to emulate Christ.”

Between my junior and senior years of college I was a biblical text major and we were required to do a summer internship.  So I went to Africa—Kenya and Tanzania—working with several different mission teams.  I learned two very important lessons—first—I am a slave to Christ and a slave goes where his master wants him to go;  second---God will give me what I need to be faithful to Him—whatever He calls me to.    I understand that differently now than I ever did before. 

After that summer I began to sense God’s call on my life to use my life to be an ambassador for the Kingdom of God so I began making decisions that pursued that calling.  We made connections with people and communities we might never have otherwise encountered. 

I met a doctor who introduced me to Liberia and invited me to be mentored by him.  We also made the decision to be connected with a church.  I give young people this advice—stay connected to a local church community that will mentor you and hold you accountable.

As I neared the end of college with my biblical text degree I felt called by God to have a skill set to use my life in service to others and that is how I chose medicine.  It was never about becoming a doctor but about becoming the hands of Jesus to a hurting and broken world.    I made a commitment to God and asked Him to open doors that I could walk through and if not, I asked Him to slam doors in my face.  From that day…nothing has gone the way I expected it to.

I have seen the maturation of God’s call in my life from a life of service to a life of discipleship and participating in the discipleship of others.  Ultimately it was that call to a life of discipleship that resulted in me getting ebola. 

One thing I’ve learned is what it really means that God will give you what you need to be faithful to Him

While lying ill in my bed with ebola I listened to a song, “We are more than conquerors.  What can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.  Nothing.”  What more do we need than to know that?  That’s what I needed to be faithful to Him in that moment.

And I understand better now what it means, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  It struck me one day that I could have died and it would have been gain.  But for me to live is Christ and because I live I am to be an ambassador for Christ. 

Another lesson I learned is the safest place to be is wherever God leads you.  Some said it was risky to take our family to West Africa.  But they were at much greater risk in the US to have their lives consumed by materialism.  We fool ourselves when we think that staying where we are will remove risk from our lives.  I’d rather take the risk in whatever place God’s leading me to.

What does this mean to you—1,200 OCC volunteers;  First, the most important thing is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength….and the second is like it:  to love your neighbor as yourself. 

It’s about being an ambassador for Christ wherever you are.  Helping whatever neighbor is in need so we can work out the glory of God. 

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shoe In

I love to put shoes in our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.  Yesterday I stopped again at Gabes and was able to find three pairs of shoes and one cute pair of fluffy slippers for $1.00 each.  I'm praying God will put each pair into the box of a child who will love them.

I wrote in a blog a few weeks ago about how God blessed me on a shopping trip by allowing me to find a pair of shoes I needed for myself for only $3.00.  I was thrilled.

Well, I've been wearing boots for the past couple of months and haven't needed those shoes.  Until last night.  Last night I started to pack for the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference and discovered I can't find those shoes.

I've looked everywhere and have decided I must have accidentally boxed them up with all the other shoes I bought for girls age 10-14 and put them into the storage container.  So...I guess I'm going on a  'search and rescue' mission to try to find them in there today.  If I can't find them I might be wearing running shoes for the whole conference.

The conference for year-round OCC volunteers begins tomorrow in Dallas, TX.  Two team members and myself are leaving today to drive to nearby Cleveland, OH to spend the night so we can make our early morning flight tomorrow.

It's exciting to anticipate being with 1,200 other passionate OCC friends.  We'd love it if you would pray for this conference--

  • that the Holy Spirit will have free reign and each of us will be still and hear God's voice
  • that each volunteer will be energized and equipped in new ways to accomplish God's purpose through OCC
  • that speakers will be anointed and OCC staff will be empowered to serve well
  • most of all...that God will be glorified in all we do 
Oh, and I know it's just a small thing but in I Peter 5:7 God tells us to cast all our cares on Him so...will you pray I find those shoes?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Stuffed With Love

This Wednesday I got a very special delivery of 332 handmade stuffed animals--mostly cats--for our Operation Christmas Child packing party.

These were all made by one woman--Teresa--who has a goal to make 1,000 stuffed animals by September.  She cuts these from fleece and uses the scraps as part of the stuffing so she doesn't have any waste.  I love her tenacity and her vision.  She joins Pam who has been working non-stop to sew and crochet animals also and has amassed over 300.  Now all we need are 23 more passionate folks busily crafting 1,000 animals each!

On Friday I braved another trip to the storage container and shoveled another six inches of ice-encrusted snow from the front of the doors.  Rose and Kathy met me there and we unloaded a few dozen cartons of paper they've already stapled into packets.  Then we unloaded the rest of the paper from the container into their cars so they, along with Ann, can count and assemble the remainder into thousands more of those packets.  Those 395 reams of donated paper will make almost 20,000 packets assembled by three people. Amazing.

Today I was watching videos based on Mark Patterson's book on prayer-- "The Circle Maker"--when a woman stopped by with a bag of stuffed animals to contribute.  Her mother recently passed away and the family wanted to donate her collection.  So I think I need to pray around a circle big enough for 25,000 stuffed animals.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed as I contemplate the sheer number of items we still need to acquire to fill these boxes,  but God keeps bringing miracles along day by day...

all of them stuffed with love.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Faith & Works & Shoe Boxes

This past Wednesday evening I lived out the dream of every Operation Christmas Child shoe box packer.  I attended a shoe box distribution...

Well, sort of.

We had our monthly OCC area team meeting and after some necessary preliminaries I informed the five team members who attended that they'd been invited to go to a special meeting at a local church to receive a shoe box.

They obediently lined up and we marched to another area of my home.  I'd hung crepe paper decorations to make it more festive, and after everyone was seated I welcomed them to the event and started the DVD of an actual shoe box distribution in the Dominican Republic in 2009.

I prepared a special shoe box gift for each team member and my plan was to have them open their boxes right along with the children who opened their boxes on the DVD.  Unfortunately, my DVD drive malfunctioned and kind of ruined the moment.

But...we did eventually get to see the majority of the distribution video and the team members seemed to enjoy their boxes (my adaptation of the "Sur-thriv-al Kit" shoe boxes that our regional director, Leigh Fisher, prepares for us at our retreat each year.)

The idea of the distribution activity was to help us all refocus on the goal of our team--to promote OCC in our area so more children around the world will get a chance to have a "gospel opportunity" and learn of God's love.

We talked about how to recruit more members for our team.  Our team is very focused on prayer, so as we discussed recruitment, one member said, "God is our recruiter."  We agreed to continue asking God to build our team.

I'll confess--after the meeting I wondered if I did enough to "translate the cause" for why we all need to do the hard work of recruitment. Prayer is definitely important, but we also need to ask God to give us opportunities and boldness to invite others to join us.

As Leigh Fisher reminded me on the phone a few days later, "If you want to run a marathon, you can't just pray about it.  You have to go out and train for it."

She's right.

As I think about it, this struggle about how to recruit reminds me of the tension between faith and works in our spiritual life.  We can't live without faith, but our faith without our works is dead.

I don't ever want us to recruit in our own power, yet, God is also asking us to "get out of the boat."

Or else we'll never get out of this box.