Thursday, April 30, 2015

Distribution Eve

It's been a blessed travel day and we sit on the eve of our first Operation Christmas Child shoe box distributions tomorrow.  Medellin (pronounced Mega-gene by the locals) looks beautiful and this hotel is astounding.  

We just came from our introductory meeting.  What a joy it was to meet ten members from the Regional Leadership Team in the area as they all shared greetings and comments with us through an interpreter.  Some of them are pictured here.

One said, "Sometimes we feel alone but these trips (when OCC volunteers come) help us feel we are not alone."

A young girl on the team shared, "I know that God is going to multiply in a wonderful way what you have given in this life and in your family and generation."

Another noted, "For many years you've been making boxes but now you can be a witness.  This weekend you can share in that."

And one shared, "This is a time God has given us to see the Kingdom of God come to Colombia."

Time to set my alarm and prayerfully ease into sleep, because tomorrow it begins.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Colombia Cash-In

Back in March, 2008 I got this letter from a girl named Laura Juanita Triana from Bogata, Colombia who had received one of the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes we packed in 2007.  We packed 4,665 boxes that year and at the time we received a lot of letters at our church from shoebox recipients.

So...I am sorry to say, I never responded to this letter which is written in Spanish.  As you can see, she even sent me some Colombian currency.

I tucked the letter away in one of the binders I keep for these special treasures, and when I was invited to go to Colombia this year to help distribute Operation Christmas Child boxes I remembered it and searched it out.

Tomorrow I will fly into Medellin, Colombia for this distribution trip, and I'm taking the letter with me.  This letter was from Bogata--quite a distance from where I'll be--but, hey, you never know.

I'm taking this Colombian cash with me, too, and praying I will find a special purpose for it on this trip.

I don't know why God has me flying out to Colombia.  I didn't ask to go.  I really don't want to go.  But after praying about this for a long time, I know God wants me to go.

I'm praying He will help me to see what He wants me to see and do whatever He wants me to do.  I am already regretting I didn't spend more time memorizing those Spanish phrases from the little book they sent me.  

Will you pray with me that I won't miss God's investment on this trip?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Boxes and Bountiful Blessings

The Operation Christmas Child blessings just keep pouring in lately.  Yesterday five members from our area team drove 1.5 hours to neighboring Warren county to enjoy a "celebration meeting".  We were blessed with twenty folks from the area who are passionate about packing shoe boxes and blessing children.

We were blessed to get two new prayer partners and shared lots of ideas for how to pack more boxes and prayerfully reach for our goal of 45,000 boxes in 2015.

And, for even more blessings, rewind back to last Wednesday.  I got an unexpected text message from our church administrator that afternoon telling me a truck was there with a delivery for me.  I'd placed an order for these visors the previous Friday, but I'd had no confirmation they were even shipped.

So...I jumped in the car and drove to the church, arriving in record time.  This is what greeted me...

a TON of visors (well, 2,380 pounds to be exact)--57 cases weighing almost 42 pounds each.  Ironically, the day before we had four people to unload 700 pounds of pencils and a day later I was on my own.  But I got to work--thankful for the cartons that had those great straps on them--and had half of them stored in the container before my husband arrived to give me a hand.

We got them all safely stacked, but I am a bit chagrined to see how full that storage container is now.  At this time last year our container was still nearly empty; that was a problem.   Now we have a new problem.  Famine to feast, it's always interesting to see how God works it out every year.

This morning brought even more bountiful blessings.  My media coordinator, Pam Niedhammer, and I made the rounds to three local Kmart stores and scored 266 stuffed bunnies and chicks at 90% off--only .39 each.

And...this afternoon Leigh Fisher, my regional director, called to get confirmation on ordering our truck and supplies for the packing party on September 18 & 19.  "Why does this scare me?"  I asked her.  Every year for the past six years we've seen God provide in amazing ways, and I know this seventh year will be no different.

I get a bit of a lump in my throat, though, when I think about the work it will take to get those boxes packed and loaded on the truck.

But God is filling those boxes even now...with visors and bunnies and pencils...and boxes and boxes of bountiful blessings.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When God Says "Yes!"

It might not look like it, but these cardboard cartons are full of answered prayers.  I know there are children around the world who will be praying for pencils, and these boxes are full of them (116,640 of them, to be exact.)  We prayed for a good deal on pencils for our Operation Christmas Child boxes and these are some of God's "yes" answers.  They showed up at our storage container today and God even kept the rain away until they were safely unloaded.

Actually, we've been seeing a lot of those "yes" answers lately.  Our OCC area team here in Northwestern PA has been praying for more than three years for a network coordinator to oversee our shoe box drop-off sites (relay centers and collection centers) and for years God has been saying "not yet" and/or "wait". of this past weekend we now have two men who are willing to share this job.  God's amazing "yes" times two!

Items have been coming in for our upcoming shoe box party--almost 1,000 stuffed animals just in the past week--and a chance came to order a huge load of nice cloth visors.

And these answered prayers have made me think about the faithful prayers of a group of adults at the church where I grew up.  Those adults prayed for a spiritual revival in the youth of our church and, wow, did God answer them with a resounding "yes"!

Their prayers were answered when a group of about a dozen of us high schoolers began meeting early every Sunday morning (I think it was 7:30, but I'm not positive) for passionate prayer in our pastor's study.  We crowded that room and we cried out to God and He gave us a ton of "yes" answers that catapulted all of us into lives of Christian service.

More than four decades later I think about so many of us who once prayed in that room--now scattered around the country and still serving the Lord.  We are blessed by marriages that have survived 40 years or more, with some working in full-time Christian ministry roles that have lasted nearly that long.   Others never became vocational ministers but are blessed to serve as choir directors, Sunday school teachers, and missions supporters.

I think of how many blessings have come to our lives and to the lives of those we have all been able to serve because of the prayers of those adults who committed to pray for revival.  What an investment they made!

I'm challenged to pray like that for the young people in my life and in my church.  Someday in heaven I want to share in the ministry of those who will come after me...because I prayed and waited for God to say, "yes!"

Monday, April 13, 2015

Egg-cellent Shopping

It has been a crazy and productive week of post-Easter shopping.  I scouted the leftover Easter merchandise last Monday morning, but 50% off just isn't enough of a discount to send me into buying mode.  

This year was a surprise, though, when Target reduced their Easter items to 70% off starting on Tuesday in some cities and on Wednesday here.  I immediately fell in love with some adorable stuffed lambs with a regular price of $4.99.  I almost caved and bought some at the 70% off price of $1.50, but I decided I really needed to wait.  l left the store with nothing but prayers and high hopes that some of those cuties would be left when they went to 90% off.

Meanwhile, over at Walmart I was keeping my eye on a huge display of stuffed animals that were regularly priced at only $2.99 and would be a great deal at 75% off.  

On Thursday morning I hit Walmart before 7:30 am.  The signs were still posted at 50% off, but I grabbed one of those stuffed animals and sprinted to the price checking machine.  Elated when it rang up at 75% off, I headed for the display where I filled two carts with what turned out to be 234 stuffed animals.  

 I had a very competent cashier and was out of there in 20 minutes with my treasures.  I hadn't checked the other Walmarts in my area, and I couldn't stand the thought of missing any more of these adorable toys.  So...I hopped on the interstate and headed 20 minutes east but had no luck at all there.

Back in the car and another 15 minutes west to the next Walmart.  Again--nothing.

I debated whether I should try another store--especially since I was supposed to be at a Bible study at 9:30.  I prayed and finally decided to head out to Edinboro--another 25 minutes west.  I was disappointed again.  Should have quit after the first store.

On Friday morning I hoped Target would be at 90% off, but they weren't.  I counted those lambs (all 15 of them) and I confess I even tried to hide some of them behind larger stuffed animals.

Saturday morning dawned bring and sunny, but we were supposed to leave for the two-hour drive to visit our daughter.   My husband didn't want to wait for Target to open.  So we headed out, stopped to get him coffee, and THEN he surprised me by heading to Target.  We waited about ten minutes in the parking lot before the doors opened, and I was first inside.

I raced to the Easter aisle and was so sad to find that even though they'd gone to 90% there were no lambs left.  I did end up with six cute fluffy animals and a few dolls for .49 each to bless another half dozen children.

 One thing Target did have was bags and bags of Easter eggs.  I started thinking it would be fun to buy them and fill them with little plastic rings or trinkets to bless the children with another brightly colored filler toy.

 So...before church on Sunday morning I headed back to Target and scored over 10,000 plastic eggs.  Each pack of 12 was only .08, making the eggs less than 3/4 cent each.  Each package had to be individually scanned so I was at the register for 40 minutes.  The register stopped half way through, and we ended up with two transactions.  I started to worry that my minivan wouldn't hold them all, but I ended up having plenty of room.  I took them right to church with me and was able to stash them in the storage container.

Around noon today I read that some Walmarts had gone to 90% off.  There was one Walmart store I hadn't visited yet in this sale season.  The weather was gorgeous here in Erie, PA today--up to nearly 80 degrees--a true miracle after our long, cold winter.  I just had to jump in the car and take a ride with the windows down to that Walmart.

I'm so glad I did.  I found these sweet little water bottles for just .09 each, and though it was after noon there were still 50 of them left.  I couldn't believe it!

I also found some cute lollipops in Easter eggs and a few little felt purses for .09 each, too.  Also made a stop at K-Mart where they had lots of darling stuffed animals but only at 65% off.  Who came up with the idea of 65%?  I'll be checking back there later.

Sun, heat, and bargains all in the same day.  What could be more egg-cellent?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Jesus Died For Me

April 6th was also a Monday 56 years ago in 1959.  That afternoon I went to a children's meeting at my church led by several men from Word of Life Ministries and heard the story of Jesus' crucifixion for the first time.   My six-year-old heart was broken as I realized what Jesus went through to pay for my sin, and I started to cry--to weep, really.

The men leading the meeting that day promised to tell us later in the week how we could ask Jesus to forgive our sins, and I only cried harder because I didn't want to wait.

When I got home I asked my 15-year-old brother if he knew how I could ask Jesus to forgive me.  Knowing my father was antagonistic toward the gospel, my brother cupped his hands around my ear and, in furtive whispers, told me all I needed to do was tell Jesus I was sorry and ask Him to take away my sins.  So I went into my bedroom, knelt down by my bed and prayed.  I remember that immediate feeling of peace.  I knew I was forgiven.

My brother brought me this little brown Gideon New Testament and wrote in the inside back cover a sentence to remind me of the decision I'd just made, leaving a space for me to write my own name.

Moments later my father stormed into the kitchen, furious, and angrily banished my brother to his
room.  Then Daddy took me into the living room, sat me on his lap, and explained he knew more than those people at church and all those stories about Jesus were, well, just stories.

I figured Daddy knew best, so I took a pen and scratched out those words in the back of the Bible--thinking I could take back my decision.

I was blessed the next day, though, to have my brother explain the assurance of my salvation.  So I wrapped my fingers around that pen again and wrote out my recommitment to Jesus myself.

Today I look back on these 56 years.  My commitment has faltered many times but His has never failed.  I cherish this little brown Bible, but I cherish even more the knowledge that my name is written in The Lamb's Book of Life and will never be crossed out or erased.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday--The Land Between

Jesus is buried.  The tomb is sealed.  Now it's Saturday.

Jeff Manion wrote a book titled, "The Land Between" and as I lay in bed this morning pondering this day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday I thought how Manion's book title is a perfect description for this day.

I wonder what Jesus' followers were doing and thinking on that day when they were in The Land Between.  We often use the phrase "Sunday's coming" to remind us of our hope of resurrection and victory, but I wonder if the disciples had that assurance?  I doubt it.

Though Jesus predicted and promised His resurrection, it still seemed to come as a surprise to His disciples, so I doubt they were calmly trusting and waiting for it on that day in between.

I think about those Saturdays in my life.  In your life.

It wasn't many weeks ago when I struggled with some Saturday days.  I felt like my prayers weren't being answered.  I wasn't fully trusting in His promises.  In my head I knew I could; in my heart, I wasn't.  Nothing huge, mind you--just some normal Saturday angst.

In God's economy these Saturdays in life seem to be really important.  For one thing, they make the resurrection victories all the sweeter.

I'm going to take this Saturday to reflect on all the Saturdays in my life that have been followed, by God's grace, with glorious resurrection Sundays.

It's a good day to remember all those past Operation Christmas Child packing parties where God showed up and filled the trucks.  It's a good day to thank God for victories--even those that didn't come when and how I thought they would come.

And it's a good day to remember, always...Sunday really IS coming.