Wow, I have just spent the most exhilarating couple of hours in a long time.
What was I up to you might wonder - something exciting like bungee jumping or skydiving? or something more subdued but still uber-exciting like hot air ballooning or having a spa at Champneys?
No, something very different from all of those things. What I got up to was only 20 minutes from my home, it didn't cost me a penny, I was mostly accompanied by ladies in their 30-60's and it took place in a Church Hall. Bet I am sucking you in now, aren't I? Sounds glamorous, yes? Well, no it wasn't glamorous but it was truly fabulous and I felt very privileged to join this group of well-organised men and women for a couple of hours this morning and if I can sneak out tomorrow and leave my husband with the kids for a bit I might just head over there again tomorrow.
Today I joined the team of volunteers over at the Operation Christmas Child warehouse in Colney Heath, I was there to help them check the boxes and make sure they were packed with super goodies for the children to open in the receiving country. I spoke to ladies who said their church had been involved with this since the program started over 20 years ago, many of them had been doing it for all those years and for others this was the first or second year. There were people who had travelled with OCC on distribution trips and there was so much passion in that room we could have fuelled the central heating without any electricity.
Take a look at the pictures and see just how organised it all is -
There were about 8 stations for people to be checking the boxes to make sure the contents were appropriate and according to what customs allow to enter the country. There was then a box wrapping table, craft kit making table, cellophaning table to ensure things like soap and toothbrushes stay hygienic and box taping and age/ sex sorting tables so the approved boxes could be placed into cartons for shipping.
I know many people have heard rumours and are concerned about religious material being inserted into the boxes and I can categorically confirm that no religious material in placed in the boxes before they are sealed with the official Samaritans Purse tape. Once this tape goes on the box is not opened again until the child opens it in the receiving country.
My job today was to check the boxes and I really enjoyed this. As I have made boxes myself for years and co-ordinated at the kid's school for the last few years I have a good knowledge of what can and cannot go in the boxes and of course, it seemed a real shame to have to take things like bubbles and chocolate out of the box as they cannot be shipped but I did love it that the warehouse had made sure they had loads of extra soaps, toothbrushes and paste, stationary, cuddly toys and loads more to ensure that all the children receive a really full and well-balanced box.
Even if I had never taken part before it would have been easy as Jo, the organiser for this warehouse made sure I knew what I was doing. There were do's and dont's stuck to every table and such a wealth of knowledge in the room. If you have never helped out at a warehouse before I would urge you to give it a go. All you need is a willing pair of hand and a couple of hours. There are over 150 temporary warehouses set up across the UK each year from the beginning of November. You just email the Regional Manager for local contact details.
Preliminary trip meeting
I suppose another reason today felt so special is that yesterday I travelled to the UK head office of Samaritans Purse to meet Ruth and Nik who I will travel to Belarus with. It is now just 12 days until we fly out there! I have to admit that I have been so nervous about this trip and even at times I have thought about bailing out but my wonderful solid husband has reminded me that I must go where God wants me. He never gives us a load too heavy to carry. I have been fretting a little as normally OCC take a journalist with them and this time around it is little old me! ekk
I could not have been made any more welcome yesterday though and was referred to as 'Michelle, the blogger' on numerous occasions. I came away from the meeting yesterday knowing it was right and while it does feel scary I am equipped and my desire to serve the Lord and to do my best will serve me and OCC well. Through God all things are possible. It truly feels amazing to know you are in the right place at the right time, doing just what you should be doing.
Yesterday gave me such a thirst to find out more whilst I am away. I think Ruth and Nik are going to be so fed up with me asking them questions and tapping into their knowledge. Ruth has worked for OCC since the early 1990s, even before it became part of Samaritans Purse and Nik is based in Belarus and he told me a couple of short stories of the type of things he hears in his everyday work and my heart was really warmed. He talked of a young man finding a wife through OCC - the lady came to receive a shoe box for her child and they formed a friendship and ended up getting married and now that child has a loving mother and father.
I particularly loved hearing the story of Nik being in a school and asking the children what they knew about England. He felt sure that they would all cite the same answers he has heard time and time again - the Queen, football and the Beatles. But no, on this occasion they both surprised and touched him with the answer of the Queen, football and Operation Christmas Child. I saw the way this touched this true gentleman and I was reminded that it takes a very special sort of person to work for an organisation such as Samaritans Purse and to reach out to those who need assistance.
Just imagine what a life-changing experience I am going to have travelling with these two awesome people to do such a worthwhile job.
Thanks for following my journey. I'll keep on blogging and the intention is that I will share live from Belarus while I am out there, by SoundCloud, video and written posts. There are even to be two live webcasts which I'll be involved in and I'll share the confirmed times for those soon.
Don't forget it is not too late to make a shoebox online - visit Shoebox World today!
Tell me, have you made a shoebox up yet?