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The Key That Turns the Lock
The following was taken from
Faces of Generosity: Inspiring Stories of People Impacting Lives Around the World
, published in the fall of 2016.
If you were to receive an email from Patty Brown, she’d probably describe her most recent expedition: Shopping, as if that were something new!
Her email might even have a spreadsheet attached, showing how she tracks her purchases. Compulsive shopper? Yes. Bargain hunter? Emphatic yes. Has an excess of the same item? Absolutely yes. But Patty’s intense shopping isn’t for herself. She uses her shopping skills to buy flip flops, erasers, sharpeners, pencils, spiral notebooks, personal hygiene items, crayons, and toys for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes shipped to children around the world.
Patty’s fire for volunteering, specifically with Operation Christmas Child, was lit in 2005 when a missionary in Guatemala spoke to Patty’s church, Grace Baptist Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, about receiving a shoebox delivery. “When I heard her story, in particular that the boxes were a way to lead people to the Lord, I went a little nuts,” says Patty. “I decided right then and there that I would always be a part of this ministry.”
Operation Christmas Child, part of Samaritan’s Purse, is the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind. It uses gift-filled shoeboxes to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered more than 124 million boxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories, thanks to more than 500,000 volunteers worldwide. If you donate, you can even follow your box online to discover where in the world your gift is delivered.
“I really just fell into this by hearing the speaker at our annual Missions Conference. I was unemployed at the time and I believe now that God was keeping me idle for a specific purpose. Before I knew it, I had a new job — unpaid of course — as coordinator of the Operation Christmas Child relay center in our area. My mission in life is to make sure we reach as many children as possible — to get the gifts and the Gospel to them. And within a week of taking on this project, I had a paying job too! I believe God just needed me to be ‘available’ to take on this new journey into Operation Christmas Child.”
Patty relies on a team of like-minded volunteers, certainly necessary during National Collection Week in November, but also for shopping year-round. They start bargain hunting and buying for the next year the week after National Collection Week. It’s simply a matter of her and her team watching advertisements, gathering coupons, and shopping smart — candy, for example, is marked down drastically after every major holiday. People in the community and in her church may hand her money and say ‘create a shoebox for me’ — “With $30, I can fill up to 10 shoeboxes from the good deals I get.”
Patty works on the shoeboxes all year long but takes her vacation time each year in November so she can work full-time at National Collection Week. Her shoeboxes often include handmade surprises she has made from discarded items. She’s used wallpaper sample books to cover old CDs and turn them into spinning tops, and she’s knitted thousands of face cloths. Used greeting cards often cover the outside of the shoeboxes, turning them into decorated treasures the children can keep. Patty estimates that Grace Baptist has filled and shipped well over 15,000 boxes since 2005 when they first began.
“This is a total team effort,” says Patty. “All I do is point people in the right direction. We focus on the end result: one out of three boxes goes to a child who accepts Jesus Christ. The purpose is to give a child a gift. And if they understand a gift, they can understand the greatest gift of all — Jesus Christ. The organizations that receive the boxes teach the kids to go out and make disciples. And they do. This is my favorite story: A pastor in Africa went to visit six family members of a child who had received a shoebox, which had a book in it. This was the first book this family had ever owned. He told them the story of the Gospel and asked if they would like to accept Christ as their savior. They said, ‘We already did.’ These shoeboxes are an amazing tool. The smallest item somebody contributes could be the key that turns the lock. We just never know how the Lord is going to use it.”
Part of the reason that Patty devotes so much of her time to Operation Christmas Child is because she says she’s a child at heart. “I love Christmas. I used to beg my late husband to let me leave the tree up all year because I love it so much. But this isn’t about me. And the money of my own that I put into this mission isn’t my tithe. This is extra gifting I just have to do. It doesn’t matter to me how much I personally spend on these shoeboxes — I always have enough.”
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Faces of Generosity,
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