I had the best afternoon for ages today. I was invited down to the Operation Christmas Child collection centre at Christ the Servant church in Stockwood today by my friend and colleague Sue Farrance. Sue is the LLM at Stockwood and sub-Warden of Readers for South Bristol and she organises the collection of brightly decorated shoeboxes filled with toys and treats for needy children every year. I spent the afternoon packing completed shoeboxes into large cardboard boxes for loading into lorries destined for Belarus at the end of the week.
At the start of the afternoon Sue gave us a 15 minute briefing on how to check the shoeboxes to make sure they are okay to send. The key message was 'don't mess with the boxes'. Each box has been lovingly created by someone for a child they don't know but want to have a special Christmas. Some of the boxes aren't very neatly covered with Christmas paper, some have an odd mix of contents, some aren't very full at all, some are full of useful but dull things and some are, frankly, full of what my nan would call 'tat'.
Checkers are asked to look carefully through the boxes without disturbing the contents too much - the creator has put them together in just the way they want the child to see them when they arrive. The checkers need to remove anything which would be harmful to the child and anything which might prevent the whole load from getting to its destination, ie anything which would be picked up by Customs and may cause the whole shipment to be held up. Other than that, the checkers are asked not to judge the boxes by their own standards but to respect the care with which the creator has lovingly assembled them - 'don't mess with the boxes'.
If the checkers have to take things out, there are some spare 'good things' available to make up the difference. But checkers are encouraged not to add too much, just enough to fill the gap created by what had to be removed - 'don't mess with the boxes'.
Packing the shoeboxes into the larger boxes wasn't easy. All the shoeboxes are different shapes and sizes so they don't fit together very well. Sometimes I had to wait with an incomplete box for quite a while, waiting for just the right size and shape of shoebox to fill the last gap in the box. And I had to be quite careful not to force a wrong-shaped shoebox into too small a gap - the paper covering the shoeboxes was easy to rip, spoiling the effect the creator was hoping to achieve. Be careful with the shoeboxes, they break easily.
On Sunday I'm preaching on the heavenly banquet at church. Who knew that God would meet me this aftenoon and preach to me on that very theme?