any times over the previous few months I had been tempted to call my son-in-law and tell him he had asked too much. However, it always occurred to me that he had asked for nothing; he had just given me the facts. My daughter and son-in-law worked for Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in a country that is poor, corrupt, full of refugees, and bereft of job opportunities.
One year I had the bright idea to provide coats for a small group of children with the help of members of our medium-sized church. I got a list of nine children who needed coats, friends helped, and we were able to add long underwear, mittens, and socks.
The next year I got bold: I offered to expand our list to 20. The return e-mail I received from my son-in-law included a list of 51 children in a local orphanage, with a promise of more for whom we had no sizes. Only school-age children had been included because they had to go out and attend school each day and desperately needed coats.
Hatching a Plan
On a good week our church has 120 in attendance, including children. Totally without caution I made my appeal for new coats only, thinking this might be the only new piece of clothing these children would ever receive. At first I was enthusiastic and full of hope. Two months later with fewer than 30 coats and cold weather on the way I began to wonder if I had crossed that invisible line between great faith and presumption.
During a church board meeting our pastor had a wonderful idea: “Give 61 people coat hangers to hold, hang the purchased coats, and leave the rest of the hangers empty.”
A local department store gladly supplied the coat hangers, and before the service was over we had money for the rest of the coats and long underwear, too. After it was purchased, each coat was labeled with the name of the giver and packed according to size. Soon we had five China barrels full of coats, long underwear, and socks in my home. And there they sat.
I had an awful secret. I had encouraged (actually begged) dedicated Christian people to spend their hard-earned money on coats for orphans, and I had no earthly idea how to ship them. The destination country is one of the most expensive to ship to from the United States. Our only real hope was to find an airline willing to do a charitable deed and ship the boxes for free, or at reduced cost.
The problem with that plan was that this country is not a popular destination for Americans; consequently few airlines provide flights. I knew of only two. One gave me a flat no, and the other asked for a faxed request, after which I heard nothing.
Was I praying? You can believe I was. I work at home, and boxes sat in three rooms of my house. Each day as I passed these boxes I prayed, “Lord, You know just how to get these there; I don’t. Please help me.”
Finally, an Answer
One night the weather turned cold and wind rattled my windows. I thought of 61 children going to school cold because I wasn’t doing something right. I was tempted to blame my son-in-law. Never mind that God had miraculously provided money, far beyond what I could expect to raise. Never mind that He had located deals I never knew there were in order to make the money go farther; it was just too big, I couldn’t do it.
I was right, of course, it was too big. The only thing I know about international travel is that if your luggage weighs more than 70 pounds, you will find yourself unpacking it at the gate. (I had helped my daughter do just that.)
But that’s the great thing about God. He purposely chooses people who can’t do great things so we’ll all have to see it was Him all along.
Someone who works with my children came to the General Conference for a seminar. She was willing to take the coats if I met her at the airport check-in with coats and cash.
That was the rub. To add the coats to her baggage would mean a charge of about $600. I didn’t want to go back to my church family and ask for more money, but this was my last chance and I couldn’t miss it. I was bold one more time. Would she mind if I called her airline and asked for free shipping? She didn’t, so I did.
Thursday morning before her Sunday departure I called Northwestern Airlines, totally unaware that it is also known as KLM Airlines. My friend would take Northwestern to Amsterdam and switch to KLM for the last leg of her trip. I spoke to a secretary who instructed me to send a fax on church letterhead. I wasn’t too excited; I’d heard this before. “Is there a chance we can receive an answer before Sunday, when my friend has to leave?”
Her answer astounded me. “This is for an orphanage, right? There will be no problem.”
After praying thanks, crying, and dancing around my kitchen the thought hit: It hasn’t happened yet; maybe there will be a snag. It can’t be this easy after it’s been so hard.
Friday I was back on the phone with the same sweet woman. “Did you receive my fax?”
“Oh yes, it’s been approved and is on the ticket agent’s desk.”
That’s when it hit me. This was never my project. I was the little kid stirring the batter while her parent was making the cookies. All the important decisions and plans had been made; all I had to do was stir and trust that someone older and wiser knew what He was doing. He did.
One final note: I finally heard from the other airline Friday afternoon after we had been approved. It turned us down.
Carolyn Huffstickler is a homemaker writing from Fredricksburg, Virginia. This article was printed December 10, 2009.