CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

December 25, 2013

Operation Christmas Child: Spreading joy, faith

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— We often hear someone say that the Lord has led them to a certain point in life, or given them direction in making a decision or otherwise helped them through the crossroads that all of us come to from time to time. But for Jamie Hardenbrook, the Lord had a circuitous route in mind.

Hardenbrook was born in Indiana, but lived most of his life in Georgia. He graduated from the University of Georgia, with a business degree in 2000.

It was while he was a freshman in college that he got serious about his salvation and accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior during a campus crusade in Valdosta, Ga., He was 18 years old at the time.

Like a lot of us, Hardenbrook was basically a good person, had never given his parents any trouble and lived a moral life. He had been in church for most of his life, but says he was mainly just going through the motions. “We were typical Easter and Christmas Christians,” he said. “But I never had a real relationship with God until I actually learned about more Him through my involvement in a campus outreach ministry through a friend in my dorm.”

After making the most important decision in his spiritual life, Hardenbrook began to befriend others in the ministry through campus meetings. But it was on a trip to Orlando in 1996, that he really felt as though God placed a picture in his head. “It was like a trust fall, where you expect your friends to be there to catch you, but instead it was Christ who was there with his hands outstretched,” he recalls. “That was my ‘Ah, Ha!’ moment. I did a double take, and I realized that ‘Oh, this is what its like!’”

From that time on, Hardenbrook has dedicated his life to serving in some sort of ministry or outreach to help others in realizing their potential in serving Christ.

One of the first steps he took to begin the journey was to volunteer as a missionary to Croatia. He was 25 years old by now, but his was his first time to live in another country. He wound up in the small city of Split, where he would work with college students for the next year-and-a-half.

“It was incredible,” he says. “It felt like God was showing me what it’s like to have ministry as an everyday part of my life.”

But after a time he felt the tug of home. “I was confused,” he admitted. “I thought God was calling me home, but I really couldn’t tell at that point if it was just what I wanted, or what He wanted me to do.”

He stayed on in Split, but he never felt at ease about his decision. Finally, he heeded the call and came back to the states. “God had provided all the funds for me to be there, which gave me the option to stay, but I just never had a peace about it.”

“As I look back I can see that this was God’s way of preparing me for the next season in my life,” he said.

Back home, he quickly became involved in the church, specifically in a singles ministry in Atlanta. His involvement gave him the tools he needed for pursuing his goals in serving God in many areas. “I look back on how things fell into place and I realize that I came back at a time when I was supposed to. I reconnected with a former girlfriend who became my wife,” he said.

The couple was married in 2006. It wasn’t long before another series of events led him to where he is now, which is how his story connects with Cullman, Alabama.

A friend sent him a job posting for a position with Franklin Graham’s children’s charity, Samaritan’s Purse. Hardenbrook was supposed to post it on a job board, but instead, he applied for the position himself. When he got the job, he says that he knew that it was exactly where God wanted him to be.

“I love working with volunteers,” he smiled. “I love pouring God’s love into people, helping them to prepare for the ministry.”

His work has taken him across the country on various missions, but at the present time, he holds the position of Southeast Regional Director for Operation Christmas Child for Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. In this position Hardenbrook strives to equip local volunteer bases throughout these states with the tools they need to continue to fulfill the goals of the Samaritan’s Purse outreach.

In building these teams of volunteers, he often has the opportunity to lead people into the ministry. “About 80 percent of my job is about recruiting, equipping or leading volunteers to share and to be a part of the ministry,” he explained. “I also do a lot of public speaking to groups throughout the year.”

Another 10 percent of his job is managing the processing center, which is one of eight in the U.S. “My role here is to have leadership teams of volunteers who come in to process the boxes and see that they get where they are suppose to be.”

Another part of his job involves traveling. At any given time he is visiting and recruiting about 650 volunteers throughout the area, per year.

Recently, he was in Cullman to meet with Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinator, David Osment, of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church, which is one of the largest groups of volunteers in the county.

You might have noticed the big trailer near the courthouse on Highway 31 with the Operation Christmas Child logo. This year’s goal is to fill that trailer with shoeboxes ready to be taken to the processing center, then shipped overseas to children who will receive them eagerly. For some, it will be the first gift they have ever gotten.

He stresses that although it is almost Christmas for us, Operation Christmas Child goes on throughout the year. “One of the neat things to come about recently is that you can track your shoebox,” he said. “Through headquarters in Boone, N.C., you can build your box online. You will be given a number so that you can track it as it makes its way to its final destination.”

Hardenbrook asks that people in Cullman continue to pray for the future of this outreach and for the area teams who always work so hard to insure that the collections are made, the boxes filled and the shipment made so that as many children might be reached as possible.

“The Cullman community had another outstanding year with packing the gift boxes. We saw a 22 percent increase over 2012 with over 6,400 boxes collected. This is so important because now 22 percent more children will be reached with a gift box over 2012,” Hardenbrook said. “Much of this is due to the efforts of Dave Ozment and his team supporting the churches and groups in the Cullman area. We are thankful for each donor, supporter, and prayer warrior who have participated in getting as many gift boxes to these children!”

Often these small gifts are the first indication a child will have which represents the love of Christ, and of His people who send their blessings in a small shoebox that makes a huge impact on their lives. In 2009, Samaritan’s Purse started a 12-week followup program, “The Greatest Journey”, to teach children who received boxes about Jesus Christ. Several million children have participated in this program and many have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Throughout Cullman County hundreds of local Christians are involved in this mission project. Their goal is to exceed last year’s record 5335 boxes. To date, over 100 million boxes have been distributed worldwide in the last 20 years. This year, so far, they have collected 6,400 boxes in Cullman County alone, but it isn’t too late to give more if you have it in your heart to do so.

Area Operation Christmas Child Coordinator, David Ozment said, “God is using this simple, non-denominational mission project to convert hearts to the Christian faith.”