What happens when members of a small country church start praying for a way to be more relevant in their community? For 20 years Inverell church (NSW) had only limited interaction with the local community. Few people passed through our church doors or returned despite many outreach efforts. Instead of being despondent, however, the church members renewed their commitment to go where God would lead.
One Sabbath afternoon, in late 2016, as I was reading Adventist Record, an article about a new ministry, God’s Closet, grabbed my attention. Members of the Wyee church were interacting with locals in a practical way, serving young families by providing children’s clothing and being relevant in their community. This ministry concept was very appealing and it wasn’t long before the article was shared around our group and the decision was made to investigate further.
We checked out the Wyee God’s Closet Facebook page, which led to contact through Skype with Merryl Moore, the founder of God’s Closet in the US, and Deslie Ellis, the director at Wyee. They were so willing to share resources and support that, with a lot of prayer, plans for a new ministry for Inverell got underway. The concept was shared with the whole church and support has been ongoing for this growing ministry.
There is something for everyone to do: from telling family and friends about the concept, to advertising and media promotion, setting up equipment and preparing for the shop, following up prayer requests, and engaging and getting to know the shoppers.
Church pastor Jack Ryder has not only become an expert in folding and sorting children’s clothing, but also follows up requests from shoppers to understand the Bible. Last year he produced a series of meetings, entitled “Understanding the Bible”, to specifically help community members begin this journey. He is planning another series for this year.
Advertising through the God’s Closet Facebook page has raised the profile of the ministry and word has spread about the need for donations of gently-used and new children’s clothing. Pastor Ted White sourced and arranged the painting of a large donation bin and Pastor John Lang organised the graphics as a constant advertisement for God’s Closet on the grounds of the church. We also have been blessed with ongoing donations of clothing from Tweed Valley ADRA Op Shop and a growing group of enthusiastic supporters in Toowoomba who have become GC ambassadors.
We spend three months collecting the clothing and then, at the change of seasons, hold a “Free Shop” event. Time is spent the week prior to the event in sorting, washing and folding the clothing. On the Saturday night before the big day, we set up shop in the church hall with the clothing sorted by size and beautifully presented. On the Sunday, our church doors open and locals are welcomed by team members in red shirts, ready to minister to the needs of all who God has sent to Inverell church.
Over the past year more than 170 families have attended the free shop days and left with bags of clothes for their growing children. We have given away 17 “Welcome Baby” baskets to new mums and 165 pairs of new children’s pyjamas have been distributed.
We are breaking down barriers and misconceptions as we warmly welcome people to our church. We interact in friendly conversation and serve them in practical ways. We have given away children’s Bibles, food hampers, Mother’s Day gifts, back-to-school packs and even had a special fun day for the kids last November, featuring a jumping castle, balloons and face painting.
The God’s Closet ministry is generating a buzz of enthusiasm. We acknowledge that God is leading our church with a local community mission focus. The stories shared, the people who keep coming, the thanks and smiles as they leave with what they need, the barriers broken down, the friendships made and invitations to other programs make it all worthwhile!
Inverell Seventh-day Adventist Church is on the move—God’s Closet is open to serve!
Evelyn Hoey is team leader of God’s Closet, Inverell church, NSW. Download the Adventist Record offering video at www.vimeo.com/266604639.