My wife is the director of the Woodstock Whitetails Pathfinder Club at our church in western Maine. Her Pathfinder work keeps her quite busy, for she knows that it is the attention to detail and behind-the-scenes work that underpin a well-functioning club. And of course, my wife being kept busy means that I am kept busy with her overflow and the occasional special project. One project I always seem to end up being responsible for is the fundraising for the once-every-five-years International Pathfinder Camporee (next to be held in August 2024 in Gillette, Wyoming). The undertaking is considerable; most Pathfinder clubs raise money for almost five years to get their group to an International Camporee.
One of the most reliable fundraisers for the club has been to ask church members to clean out their attics, garages, and closets, and then hold a large yard sale beside the busiest road in our town. I’ve been in charge of this annual endeavor for eight years now, and each year has had its adventures, such as discovering Tiffany jewelry among the donations, opening a box of antique tools, or receiving a collection of guns to resell.
But adventures aside, the yard sales themselves have taken on a familiar pattern: Church members make donations in fits and starts, with most of the items coming right before the sale. We collect and sort the donations, and while there’s plenty of diversity in what we receive, we’ll reliably get clothing, dishes, and health-related items (walkers, crutches, juicers, healthy-living books, etc.). We’ll also get a significant number of Adventist books—witnessing books, Bible study books, Spirit of Prophecy books. On Friday we’ll put out our “Yard Sale” signs, put up our canopy, stack the tables high with boxes of goods or piles of clothing, and then cover everything with a tarp.*
By 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning a small group of yard sale devotees will be waiting impatiently for us to show up, take the tarps off the tables, and declare the yard sale “open” so they can set about pawing through boxes and piles. Throughout the day a couple hundred people will stop and buy something or other, or maybe just make a small donation to the club. They’ll be looking for tools, appliances, furniture, or decorative knickknacks, and will almost completely pass over the clothing, dishes, health items, and books on offer. By the end of the day, about 50 percent of the items will have sold, and the rest will be given away or taken to a landfill.
That was the pattern, or at least it was up until 2022, when the trend changed significantly. Something about the COVID era caused people to approach the yard sale differently. Maybe it seemed like a more abrupt change, because the club didn’t have a yard sale in 2021 because of COVID concerns. Or perhaps the change did actually come in a rush. Whatever the case, in 2022 the people who showed up at the yard sale were suddenly far less interested in shiny knickknacks.
They wanted health items, and they especially wanted any books or supplies related to healthy living or healthy cooking. Most shocking of all, they wanted Christian books. I cannot recall an instance of a single Christian book selling in previous yard sales, but this time a significant number of shoppers—random community members—carefully leafed through the Christian books on offer and actually bought a number of them.
Something about the COVID era changed people’s priorities, and that changed people’s receptivity to spiritual information. People who came to the Woodstock Whitetails yard sale in 2022 had stopped looking for cheap shiny things and were suddenly responsive to the health and spiritual messages that the Adventist Church has been faithfully proclaiming for more than 150 years.
Some Bad News, Some Good News
Normally, if there was even a slight shift in the public’s receptivity to evangelism, Adventist churches would be celebrating and eagerly planning outreach efforts. But the COVID era that changed people, opening them to evangelism, also changed Adventist churches, and in many cases it was an unfortunate change. In Maine and in many areas across the nation there were discussions—arguments, actually—over masking and immunizations. Lines were drawn among brothers and sisters more in response to political partisanship and media polarization than to Bible instruction and inspired counsel. Churches looked inward, and some discouraged people left altogether and have yet to return. At the very time people became increasingly open to our message, some of our churches became increasingly unfit to proclaim it.
I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that in these last days, wave after wave of crises and emergencies will soon enough wash over us, and society will be shaken to its foundations. The good news is that each wave will result in more and more people becoming open to the message of salvation through Christ. The question is Will we have become unified and loving churches, faithfully proclaiming salvation through Christ, or will we let Satan use those waves to divide and destroy us? Maybe, in churches where it is feasible to do so, it would be wise to debrief by looking back, honestly assessing, and asking what needs to be done differently the next time a divisive crisis hits.
Based on the incremental changes I have seen, I can predict what a yard sale at the end of time will look like: No one will be examining the leather designer handbags. No one will be lingering over shiny knickknacks or electronic games or movies on DVDs. A few people will be looking for ammunition, sturdy clothing, candles, hand tools, and vegetable seeds. The rest will be intently, even desperately, looking for the soul-saving information they had previously ignored.
We are very, very close to the end of time, and people are finally beginning to buy the message that generations of faithful Adventists have tried to promote. Are we at this critical hour sufficiently close to Christ that we will lead people to Him by modeling His character? Are we so dedicated to Christ that we will let go of our precious politics and bias-reinforcing media and cultural preferences? Will we embrace our fellow church members and show the world what a loving, Christ-centered church looks like? COVID has shown us that there is an abundance of opportunity, and also an abundance of work to be done to capitalize on it. As the storm clouds gather on the horizon, we should be praying as never before for the Holy Spirit and for Christ to dwell in us.
* No, nothing has ever been stolen. Praise God!