What happens when members of a small country church start praying for a way to be more relevant in their community? For 20 years, the Inverell Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inverell, New South Wales, Australia, had only limited interaction with the local community. Few people passed through the church doors or returned despite many outreach efforts. Instead of being despondent, however, church members renewed their commitment to go wherever God would lead.
"I found this ministry concept very appealing, and it wasn’t long before I shared the article with our group and we decided to investigate further."
One Sabbath afternoon, in late 2016, as I was reading Adventist Record, an article about a new ministry, God’s Closet, grabbed my attention. God’s Closet is a ministry of Adventist Community Services that engages Seventh-day Adventist churches to serve their communities. The ministry collects and distributes new and gently used children’s shoes and clothes across their communities.
In the article I read, members of the Wyee Seventh-day Adventist Church five hours south in New South Wales were interacting with locals in a practical way, serving young families by providing children’s clothing and being relevant in their community. I found this ministry concept very appealing, and it wasn’t long before I shared the article with our group and we decided to investigate further.
We checked out the Wyee God’s Closet Facebook page, which led to contacts 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. 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.
An Outreach Tool
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. Word has spread about the need for donations of gently-used and new children’s clothing. Ted White sourced and arranged the painting of a large donation bin and John Lang organized the graphics as a constant advertisement for God’s Closet on the grounds of the church. The church has also been blessed with ongoing donations of clothing from ADRA and a growing group of enthusiastic supporters who have become God’s Closet 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 before 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. When Sunday arrives, 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.
Breaking Down Barriers
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 moms and distributed 165 pairs of new children’s pajamas.
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 kids.
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!
At the Inverell Church, God’s Closet is open to serve!