Last Friday, I had the oppo
rtunity to volunteer at the Pride for Parents Store located at First Presbyterian Church downtown. This particular store was sponsored by The Encouraging Place, a ministry that Hayes Barton supports. As I entered the “store” area, I recognized some of the toys that were collected at the United Methodist Women’s Birthday Party for Jesus earlier this month. They were beautifully displayed on tables overflowing with brand new gifts. Here are the basics of how the Pride for Parents Store works: different organizations collect unwrapped toys and books and deliver them to an appointed spot. By the way, it took several vehicles to deliver all that was collected by our women at their annual party. Along with toys, gift wrapping, tape, bows and gift tags are donated. Volunteers work before opening day and price each gift below the market value. Parents who are screened through Wake County are invited to come and buy presents for their sons and daughters on designated shopping days. Parents are invited to buy one “big ticket” item, such as a bike, and then two smaller items. They are also encouraged to purchase stocking stuffers.
Volunteers act as “personal shoppers” and help parents purchase items that will fulfill some of their kids’ wishes. After checking out, parents can then move to free gift wrapping tables where helpers make their choices beautiful as they get input from the shoppers on favorite wrapping paper and bows. It is all quite festive, and the smiles on the parents’ faces say it all. The parents get the joy of being the ones to offer things to their children on Christmas morning that come directly from them, thus their pride stays intact as their children see them as the givers of great gifts. What a beautiful ministry!
Many members of our HB family have volunteered through the years, but this was my first opportunity. I signed up to serve with Anna Neal Blanchard and Leslie and Elizabeth Koscielniak. As we were leaving, we met Phillip and Lee Hoffman, along with their Encouraging Place Supper Club friend, Diane Rogers, who took the shift following us. When we first arrived, the door was locked, so we had to wait for someone to open it. While we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with one of the mothers who had come to shop. Her name is Nikki, and she quickly began to pour out her story of joy and hope. As Nikki shared, I was floored by how many connections she had to ministries that our congregation is behind. Not too long ago, Nikki was homeless. She remembers spending nights at our church through Family Promise. This is the ministry that we support as we open the doors of our church once per quarter for families to live in a peaceful, safe place. Each time, we provide meals and rides to and from the main ministry center. We also support this ministry through many hands on tasks like setting up and cleaning up the area of our church where families will live. Nikki worked hard and found a job and has been able to rent an apartment and purchase a reliable car through Wheels 4 Hope, another ministry that we support financially. She has fought to begin to conquer addictions, and she now serves as a mentor in Wake County’s Peer Support program.
Nikki shared all of this without knowing that I was a pastor. As I moved with her through the shopping experience, she remarked that she hoped that she could one day tell people in churches thank you for opening their doors and offering her smiles and encouraging words and nourishing meals. She spoke about how people will never know what a warm welcome means to people who are going through a difficult time. As she said that, I asked her permission to write her story of courage and determination. She gave me permission. Then I asked if we could photograph her with one of the gifts that she picked for her young daughter…a bike donated by Hayes Barton. She said “yes!” Then, she turned to me and asked, “Would it be okay for me to come to your church sometime and offer people thanks in person?” I replied quickly, “Of course! Can you come this Sunday?”
This past Sunday, Nikki stood with me in the Lighthouse Worship Service to speak words of thanks to our congregation. She was so honest about where she has been and where she is now. While things are not perfect, she can definitely see the movement of God in her life as she moves to more secure footing. There are so, so many details that I am leaving out of this circuitous story. Please ask me for the “rest of the story” when you see me. Just know this…there is no small gesture when you speak and act for the Kingdom of God. It all adds up, and the efforts we make through the ministries named in this article, as well as the hundreds not specifically listed, do change people’s lives in big ways. So when you sign up for a shift for Family Promise or write a check to support The Encouraging Place or pledge to Hayes Barton’s budget which includes our mission efforts…when you sacrifice some of your precious time to sit in an Outreach Pathway meeting or serve on the Finance Team…when you bring a new book or toy to a party…you my friends, are engaged in the transforming work of the Kingdom.
One last thing I must tell you…late yesterday afternoon, I received a phone call from Nikki. She wanted to thank me for allowing her to come and share her story. I assured her that the blessing was ours, and right before she hung up, she said to me, “after the service…the way the members of Hayes Barton gathered around me…I have never felt so loved in my life!” Ahhh…Nikki, my sister, you have experienced the true spirit of Hayes Barton United Methodist Church. The spirit of God’s love, grace, generosity and hospitality. Every time I think I love you as much as I possibly can, you go and do a God-thing and show me that you are more amazing than I knew. On behalf of Nikki and her children, and all the others that you will touch this season and beyond, thank you. In the coming days and weeks, may God surround you with unexpected gifts that will remind you of how much you are adored.
Love and blessings, LuAnn
To volunteer for our Family Promise host week January 7-13, please visit hbumc.org/signups