When I mentioned stocking our missions closet recently, Jewel said she’d like to hear more about it. I am happy to oblige!
We “inherited” this ministry from another couple who left our church to help a smaller church in another area, so I don’t know exactly how this was started. When a missionary comes to speak at our church, a love offering is taken for them, but the missions closet is a little something extra. The love offering is given to them in the form of a check, and it may be the next day or longer before they are able to cash it, so some items in the missions closet are little necessities (toothpaste, etc.); other items are just for fun, for their family, and possibly for their ministry.
I have heard that some churches use a point system whereby points are figured to determine how much the missionary and his family are allowed to take, but I have no idea how points are assigned. We’ve found that the need varies so much from family to family that we’d rather leave it open-ended.
I can see, though, that a point system might alleviate some of the awkwardness and uncertainty that a few feel. Some “old-timers” who are used to this sort of thing have no problem coming in and choosing a few things, but a few feel awkward in wanting to avail themselves of the opportunity but not wanting to overstep or seem greedy. Usually we end up suggesting things for them to take or urging them to take something they seem interested in. My husband will often tell them, “It’s not going to do anyone any good just sitting here: go ahead and take it.” On the other hand, occasionally a missionary traveling by car is packed to the gills, or is flying and short on luggage space, or for various reasons really does not need anything, and we want to be careful not to “push” a visit to the missions closet on them to the point that they feel they have to come and take something they don’t want so as not to offend us. We might suggest a CD that can be easily tucked in somewhere, but we know what it is like to travel or pack too much stuff, so we try to encourage but not push.
Jewel was particular interested in what items we stocked in the closet, so I’ll list most of them. We started by just restocking what the couple before us had there and then asking visiting missionaries for suggestions. We also took into account what things we liked to take when we traveled.
Sheet sets in various sizes
A variety of toiletries, both full-sized and travel-sized
Craft items (decorative-edged scissors, punches, foam shapes, etc.)
Balls: football, soccer ball, etc.
Golf tees, balls
Basic baby items (onesies, sleepers, etc.)
Toys (We have separate bins for girls’ and boys’ toys.)
Car emergency kits
First aids kits
Thank-you cards, note cards
Christian music CDs
Christian books for adults, teens, and children
Probably the books and CDs are taken the most, but sheets, towels, balls of all kinds, and tools are our most often taken items. Batteries and bungee cords are chosen pretty frequently, too.
Toiletries are the least-often taken items, which was surprising to me. One missionary commented that some churches give them gift bags, most often filled with toiletries, and they ended up with more than they could use. I don’t know if that’s the case generally.
We don’t stock food in there. One Sunday School class collected a variety of mostly canned foods (without checking to see if we could use them first), but none were ever chosen, and when they’d been in there for a while and it occurred to me I should check the expiration dates, and the majority of them were past the use-by dates. I was heartsick at the waste of their efforts and determined if we ever receive food donations again, I’d donate them to the rescue mission. Another reason not to stock food is to avoid attracting “critters.” I wrote a while back about some rodent visitors to the closet and their by-passing boxes of macaroni and cheese and Jello to chew on handmade soap and towels (We keep towels in over-sized Ziploc bags now).
We occasionally have an odd thing donated that I’ll leave for quite a while, but if there is not interest over the course of several months I’ll remove them and donate them elsewhere. We don’t usually keep clothing in there: we just don’t have the space and we don’t want to encourage people to donate castoffs. But once someone gave a couple of really nice ladies’ coats, with the tags still on, that she found in her mother’s closet after she passed away. One was chosen by a missionary wife in Mongolia (where they really need warm coats!) and the other by another missionary wife who was in need of one that winter. Someone donated a belt once, and a visiting missionary walked in and went straight to it: it was exactly the size he needed.
And that’s when I feel most blessed and most used in this ministry: when someone’s eyes light up at seeing just the thing they wanted or needed.
As far as logistics go, though it would be nice to have a room singularly devoted to the missions closet, I think most churches are not equipped for that. Our “closet” also houses a piano where lessons are given, Christmas decorations, tape ministry boxes, and assorted other storage items. Sometimes it is a bit of a challenge, but we try to keep it neat and keep only missions closet items on certain shelves all together.
The missions closet is financed by a portion of the church budget and occasional monetary donations, and I turn in receipts for the items I purchase to the church business manager. For the first time this year, Wednesday night offerings in October were designated for the closet in preparation for the Missions Conference. And, as I mentioned, sometimes someone will give us an occasional item. As a general rule we don’t take used things: I’ve heard horror stories about things given to missionaries, and we don’t want them to feel they’re getting “leftovers,” or worse yet, junk.
Overall it is a very fun ministry to buy things and give them to people! And from the comments of missionaries, it seems to be much appreciated. The only negative is having to stay late: the missionaries usually have a table at the back with some of their things displayed, and they’re back there to talk with folks after the service. Then our missions committee meets with them for a few minutes, then we’re able to take them to the closet. But though staying late is the part my flesh balks at, more so the older I get, really, it is not a major sacrifice. Every ministry costs something, and that bit of my time is well worth it.
And that, my friends, is just about everything I can think of to tell you about a missions closet. I’d love to hear whether your church has one and how it is conducted, what kinds of things you keep in it, etc.
(One last note: obviously what I have been discussing here is different from a closet designated for folks who come by the church needing some kind of help. We were in one church that had a closet for that purpose, but it was mostly cast-off clothes, and I don’t think it was used much. Some churches have food pantries: ours has a “benevolence fund” that the pastor can access at his discretion. That kind of ministry is a whole different topic.)