By Carolyn Foster
I was born into a Christian family and around the age of 12, I was baptised. All my life I have believed in Jesus and yet for a lot of my life I have been searching for more… I am currently serving in the ADRA Op Shop, Tuggerah and this is where I feel my life is changing in a big way.
My husband and I were looking for a way to be involved in the service ministry. We own a transport business and 99% of our customers are interior designers. He sent out an email asking clients if they would be willing to donate items to the ADRA Op Shop and the response has been amazing. We had been looking for a place to set up shop and found this great space at a crazy low rent, however just as we were ready to sign, the space became unavailable. It was crushing for me at the time, but I did what I tell my kids to do and that was: pray - a lot harder to do yourself than tell someone to do it. Surprisingly, we found another spot within a week and I couldn’t believe that it was actually in a much better location however the price was higher and I wasn’t sure how we would make it work. One of the blessings that we had early on was we had a team of people helping to organise the finances. I was confident in their budgeting abilities in regards to rent. But just as we are about to sign we were told it has also become unavailable! It was devastating. I was confused and didn't know where God was leading us.
However, while all this is going on there are a multitude of other things happening which were assuring me that we should move ahead and open the store. For instance, in the days leading up to finding a shop we had been donated so much furniture that our double garage, our rumpus room, my parent's double garage and a friend's garage were all full of furniture waiting for the shop to open. One thing my mum noticed was that we had no bric-a-brac. One day my mum and I were driving together and mum says, "We need to pray for bric-a-brac". Before we even had a chance to pray, I received a text from my husband showing me pictures of 18 boxes of bric-a-brac that a client had just donated.
Another time my husband and I were driving home from Sydney and we drove past one of the buildings that we had been keeping an eye on. He noticed another building just up from it and wanted to take a look. As we pulled in, we noticed signage that indicated that the business had closed down. However, the store was still full of stock. I took down the agents number and rang her the following Monday. The agent told me the stock belonged to the lessee and they couldn’t tell me whether he would be selling it or keeping it. It didn’t sound promising at all, however I felt impressed to leave my name and number just in case the guy wanted to cheaply sell his shelving and store furniture. Several months later I received a call from the agent saying the guy owed them money and had done a runner. If we would like to take any of the stock we would be welcome to it. We were thrilled! We took a team of people in and we ended up getting all of our floor shelving, wall shelving, mannequins, hangers, front sales counter plus extra bric-a-brac. These were just some of the blessings we received.
So we continued to keep looking for a shop and again found a place which seemed like a good option. It was certainly cheaper and had everything we were looking for, although its location wasn’t great. However, we wanted to move ahead and lock in a shop. Just as we are about to sign, I received an email from the previous agent saying the original place was now available again. After praying about it we decided to put in an offer for much less and if they accepted it, great. If not, we would go with plan B. Much to our delight, they accepted it.
I was just in awe of how God had provided a place for us and we received it at a much cheaper price too. We started setting up the shop in October 2018 and by November 2019 we had our first opening day. Since we opened the ADRA OP Shop we have been getting to know the community and it has been amazing for me personally that, through service, I have found greater peace and happiness. We have had customers come in and spend time talking with us, sharing their life struggles and talking about their families. The really special part is we are starting to learn their names and they know ours too. When you work in a service industry you build a community which is such a blessing to be a part of, to witness the changes not only in the people who come into the store but also to the people who work in the store as well.
Each morning as we set up for the day, we take time to pray. The volunteers are people who come from different churches and from the community. We don’t all necessarily believe the same things. What we do believe and desire together is to make a difference in the lives of people who come in each day. We desire to have a place where people can come in when they are having a rough time and know they will receive help in whatever way we are able to help. Some people come in asking for prayer, some come in asking for food or clothing and we feel so privileged to be part of an organisation that can help people in this way.
As I talk with the people who volunteer, one thing which keeps coming up is how each of us feels so thankful to be there. We are making friends in the community and this is another way in which we can change our local communities. There are so many lonely people who are searching for a way to feel connected. This has been a great way for not only the community to connect but for volunteers to connect and feel complete.
In Matthew 25:40 It says “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me”. And then in Acts 20:35, “In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way, we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'".
These are words which truly reflect the changes happening in our hearts. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. Our volunteers are giving of their time and it is life-changing. One of the things which I hear often is, “I would like to help, but I don’t have time”, and I totally understand that. Sometimes it’s tough trying to fit in everything that needs to get done but the joy that I feel in my heart and the stories that I can share with my kids of what happens when I am at the shop is something they will never learn anywhere else. Through service I am hoping they will also learn more about true happiness and their worth, then this will also ripple through their 'community' and this is how we can make real change happen.