Looking for bargains, thrift store shoppers find gospel ministry

VIDOR, Texas 

Visible through the plate-glass front window of Main Street Thrift Store is the traditional red-bricked, white-steepled edifice of the store’s benefactor, First Baptist Church in Vidor. The view across N. Main Street, either from the vantage point of the church or store, serves to remind the congregation of Christ’s call to go into the world and to care for their neighbors.

Compelled to establish a presence in the community beyond the church walls, FBC Vidor 10 years ago purchased the strip-center store sandwiched between a mom-and-pop drug store and Chef Leo China Bistro. From there the church offered a host of gospel-infused ministries before deciding to transition the entire space to a thrift store. The store’s success since opening last year speaks to its popularity but not its purpose. With the funds raised by the store, the church will open a women’s shelter to further the gospel’s influence in Vidor.

Like the volunteers staffing the thrift store, FBC Vidor pastor Terry Wright said he always believed he had a responsibility to care for his community, and he long believed the church’s efforts served that purpose.

“It was effective, to a degree,” he said.

From a small office nestled between the back of Main Street Thrift Store’s tidy shopping area and the store’s receiving and storage area, Wright and Jayson Larson, executive director of Main Street Ministries and FBC Vidor associate pastor, spoke of the store’s success and the future women’s shelter.

Wright said while the church’s benevolence ministries offered assistance for persons in or on the brink of crisis, they only treated the symptoms of deeply ingrained troubles that weekly counseling sessions could not correct.

“We would lead them to Christ,” Wright said, “but the intensity of their discipleship required more than putting them in a Sunday School class.”

Wright and others concluded that only by Christ-centered, long-term care offered through men’s and women’s shelters could real change be effected. But the expense of operating such programs was beyond the means of FBC Vidor or Main Street Ministry, which operates as a separate 501 (c) 3 from the church.

In 2014, SBTC Evangelism Director Nathan Lorick took Wright and a small contingent of like-minded pastors to Florida to visit the Christian Care Center, a ministry founded 30 years ago by First Baptist Church of Leesburg and offers services addressing the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the community.

During the visit, Wright toured the Christian Care Center’s thrift store and learned the fundamentals of what it would take to duplicate a similar store back home. FBC Vidor hired Larson in February 2015 as an associate pastor and manager of Main Street Ministries, the umbrella non-profit organization for many of FBC Vidor’s existing ministries.

With a heart for ministry evangelism but no experience in operating a store, Larson joked, “There’s no starter kit.”

So he sought advice, culled through the operating manuals of similar ministries, and trusted God’s provision. A year later the store, staffed mainly by FBC Vidor volunteers and two paid employees, is financially self-sustaining and drawing closer to being the funding source for the women’s shelter.

“The Lord’s bringing together a lot of people,” Larson said.

The first provision came in the form of a donated nursing home. The facility, damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Rita and abandoned, was purchased by an area businessman, who donated it along with $60,000 for repairs to Main Street Ministry. Through financial contributions and volunteer assistance, repairs to the facility are 95 percent complete.

With a goal of opening the women’s shelter by summer 2017, the search for staff will begin shortly after the New Year. At a minimum the shelter will need an operating budget of $150,000. Clients will stay for at least three months, Wright said, adding, “We will let them know we are unashamedly working this facility with the gospel.”

Larson said they set capacity for the shelter at 20 women at a time in order to facilitate the personal, discipleship care they want to provide. He hopes part of the ministry will be the reconciliation of mothers with the children they have abandoned or lost to the custody of Child Protective Services.

“If there is any way for us to make families whole again, we’ll help with that,” Larson said.

That redeeming work is already being seen in small measure at the Main Street Thrift Store, where once-unwanted items are given new purposes. Budget-minded customers can purchase clothes and accessories, kitchen supplies, toys, furniture and even a 19th-century pump organ. Looking for bargains, customers often find much more.

“We hear life stories,” said Karen Davis, a store volunteer. “I’ve stopped in the middle of something and prayed with someone. That’s what they need right then.”

Volunteer Scherrie Nix told of a woman who came to the store in need of a dress to wear to her grandfather’s funeral. But instead of finding her sorting through the rows of women’s clothing, Nix discovered her weeping in front of the toy department.

A gentle inquiry revealed the tears were not for the grandfather she missed but for her six children taken from her by CPS. She desperately wanted them back and the toys only reminded her of their absence.

Nix, who has been a foster parent, understands why children are taken from homes and, more importantly for the woman, how families are reunited. After crying and praying with the mother, Nix encouraged her to do everything CPS officials required of her. That, she said, would help ensure the reconciliation of her family.

Nix recognized the encounter was not a coincidence. She said, “I felt like God let me be here.”

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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