I could see that she was struggling. An elderly woman was shuffling down the hall carrying two big boxes in one arm and dragging a huge bag of clothing behind her with the other arm. I asked her, “May I help you? Where do you want to go?”
She said in a thick accent, “Down,” so I walked her to the elevator. “What’s in your boxes?” “Christmas decorations.” “Wonderful! Are you going to check out?” “Yes. I change doctor’s appointment to come here.” “I am so glad you came to our Rummage Sale. What is your native language?” What she said next sounded like “Babylonian.” I said that I wasn’t sure what language that was, and she replied, “Jesus language.”
As another volunteer appeared to guide her through the checkout process, I said to her, “This is our language, too! We all speak the language of Jesus here. God bless you.” “You, too,” she smiled, and we parted ways. I still don’t know my new friend’s country of origin, but it doesn’t matter because we understood each other. Our language is love for all.
For sixty years our local church has been sponsoring twice a year Rummage Sales that attract thousands of people from all over the Detroit Metro area and even adjoining states. Led by a ten-person team from the United Methodist Women, twenty paid workers, forty managers in twenty-seven departments and seven hundred volunteers, the Rummage Sale raises thousands of dollars for mission. Except for the sanctuary, chapel and staff offices, our entire campus is transformed into a department store for six days. Approximately five thousand volunteer hours were devoted to the Rummage Sale last week, with a preacher’s estimate of one hundred thousand items donated, from sofas to stuffed animals.
How does a Rummage Sale speak the language of Jesus? By empowering others to be generous.
On the first day of set-up, I wore one of my Rummage outfits over my clergy robe in worship to encourage people to donate, volunteer and buy. At the last service, I issued a challenge for someone to purchase my funky multi-colored sweater jacket for $500, even after one youth in the choir shouted out, “That jacket is ugly!” Within minutes of the end of the service, a man stepped forward and said, “I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters who will love this!” When the check arrived a few days later, it was for $1,000, quite a bit more than the average price of a Rummage Sale item, which is one dollar.
Any church can put on a Rummage Sale, whether large or small, and any person can find a way to be generous by donating, volunteering or buying. In order to help our donors, we send drivers out in trucks to pick up large pieces of furniture. Men in the church parking lot are ready to unload cars. Whoever volunteers five hours or more is permitted to shop at a pre-sale where there is a 30% mark-up. Teenagers are encouraged to volunteer, and children can help their parents. Sitting jobs are given to our older volunteers.
A Rummage Sale is a wonderful way to model for our children and youth what it means to have enough and to share what they have with other children whose families cannot afford to buy new clothes and toys. It’s also an opportunity to teach children who have money to recycle, upcycle and appreciate things that aren’t new.
How does a Rummage Sale speak the language of Jesus? By becoming a melting pot of people from different nations, languages, ethnicities and incomes, with varied needs and desires but united by our common humanity.
Our Rummage Sale is like a mini United Nations where we are continually learning about cross-cultural sensitivity, not making assumptions about others and treating every shopper with respect and grace.
During the Rummage Sale, people speak many different languages, wear distinctive clothing and are often looking for particular items. On closing day, when shoppers can stuff as much as they can into a bag for $10.00, one woman was buying clothes to send to her family in Mexico. Another woman was shipping her clothes to Pakistan and another to the Congo.
Still another was picking out suits for her daughter who teaches at a college in Wisconsin, where many of the graduates don’t have enough money to purchase suits for job interviews. A funeral home director was purchasing suits so that elderly men who have died in nursing homes can be buried in nice clothing. Prices are so low that everyone can leave with beautiful clothing. A gorgeous men’s sweater on the rack still had the price tag attached, $500. It sold for $2.
The Rummage Sale speaks the language of Jesus by demonstrating that we live in a world that is far more diverse than our own communities often indicate. We are reminded that for some, Rummage shopping is a hobby where we love finding deals, meeting new people and supporting mission. But for others, Rummage Sale shopping is for survival, and there are few other options. The opportunity to interact with and get to know people who are not like us enlarges our borders. Welcoming, honoring and learning from all of our shoppers is a necessary part of our faith.
How does a Rummage Sale speak the language of Jesus? By reminding us that the love of Jesus for our world and our love for Jesus and others motivate everything we do. During the Rummage Sale, we all speak the Jesus language, whether we claim Jesus as our Lord or not. We honor other religions and expressions of faith at the same time as we acknowledge that the Jesus language of love crosses all boundaries.
Mission is our purpose, mission is our goal and mission is our lifeblood. Every aspect of the Rummage Sale is a response to our love for Jesus and our desire to serve our community and world in multiple ways.
- We encourage church and community members to recycle their clothing and household goods instead of taking them to the landfill.
- The Rummage Sale is a doorway into a community of faith for unchurched or de-churched people in the area. Non-members are able to volunteer when sponsored by a church member.
- Theological reflection on materialism, stuff and the meaning of “enough” abounds.
- We sell items at inexpensive prices so they are affordable to all.
- We invite local non-profit organizations to come after hours to take whatever they need, free of charge.
- An inexpensive café run by volunteer cooks provides wonderful food for volunteers and shoppers.
- Department managers are encouraged to creatively arrange their rooms and secure helpers.
- A post-Rummage Sale meeting is devoted to evaluation and suggestions for improving all aspects of the sale.
Hours after the sale is over, everything is packed up, several local ministries take everything that is left and the church building looks as if nothing ever happened that week. We are tired, but God has been glorified. We made new friends, bought some good stuff, modeled crazy clothes and had lots of good laughs. Most of all, we spoke the language of Jesus, people were served, each one felt valued and our rummage is on its way to the far corners of our world: a sure sign that the Kingdom of God is in our midst. After expenses, every penny raised from the Rummage Sale is given to missions at home and around the world that serve and empower women and children.
Any church can offer this powerful ministry! All you need is some stuff, a few volunteers and the love language of Jesus.