One of the many things that I liked about the charity shop was that we prayed every morning before we opened the shop. We sought God’s blessing and God’s favour for all of the different aspects of the work. This was all new to me but the Lord really helped me to adapt to the work. People were everywhere. I had the privilege of working with volunteers who the Lord also guided to the shop. We would go out to the homes of people and collect furniture and other items for the shop and I really enjoyed getting out and about. For the last fifteen and a half years I had worked in a factory where there were no windows on the shop floor and now I was travelling all over the place meeting new people.
I met people from all walks of life and different backgrounds. We tried to befriend people by offering them free tea, coffee and biscuits. It was amazing how people would open up their lives to me and share their stories, some were good, some were sad and some were full of tragedy. One elderly gentleman would usually pop in once a week for a cup of tea and a chat. I remember him vividly because he would usually bring an apple tart with him. He worked in the Merchant Navy as an electrician and I could have listened to him for hours as he shared his adventures with me as he travelled the world. I sometimes envied him because of all the places he had been around the world.
On one occasion when he came in to us he seemed a little down, he lived alone as his wife had passed away some time ago. I asked him if he was ok because he was not talking very much and he proceeded to tell me why he was feeling down. He loved being with his grandchildren, he would collect them and either bring them for a drive of take them to his house, he was lonely and the children helped to take away some of the lonely hours. It seemed however that his son did not realize how important it was for him to call for his grandchildren in his car because he told his dad that he feared for their safety when he was driving them about.
This devastated the lonely ageing man. He told me he felt useless and he became really dejected. The seemingly one thing that made him feel good and of worth had been taken away from him, I am sure the son did not intend to hurt his dad but often people make decisions concerning older people without really thinking through what the consequences might be. Working in the shop and meeting such a wide variety of people with their different character traits would be an education to me but I did not realize that at the time. There have been many times when I have looked back over my life and remembered situations that I found myself in and could not make sense of it, only to discover later on that God was teaching and developing me for the work of his kingdom.
There are so many stories and so many characters that I could mention. Sometimes younger people would venture into the shop but usually the regulars were of the more mature generation. I don’t think before this point in my life I had much time for ageing people, all of my grandparents were dead and I did not have much social contact with the older folk. Working in the charity shop dramatically changed my mind set. I grew very fond of our mature customers; to be honest I am not sure what the best way is to address older people, that is why I use different language concerning them.
Some of our mature customers came from what I used to call “The other end of the town”, this simply meant that they were Roman Catholics, remember those people who I formerly hated before I became a Christian. Two senior citizens who were regulars came from the far end of the town, the two ladies in question would often have us in stitches as they told us stories and we would often tease the one who apparently never went out with a man in her life. She was also afraid of electricity and on one occasion she bought a push lawn mower to cut her grass, when I delivered it I had to cut the grass because it was so long she was not able to push it through it.
There were others who came into the shop who had deep troubles and we would do what we could to help them. There were at least two men who would visit us from time to time who had alcohol related problems. One day one of them came into the shop and when I greeted him he unexpectedly through his arms around me and hugged me. In an instant I had a terrible flash back accompanied with a sudden feeling of intense anger. I almost struck the man but God’s amazing grace prevented me from doing so. When the man unexpectedly hugged me it reminded me of how my father used to smell when he would come home drunk. I was not angry at this man who was innocently embracing me but my intense anger was rekindled towards my deceased father. God’s love conquers all and soon I was embracing the drunken man as well.
The other man who had alcohol problems was a very skilled stone mason but the alcohol had robbed him of the potential that was within him. One day he asked me to pray for him and I did, I suggested that it might be good for him to find something to occupy his time and he asked if he could volunteer to work in the shop when he was capable to do so. He came regularly for some weeks and was genuinely making the effort to keep away from the liquid that was destroying his life. On day he asked me could I lend him the bus fare to take him to a village about three miles from the shop, he wanted to visit a friend. I knew not to give an alcoholic money so I told him I would drop him off because I was going that way to make a delivery.
He accepted the lift to verify his story but I found out later on that what I suspected was true, he did not want the money for the bus fare he wanted it for drink but the scheme backfired and after I dropped him off he had to walk back the three miles to Lurgan. Sadly one of his drinking friends died in an institution and after attending the funeral he went off with some of his old drinking acquaintances and I never saw the man again.
God really began to pour his favour and blessings into the shop. I truly believe this was in response to our prayer time before we opened the door to the public. The building that we were in became too small for the furniture that was being donated to the shop and the mission director rented the upstairs of the building. It was a shambles up the stairs, it had not been used for anything worthwhile in years and it would take some effort, time and finances to get it to the place that we wanted it to be. One of our dedicated volunteers was a bull of a man, on one occasion he rested a large double wardrobe on the top of his head because it was too big to turn at the top of the stairs and it had to be lifted straight up over the baluster.
One day a man came into the shop and told us about a man that he knew who was in desperate need of help. The man had tried to hang himself and he was afraid that he might try to kill himself again. The mission director suggested to the man to ask this individual if he would like to help out in the shop and the man accepted the offer. The mission director thought it might be good if this man who I had never met should spend some time with me in the warehouse packing clothes into boxes that would later be sent to the Ukraine. The hope was that we would become friends and he would trust me and perhaps share with me some of his difficulties. The man I am talking about was the bull of a man I just mentioned.
We went to the warehouse and after an hour or so not a word came out of this man. I felt very uneasy about being alone with him especially after I suggested that he was welcome to take a coat if he found one that would fit him and put it on as the warehouse was freezing. This suggestion got him talking, his words were something like, “What do I want to put a coat on for, I am here to work”? Those were the last words he spoke to me that day. Thankfully through time he did begin to trust me and we spent many hours together and became good friends. We delivered furniture, collected furniture, packed boxes and loaded up forty foot containers together. By the way by now my arm had healed, six cortisone injections later and much prayer.
The work was hard at times but there were many funny things that happened as well. Someone had donated pallets of masonry paint that came in what I think were five litre plastic tubs. All of it was being loaded onto the forty foot lorry. This bull of a man was always up front stacking the stuff and it was hard sometimes to keep up with him. Most of the paint had been stacked when suddenly one of the stacks came tumbling down and there was a river of paint flowing down the inside of the lorry. The big man started screaming for someone to throw up some old rags to mop up the paint and one of the other volunteers started throwing garments into the big man. He frantically through them on top of the flow of paint and started to stamp on them, as I remember this I cannot help but laugh. Suddenly a familiar looking garment was flying into the back of the lorry and it was quickly onto the paint and well and truly stamped into it.
Some people have a favourite coat that they wear everywhere and it almost seems a part of them, this was such a coat, it was the big man’s coat, for all I know he could have slept in it. I cannot remember him wearing any other coat, I am almost certain it was at one time green. Time seemed to stand still as he realized someone had thrown his coat into the lorry thinking it was of no use to anyone. When he started shouting “That’s my coat” I retreated to the back of the lorry for health and safety purposes and the man who through the coat into the lorry and shall not be identified suddenly disappeared out of sight.
The coat was totally ruined and the offer from the mission director to replace it was not well received. On another occasion the big man excitedly came into the shop and demand that I quickly follow him, which I did. The next thing I knew he was in a skip that was on the side of the road outside a shop that was being refurbished. He was firing carpet tiles out of the skip as quick as the men doing the refurbishing were putting them into it. He ordered me to put them in piles and bring them back to the shop. My obedience was short lived and I left him to do both jobs himself. His heart was in the right place because he thought they could be used for upstairs in the shop.
My thinking was a little different; I felt that God would provide something better than these second hand carpet tiles, some of which were worn more than others. Suddenly I got directions from God, he reminded me that there was a factory in the town that manufactured carpet tiles and I should go there and ask for some. Once again in order to cut a long story short the Lord showed us marvellous favour and when we had finished collecting the new tiles they gave us I think there was a total of fifteen pallets of end of the line tiles. The agreement was that we would use what we needed for upstairs and the rest would be sent to the Ukraine.
The big man could not believe that we could get so many new tiles free and was a bit miffed as he returned the second hand tiles to the skip. Sometimes we can forget that God wants the best for his children. When the Israelites left Egypt they left with a lot of the treasure that the Egyptians could not wait to give them. Think small receive small, think big receive big. Perhaps pray is a better word than think.