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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–When Sandra Harrison’s husband, Ron, was called to be the director of missions for the South Yadkin Baptist Association (SYBA) in Statesville, N.C., little did she know what God would do through her. Before the move, she remembers a woman saying, “Sandra, you think you are going [to North Carolina] to support your husband but God has a work for you that you have never done before.” Sandra began to pray and ask God what that work might be.

After they moved, Sandra began to see the needs -– so many needs -– of children in the community. She began to pray, “Lord, is my service to be after school care, tutoring, or maybe even a clothes closet?” God’s answer was nothing she could have ever imagined. He wanted her to start a toy store. She said she was “scared to death” but knew that God was compelling her to follow His lead.

Now, as the 11th year of the Toy Store begins, it has been the “mother of all ministries.” As of December 2004, the Toy Store had given toys to 12,357 children and 962 parents had accepted Christ. Who would have thought that in this bedroom community tucked away at the foothills of the North Carolina mountains, that one woman and a bunch of toys given in Jesus name could make such a kingdom impact?

Anything is possible when God is involved. Last year 100 percent of the 65 churches in the association participated by sending toys, money and volunteers. In the 12 years Ron has been there, the association has grown from 52 to 70 churches. God continues to bless them in many ways. The Toy Store now has three stores for three areas. They also send the surplus toys with 25 volunteers to New York City for a Toy Store close to Ground Zero. Because of the vast needs of those who come, the Toy Store has mothered ministries for a clothes closet, food pantry, after-school tutoring with three locations, adopt-a-school programs and creative county fair ministries for the carnival workers.

The Toy Store operates by asking churches to declare November as Toy Store month. Each church has an ingathering Sunday. Children walk the aisles with new toys they have brought to donate. They lay them at the altar and members come to pray over the children and toys. Families receive a letter of invitation to come to the Toy Store. Ninety-five percent of all referrals come from teachers, church members and pastors. Toys are priced at 10 percent of their cost or are free. By doing this, parents keep their self-esteem. Volunteers share a HeartTalk witnessing booklet or another tract with each parent who visits the store.

Sandra vividly remembers the mother of a little girl named Jennifer. It was a cold morning when she walked in and was warmed with hot coffee and caring volunteers. Her husband had lost his job six months earlier. Jennifer had asked for a blue Sky Dancer doll for Christmas. Before the mom came in, she had knelt by her bed and prayed that if God were God, that He would please provide this one thing for Jennifer. As she walked though the Toy Store, Jennifer’s mom threw her arms around the blue Sky Dancer doll that God has placed there for her and she wailed, “Lord, you really are who you say you are!” Jennifer’s mom had made a commitment to Christ in her teens but recommitted her life to Him.

That’s what the Toy Store is all about. It is about God whispering to parents, “I love you and I am who I say that I am.” Sandra’s advice to every woman is to pray and ask God what He would have her do for His glory. “Keep your eyes wide open and He will show you.”

The SYBA has helped six other associations start Toy Stores. For more information, contact Sandra Harrison at [email protected] or call 1-800-827-1392 (extension 6).
Jaye Martin is women’s evangelism strategist for the North American Mission Board and director of women’s programs at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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  • Jaye Martin