Shafter (California) MB Church women’s ministries collected 67 pounds of gently-used costume jewelry for the “Loja Vida Mais” second-hand store in Massama, Portugal.
Heidi Wilson is chair for the Shafter MB women’s ministries committee and came up with the idea while visiting her parents, MB Mission missionaries Otto and Marjorie Ekk, in Portugal.
The store receives donations of clothes from the community and elsewhere, Wilson says, but jewelry is in high demand.
“One thing they don’t have a lot of is jewelry,” she says. “Every woman likes to feel pretty. The Dinuba MB Church a couple years ago had done a jewelry drive, and my mom had mentioned that it went over so well getting a bunch of fun, new stuff.”
Wilson brought the jewelry drive idea back to Shafter, where the women’s ministries committee decided to take on the outreach project.
The church collected gently-used costume jewelry over a six-week period beginning in December.
The jewelry drive culminated with a Jan. 9 event, during which Marjorie Ekk, who was visiting for the holidays, shared about the second-hand store and its ministry.
Second-hand store opens doors
Through the second-hand store, store manager and pastor’s wife Maria Mente ministers to women through counseling and prayer.
“It’s just been amazing how ladies have opened up by coming to this neutral location, a little second-hand store,” Wilson says.
Shafter’s women’s ministries helped pay for extra baggage for the Ekks to take the jewelry to Portugal.
“They did need to take an extra suitcase, which our women’s ministry did help pay for because we didn’t want our blessing to be a burden in the end,” Wilson says.
The beginnings of the “Loja Vida Mais” second-hand store can be traced back 25 years.
The Ekks arrived in Portugal in 1989, joining two other MB Mission couples. At the time, a small church group met in an apartment. The ministry has grown, and today includes six churches: two Portuguese churches, one African church and three Russian churches.
When sister churches in Germany began sending truck loads of used clothes and appliances to the missionaries and church people 15 years ago, the missionaries in Portugal started a monthly clothes bazaar as an outreach.
“That has attracted many, many people,” Ekk says. “Through the years, some have become believers and are actively a part of the church, and many are helped with their every-day needs.”
Shifting from bazaar to store proves successful
Most of the church plants have similar clothes bazaars. The bazaar in the Massama church, intended to help the community and meet people, was met with limited results, however.
“As hard as we tried, we could not get people to come out to our once-a-month clothes bazaars,” Ekk says. “It was then suggested, ‘Why not open a ‘second hand store’ and try that?’”
The missionaries rented a former butcher shop next to the church, and, with the help of MB Mission TREK teams who cleaned and painted, and financial help from a donor, the store was stocked and dedicated Sept. 29, 2013.
The store is manned by church volunteers. The store’s manager, Maria Mente, is wife of African church pastor Moisés Mente, of Igreja Evangélica Irmãos Menonitas da Amadora (Amadora Evangelical MB Church).
“From the beginning, the store always had people coming in,” Ekk says. “This led us to the conclusion (that) poor people do not want to be treated as poor and just be given things, as it might appear in a ‘clothes give away’ situation. Our church and store are located in an area with lots of immigrants and older fixed-income Portuguese people. We try hard to keep the store looking like people are entering a boutique.”
The store sells clothes and household items at affordable prices, and also provides a place for ministry.
“We make it a place where ladies feel they can talk with someone and share their stories,” Ekk says. “This part has been so successful that we cleared out a small storage room and turned it into a prayer and counseling room.”
Because of this ministry, some people began attending church.
“The store is (a) non-threatening, neutral space that gives people the chance to become our friends and then they become open to a talk on spiritual matters or accept an invitation to church,” Ekk says.
Jewelry proves to be a hit
Ekk had the idea for a jewelry drive three years ago while on furlough.
“I shared the idea with the women’s ministry lady at our home church—Dinuba MB—and she loved the idea,” Ekk says. “By the time we were ready to return to Portugal, she presented me with 20 pounds of costume jewelry to sell at our store. What a hit that was. Back in Portugal I went online to learn how to display jewelry in the best way possible, and I also learned how to make my own display boards.”
Last fall, Ekk spoke with her daughter, Heidi, chair of the Shafter MB women’s ministries committee, saying the second-hand store would welcome more costume jewelry. The church decided to take on the project.
“What huge smiles I got from our volunteers when I returned with this suitcase full (of jewelry),” Ekk says. “Our manager in particular was so touched by the generosity of women back in our churches.”
The store plans to feature the jewelry the first week of March.
Ekk is appreciative of partnerships with USMB churches.
“When churches partner in this unique, fun way, our national church workers are blessed with the feelings that they are not alone in the battle for souls here in this difficult country,” she says. “We continue to look for other partnerships for other ministries and projects that we have.”