An unexpected thing happened on the way to Thanksgiving this year. A tradition at Yakima: Wesley United Methodist Church is to create Thanksgiving Baskets for low-income families in the area. (They are really more like Thanksgiving BOXES because each family gets enough for a true feast!). The congregation collects and drops off food items and monetary donations for a team of folks to complete the project each year. Several years ago our Youth Group joined with the Outreach team and anyone else who wanted to help take inventory, assemble the baskets, and then go shopping for the rest of the materials. This year, there was more age diversity, as we had multiple generations helping out together.
This outreach project has turned out to be a fun event of friendly competition and a scavenger hunt approach to being missional, as we divide into groups to go after specific shopping items on our list. We then all come together in the checkout line to pay for everything on one bill. You can imagine the eyesore and the traffic jam we created at the grocery store, with our multiple shopping carts crammed and zigzagged in an attempt to stay in one line while we also attempted to create enough room to allow other shoppers to maneuver around us. This is no small feat; the panicked and frustrated looks on some shoppers’ faces revealed that they were already anxious about doing Thanksgiving shopping and, by seeing our good-sized group wedged together and in the way, they were probably becoming more panicky with the thought of when they might ever get out of the store! Several times we had to make like Moses and “part the Reed Sea” of our shopping baskets to allow other shoppers through.
While in line, the couple ahead of us became more and more intrigued and finally asked us where we were from and what we were doing. Suddenly, our presence as an eyesore and gridlock became a natural way to have a conversation about Wesley United Methodist Church, our Youth Group and Outreach team, our Thanksgiving basket project, and, ultimately, why we were there. The witness opportunity just fell into our laps and we weren’t even trying to make a witness at the grocery store! The couple recognized our church from our recycling project (which they use frequently), and they were delighted to learn about our Thanksgiving project. They asked if we could use some potatoes, and they ended up donating those along with tangerines before making their way out of the store.
Little did we know that the man ahead of that couple in line had been hearing our story as well, and when I approached the grocery store checker to begin the transaction, the man silently materialized next to me and said, quietly, “You guys are doing a really good thing here. I’d like to pitch in.” I was surprised again, but I nodded and thanked him. I thought “pitching in” might involve offering $10 or $20, which would have been wonderful. But he took out his own credit card and stepped up to the transaction machine as the grocery items began their journey down the conveyor belt. The checker stopped when the bill reached $39 – with many more groceries waiting to be scanned – and a few of us looked at the man, asking if that was too much at this point. He shrugged it off and said to keep them coming. He said to keep going when we approached $100 as well. I was speechless for a bit, but then I asked him his name and a few questions about himself, and I explained who we were as well. At this point the bill was edging $200, but he said he decided he would pay for the entire thing, which ended up being $334 total. He kept insisting we were doing a great thing and that we could save our money for some other need in the future. He added his mother had passed away last year during the Christmas season, and she had left him some money and told him to spend it on something that would help others. I asked him how we might be able to him, and his response floored me. His face filled with delight as he explained the big Christmas lights show he puts on at his house each year, and that one way for us to thank him would be to have the group drive by when it’s ready so that we can enjoy the presentation. In other words, his request for a thank you was to add on to his already-grand display of generosity!
This was a moment of humility for me, with the blessing and bounty that kept on growing. The bounty started with the congregation offering our own fruit of giving and serving, and then more people responded – strangers, really – by stepping in and adding to the blessing. The bounty grew! I say it was a moment of humility because it made our group pause at the beauty of the blessing of how the others responded. This experience reminded me of how I need to learn to stop in my tracks and thank God more than I do now. In that clarifying moment, I wanted to thank God for all the blessings God has given me and for all the people who can remind me of God’s everlasting and abundant love. Unexpectedly, we shared our witness and others responded by adding to it. How can we create more opportunities like this in order to witness the love of Jesus Christ in our own lives, and then see how others can respond by expanding the blessing?
Scott Klepach, Jr. serves as a student local pastor at Yakima: Wesley UMC as well as the convener for the Communications Commission of the PNWUMC.