By Deanna Harrison
A free garage sale? It seemed like a contradiction in terms. But that is exactly what took place on July 31 at the Expo Center in Kansas City. The event was sponsored by CityFocus Missions, a combined ministry of Blue River-Kansas City, Clay-Platte and Kansas City, Kan., Baptist associations. The event was publicized in the Thrifty Nickel as well as through flyers distributed in specific neighborhoods.
The free garage sale was the climax of over seven months of planning and preparation. Individuals or groups from 32 area churches participated by donating items, and some churches donated money to help cover the event's expenses.
Fifty-six volunteers sorted items, set up tables and transformed the Expo Center into a gigantic garage "sale" on the Friday before the event. On the day of the event, 75 volunteers worked the registration tables, helped people find items and specific sizes, restocked tables with additional items and helped carry heavy items to customers' cars when needed.
Other volunteers shared the gospel message in a variety of ways. They included the First Baptist Church, Oak Grove, praise team; Calvary Temple adult choir; Jewish dance team from First Baptist Church, Raytown; puppet teams from Red Bridge and Northland Oaks Community Church; the clown team from First Baptist Church, Raytown; and Clowns for Jesus, a multi-church group ministry.
Hundreds gathered outside of the Expo Center on the morning of the "sale," waiting for the doors to open at 9 a.m. When 9 arrived, people entered the building and stopped at the registration tables, where they completed an information card and were given shopping bags. More than 2,000 people attended, and 911 families completed registration cards. The family registrations represent over 4,000 prospects.
"The names and addresses of those who came will be shared with churches in their neighborhoods for follow up," said Loren Hutchinson, associate director of missions for Blue River-Kansas City Association. "We hope to hear that they were able to lead families to faith in Christ as a result of our event and their follow-up contacts."
The response of those who attended the event was a mix of skepticism and gratitude. One elderly woman approached Hutchinson and asked what was meant by "free" garage sale. "I assured her it meant free. She could take anything she wanted at no charge," Hutchinson said. "She just shook her head and stepped back into the line."
Many people who attended the event openly expressed their gratitude. One woman who had come with her young son had just checked out of a homeless shelter. She came to the event with very little, but she left with clothes, dishes and other items necessary to help get her life in order.
Another woman made it a point to shake the hand of each volunteer as she left, thanking each one for his or her part in the event. A third woman arrived with a handwritten thank-you note and gave it to the volunteer who registered her. And several people who attended the event insisted on giving a dollar or two as their way of saying thank you.
"We helped thousands of people and created a lot of good will for the Southern Baptist churches of the city," Hutchinson said. "But our primary goal is sharing the gospel with the people who attended."