by Jackie Swartley, Gift Shop Manager, Spruce Lake Retreat
During November and December, 2012, Spruce Lake operated a kiosk in Stroud Mall, our first time for such an outreach. The effort was successful, depending how one defines success!
It all started while I was reading an article in a retail magazine about a Christian store that expanded into their local mall during the Christmas season in an effort to increase sales and recognition. Our own Spruce Lake Gift Shop (aka Oak Leaf Gift Shop) is typically very quiet in November and December … I felt like we were missing out on a time when many people are looking for gifts with meaning and purpose. Our local community has many churches but no currently operating, specifically Christian book store.
Putting all that together, I thought it would be an interesting adventure to rent a kiosk in our local Stroud Mall during November and December to sell faith-based Christmas items, Bibles, devotionals, and of course, Spruce Lake maple syrup!
My goal was three-fold: (1) To make a profit; (2) to put Spruce Lake’s name in the hands of those living in the Stroudsburg area, and (3) to bring Jesus “to the mall” and maybe reintroducing him to some who had lost the true meaning of Christmas.
Well … achieving two out three goals isn’t bad! It was a financial loss, but a great success in that we talked to so many people about Spruce Lake’s ministries. We also handed out hundreds of informational flyers. It was most fulfilling to hear the overwhelming positive responses we received! Many offered blessings, words of affirmation and gratitude for “bringing Jesus into Christmas … and to the mall” — even a loud “Hallelujah!” shouted by an excited woman when she encountered our products.
I was able to help a mom choose a Bible for her 10-year-old son who was attending a church with a friend. Then, as she opened the door, I encouraged her to go with him. Later, one of my staff had the opportunity to minister to a young girl who was very nervous about taking her SATs the next day. The girl was invited to give her concerns to God, and she left feeling confident and prayed for. I was able to lend comfort to another mother with older children who were far from God, offering her the hope that Jesus is in the business of changing lives, and we need to keep praying and believing that. I was even able to pour out all my protective mom instincts on a small boy who got separated from his mom for a short time!
Yes, the hours were long. The sales were few. The mall music was repetitive, and my holiday season was not the same. BUT THE BLESSINGS I RECEIVED by being there, connecting with people and sharing God’s love, was far better than I’d ever thought!