While visiting a very close friend, I agreed to help with her church's women's ministry event. I expected to prepare hospitality tables, fill vases with flowers and serve coffee and muffins. It's what we often do in women's ministry.
Instead, I was directed to the makeshift market that had been set up in the lobby. Eight-foot long, cloth-covered tables were fashioned into a large rectangle. The speaker's collection of books, teachings, recordings and—most surprisingly—jewelry covered every inch of the tables. Eight volunteers, myself included, would sell the speaker's wares after her talk.
The speaker shared her incredible testimony in a two-hour service. Her story was heartbreaking; she had endured abuse, depression, cancer and the loss of a child. She led us through worship and gave an altar call. Over 50 women made their way to the front and stood—with raised hands and tear-stained faces—for a half hour as she encouraged them and prayed over them.
By all appearances, it was a holy night. But despite the sacred nature of the service, the ladies poured out of the auditorium and immediately began to exercise the spiritual gift of shopping. The seven volunteers and I were absolutely slammed (and I think stunned) by the crowd.
Jewelry was the hottest seller. Cross necklaces made of multi-colored rhinestones filled one table while scripture bracelets were grouped together on another. Pins exclaiming "DADDY'S DAUGHTER" in fake diamonds were tied with gold ribbon to some of the speaker's books.
"Oh look, it's a fruits of the spirit bracelet!" a customer said, as she held up a silver bracelet with charms that read "love," "joy," "peace," etc., dangling from the chain.
"Do you have anything in gold?" a customer asked me. "Um … let me check," I said, as I reluctantly sorted through boxes.
I am an energetic woman who completes every task with enthusiasm, but I found myself going through the motions in a dream-like state. Something bizarre was happening before my eyes, but it appeared that I was the only one who was noticing. It was a Twilight Zone moment.
"How does this look?" a woman asked her friend as she held a gaudy three-inch cross to her neck. She was a thin, serious-looking woman in her 60s—the kind of woman who looked like she listened to NPR—so I kept searching her face for traces of a joke. She was serious.