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Throughout our time on deputation, we were blessed numerous times by a church’s missionary closet.
If you’re unfamiliar with this term, a missionary closet is simply a space at a church set aside for stocking things for missionaries to take when they come through.
In some churches, this could be an actual closet. We’ve also seen shelving units added to a multi-purpose room serve the same function. There have even been entire rooms (or multiple rooms) dedicated to this space. Some churches have been very creative at finding the floor space to dedicate to this generous endeavor!
How Does a Missionary Closet Work?
There’s no such thing as a “right” way to do a missionary closet.
That’s because missionary closets are often as unique as the church that they’re in. We’ve never seen two done exactly the same way. However, here are some commonalities we’ve noticed.
Typically, once a church decides they want to host a missionary closet, they find a place to put it. Then, they put out the word to their congregation that they’re looking for items to fill it with. Some pass out a list of what they’re looking for. Others leave it open-ended.
Then, church members graciously purchase the goods and bring them to the church. There, someone collects the donations and arranges them neatly into the closet.
When missionaries come through, the closet is opened for them and they’re encouraged to spend a few minutes looking around and taking what they need.
We’ve heard that some churches use a point system or other methods so missionaries know the right amount to take. However, we’ve never personally experienced that type of system so can’t speak about how they work.
No matter what system you come up with, make sure it’s easy to explain to your missionary. That way everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect.
What’s In a Missionary Closet?
When we were children, the missionary closet at church seemed to be mostly full of old, frumpy clothes. At least that’s how it looked to our small eyes peering into the mysterious space whenever it was opened. There were likely other things as well, but the clothing took up a large portion of the space.
Today, things have changed. We rarely see clothes inside of missionary closets, unless it’s something used but still in really nice condition, or a new item or two. They’re definitely not a space for castoff clothing like we remember from the past.
Instead, they’re stocked with items that can help missionaries on the road or on the field. Since missionaries are often traveling and spending a lot of time in the car, small items often work better. This way, they don’t have to worry about where they’re going to store things.
With that in mind, here are some items we often see in missionary closets:
- Travel-size toiletries (soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, etc.)
- Ziploc bags (quart and sandwich)
- Hand sanitizer
- Packs of thank you cards
- Travel sewing kits (even little ones like these can come in handy!)
- Small games for kids (travel size)
- Little toys
- New socks (especially kid-sized ones – they go through socks so quickly!)
- Packs of diapers and wipes
- New fingernail clippers
- Small first aid kit
- Travel mugs/inspiring mugs
- Bandaids (especially if the missionary has kids – bandaids often make everything feel better!)
- Small packs of Q-tips
- Laundry pods (these are so much easier than trying to pack a box of powdered detergent or even a big bottle)
- School supplies (notebooks, colored pencils, highlighters, etc. Please don’t include crayons. They can melt in the hot sun and really cause damage to vehicle seats.)
- Cough drops
- Snacks (individually wrapped items work best)
- Common over-the-counter medications (Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Children’s Tylenol, etc.)
- Gas gift cards
- Restaurant gift cards (think beyond local and go with chains that missionaries can visit throughout the country in case they aren’t staying in your area for long)
Again, this isn’t meant to be an inclusive list. It’s just a few of the most common items we’ve stumbled across.
We’ve also been extremely blessed by random items inside missionary closets. It’s amazing how God has used them to provide for our needs, at the exact right time.
So if you have an inkling to bring something else into your missionary closet, go for it. You never know if that’s exactly the item the next missionary who comes through has been praying for. That’s happened to us multiple times and it always warms our hearts and strengthens our faith.
What Not To Include In A Missionary Closet
Though we personally haven’t had any bad experiences with missionary closets, we’ve heard horror stories from others on deputation.
To prevent this from happening again, here are a few things to not include in your closet:
- Used undergarments
- Expired food (a small pack of moldy powdered donuts was the one we heard about. So if you have food or snacks in your closet, make sure you have a plan for using it or removing it if it’s not taken by a missionary.)
- Large toys that take up a lot of space
- Loud toys – remember these families are often on the road. If you wouldn’t want to listen to it in close quarters for an extended period of time, it probably shouldn’t go into the closet.
As you can see, it’s pretty common sense. If it’s something that makes you cringe, don’t put it in your missionary closet. If it’s something that can truly be a blessing to a missionary family, feel free to include it.
Make It Easy To Find Things
Most of the missionary closets we’ve visited have been neatly organized. We truly appreciate the effort that the churches put into grouping like items together, and making their closet look visually appealing.
When you walk into a space that’s covered with a layer of dust and very cluttered, it’s hard to make sense of what you’re looking at. In this situation, a missionary might miss something they truly need, because they don’t see it.
If you’re working on your church’s missionary closet, make it easy for your missionaries to find things. Shelf or basket labels can also help, especially if your missionary only has a few moments of time. Those are easy to scan quickly.
Additionally, if you’re using baskets or containers to group items, either take the lid off or use clear ones that are easy to see through. That way, your missionary doesn’t have to open and go through every single one.
Don’t Pressure Your Missionaries
There’s definitely a difference between encouraging your missionary to visit the closet to take what they need, and pressuring them into taking more than they need or pushing them to take a certain item that’s been hanging out in the closet for a long time.
If your missionary declines something, know that they aren’t trying to be rude. It’s possible that they:
- Are completely out of space
- Don’t have the mental energy needed after the service to try to make decisions
- Have allergies or preferences that make it difficult to use certain items
- Can envision their children fighting with said object
- Just don’t have a use for the item
If you have a missionary closet, definitely let your missionary know and allow them the opportunity to visit. But please don’t make them feel obligated to take a certain number of items or a specific thing you think would be a good fit.
Thank You For Caring For Missionaries!
A missionary closet is a true blessing to many missionaries. We’ve certainly been blessed by the generous folks in many churches across the country.
Thank you for your desire to serve and help missionaries in this way. When you walk into a missionary closet and see a specific thing you’ve been praying for, it is truly a delight and a testament to God’s goodness.
He truly does provide for all of our needs. And you never know, He may be using you to meet a need. So thank you for your willingness to serve in this way.