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"We Exist to Help People," Say Mountain View Thrift Store Owners

Story by Mountain View Conference Staff
Published 8/8/2012

Kester Erskine, owner now of three thrift stores, walked by faith when he began his first store in Ronceverte, W.Va.
“I’m sure it was the Lord’s idea,” Kester Erskine says with conviction when asked how the idea of running a thrift store came to him. “We thought about having something like the Samaritan Center down in Tennessee, and it just grew along. Marie, my wife, was right beside me every bit of the way. I was just going to start it and turn it over to somebody else.”

Now 16 years later, Erskine, a member of Mountain View Conference’s Lewisburg (W.Va.) church, is still ministering through thrift stores. There are also at least 14 other such stores inspired by the Greenbrier Better Living Center in Ronceverte, W.Va.

“The year we got started, there was a flood here, and somebody gave us a thousand blankets, and a manufacturer gave us 2,600 pairs of socks, and we got a trailer-load of personal hygiene supplies, and right away we were known for helping people,” he says. “That’s the only reason we exist.”

They set up their first store in various rental locations until 2000 when they bought a lot and a log kit. Miraculously a crew of five men volunteered to help put up the floor and walls, then volunteers from the church and community came and finished the building.  “We had the building paid for before it was built, and gave away over $100,000 to the community the next three years,” Erskine said. “This ministry has never borrowed a penny.”

While the Erskines are able to help their neighbors by donating to the local church school, paying some bills and hosting cooking classes and health lectures, they never forget that their primary goal is ministry.

Marie Erskine (right), helps to ring up a sale at the Greenbrier Better Living Center.
“Every customer gets a piece of literature—a tract, a small book, something with the gospel in it goes in very bag,” he says. “If you ask anyone where the church here is, they might not know, but I doubt you could find anybody in the county who doesn’t know where the thrift store is. … Every church ought to have one of these stores.”
The Erskines now have seven paid employees among the three stores in the area, and they continue to help the community.

 “As a business model, it is something unique: get free stuff, sell it and give the money away,” said Linden St. Clair, pastor of the Lewisburg church. “But only in heaven will the real story unfold, revealing how many lives were changed forever because of a dedicated, humble, generous and cheerful ministry that tries to spread the love of Jesus one customer at a time.”

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