DANVILLE, Va. (BP) -- Jean Ellis, manager of the LifeWay Christian Store in Danville, Va., beams as she recounts story after story of how God is working through the sales associates at the store to impact their community.
"Let me tell you about the girl from Subway ... oh, and then there was the time...."
Ellis' excitement bubbles over with each anecdote. Her enthusiasm is understandable -- the staff has led seven people to Christ since the store opened four years ago.
Recently, Kate*, a young woman who works at the Subway restaurant a few doors from the LifeWay storefront, came in searching for answers. Struggling with some of life's tough issues, she thought maybe, just maybe, she might find something in the store that could help her.
Kate made her way to the Bible section where sales associate Mitch Cifers was working. He asked Kate if she needed some assistance. She explained what she'd been going through and said, "I think a Bible might help."
Cifers realized God had opened the door to share how the Bible could help her. "Definitely, the Bible can help you," he told Kate. "Do you know Who the Bible is about? Let me introduce you to its Author."
Cifers began to talk about Jesus with Kate. "She had no church background and was completely caught off-guard that someone could love her the way that she was," the sales associate recounted.
Kate gave her life to Christ that day in the LifeWay store. Cifers then introduced her to Ellis, who was able to talk with her about the issues in her life and pray with her before she left the store.
"It's awesome to watch the Holy Spirit work through a situation like that," Cifers said. "She came in the store with such a heaviness in her life, and she left completely transformed. It's always amazing to see hopelessness turn to hope."
"Kate has come back to the store numerous times to pore over books as she learns more about her new life if Christ," Ellis said. "It's wonderful to see someone who gets it and is growing in her faith. She even brings friends in with her who don't know Christ.
"God has blessed this store," Ellis continued. "We are thankful to be a light in our community."
Ellis explained that many of the people who come to the Danville store are searching for something more than a book or Bible.
"Often we get to the heart of the matter using the Bible training we've been given," Ellis said. "We have a series of questions we ask to help people find the Bible that best fits their needs. If there is a deep spiritual need, that naturally comes out during the course of those questions."
Cifers, the outreach pastor of a local church, said he's careful to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as he talks to people about the Gospel.
He recounted the story of a young boy named Nicholas. He came into the store with his mother who was looking for a Bible for him. Cifers began asking questions to determine what kind of Bible might be best. The questions led to a discussion of being "born again."
"I asked him if he knew what it meant to be born again," Cifers said. "Nicholas said he understood it meant being saved and asking Jesus into your heart. I asked him if he was born again. He said, 'No, but I would like to be.'"
With the mother's permission, Cifers explained how he could be born again right then. Cifers, Nicholas and his mother all knelt in the Bible aisle of the LifeWay store and prayed as Nicholas gave his life to the Lord.
"I will never forget the look on this young man's face," Ellis said, "as he came around the corner and proceeded to tell me, the other associates and several customers that he had just been saved. We had a tremendous time praising the Lord with our new brother, and the customers in the store were moved to tears.
"It was one of those moments in the hustle and bustle of the busy retail experience when you truly appreciate where you work, and Who you work for," Ellis said. "We start each day praying we don't miss opportunities to minister to people. I am so thankful for LifeWay and its ministry to the Danville community."
Carol Pipes is editorial manager for the corporate communications team of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For a Baptist Press story on LifeWay Christian Stores' ministry to needy children during the Christmas season, click here