Lending a Happy Hand
By Sandra Blackmer
Large-scale evangelistic meetings, satellite programs that reach millions of viewers, and citywide outreach endeavors certainly play a notable and stirring role in the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s mission to share the gospel message with the world. The Holy Spirit has worked through these efforts to win countless numbers of individuals for Christ’s kingdom, and for that we praise God. Going to “all the world” to reach people “where they are,” however, often requires an approach different from extensive, wide-ranging events; sometimes it takes one-on-one encounters and helping men and women with simple, basic needs.
Such is the premise of Happy Hand—a 2,368-square-foot (220-square-meter) secondhand store first established in May 2012 in the heart of Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen. This shop does much more than sell castoff clothes—it’s changing lives and providing hope to hundreds in that community and beyond.
Not Just a Thrift Shop
Happy Hand shatters the stereotypical thrift-shop image with its appealing décor, high-quality merchandise, and, most surprising, crystal-like chandeliers. Its striking appearance and superior secondhand goods, though, are not its only draws; instead, customers say it’s the peaceful, spiritual atmosphere and the caring workers that bring them in.
“People come into the shop and say, ‘I can feel peace here,’” says Anne-May Müller, Family Ministries director for the Danish Union and volunteer for the Happy Hand project. “Often we sit down and talk and even pray together. But we had no idea when we started this project that people would be so willing to discuss spiritual matters.”
Comfortable chairs and small tables are set strategically throughout the shop, and refreshments such as hot teas, cold drinks, fruit, and cookies are provided. Plaques displaying Bible texts and encouraging quotes line the walls. A small box set next to pieces of paper and pens so customers can write and submit prayer requests rests on a table. In a back room two more chairs and a table fill the small space for private conversations with a pastor, who comes once a week on Pastor’s Day. A store poster advertises this service, and individuals can sign up to make appointments. Bibles and other literature are offered free to those who are interested. And the insignia on the front window—“The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Happy Hand”—leaves no doubt as to which denomination is supporting the program.
“The shop provides opportunities for our pastors and church members to make contacts with people and invite them to events and evangelistic meetings,” Müller says. “It allows us to develop and nurture relationships with those in the community.”
The enticing atmosphere didn’t happen by chance. Wanting to “do it right,” the Happy Hand board hired a professional in product branding.
“He helped us brand the shop regarding its name, its mission—every detail that would brand it for the church members, the public, and the core group of volunteers working with the project,” Müller explains. “Then we renovated the place. It wasn’t in good shape when we first came in, but now it has nice chandeliers and furniture. People can come in and sit down on chairs and couches—which is an important part of the project. We want them to use the shop as a place to find peace, to rest and take a break. We have conversations with them, and we find them eager to have a chat and to be prayed for—even in secular, postmodern Copenhagen. . . .
“We want the shop to live up to its name, Happy Hand: we strive to make it a happy place where we share happiness and joy with people in need; and it’s a happy place for us because we’re able to help others.”
The team also organizes numerous community activities and service programs connected to the shop, such as weekly prayer meetings; Bible studies; mini-concerts; seminars focusing on strengthening marriages, rearing children, and creation and evolution; and tutorials for school children.
“The community is multicultural and we have a lot of immigrants,” Müller says. “Many of the parents aren’t well equipped to help their children with their homework. So every Tuesday children 10 to 15 years old can come and be part of the tutorial program. Young university students and a few teachers are heading that program.”
“Another new program,” she adds, “is seminars on how to deal with depression, anxiety, anger—all those kind of things—taught by young psychologists. So the shop is much more than a shop. It helps us make contacts with the community and organize all kinds of projects. Because of this shop, I believe we have more contact with people than most other churches in Denmark do.”
A Mix of Volunteers
The 30 volunteers who assist in the shop range widely in age from the mid-teens to those in their 70s, and about one third of them are not Adventists. Another one third Müller describes as inactive or on-the-fringe members. This diversity, she says, is both positive and a challenge.
“With a mix of conservative Adventists, fringe members, and non-Adventists, it’s sometimes difficult to help them all work together in a positive way. Challenges arise, and you have to be very caring and loving in order to sort these things out. But we’re all united in mission, and that keeps us working well together,” she says.
“Mostly the mix provides an excellent opportunity to establish relationships with those outside our church and discuss spiritual things. When we first opened the shop, people would walk in and say, ‘This is a nice shop. Can I work here?’ We didn’t have enough church volunteers to run the store, so that provided an opportunity to come to know and work with others.”
One woman who Müller says rarely attended church began working weekly at Happy Hand, and now she comes to worship services almost every Sabbath.
“I don’t think anyone talked to her and asked her why she wasn’t coming to church. She just now feels part of the church’s mission by being part of this project. We’re doing something she can relate to.”
Money for Mission
Church members and others in the community donate the items sold in the shop. Unlike the other church-run secondhand stores in the city, however, whose profits aid their denominations’ operating budgets, money raised through Happy Hand funds international and local missions. Through Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Happy Hand donates to such projects as refugee homes in Burundi and well drilling in water-deprived regions. Closer to home, the team feeds and clothes the homeless.
“We can’t invite the homeless into the shop to feed them because it’s complicated to run a soup kitchen there—and we don’t have kitchen facilities,” Müller notes. “So we fill a van we borrow from ADRA with a lot of warm clothes and pack bags with fresh fruit such as oranges and apples along with granola bars and a drink. We also take toiletries: a toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant—stuff like this. We then drive to the shelters. One shelter is for women—mainly prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics. We knock on the door and say, ‘We’re here,’ and those who want something come out to the van. They are so happy to see us. Then we go to the men’s shelter.’”
Müller sometimes takes her four young sons with her to the shelters. She describes the experience as life-changing for them and valuable training for future service.
“They love it,” she says. “They enjoy seeing the smiles on the people’s faces and those who seem so happy just to be given something as simple as a hat.” The shelter residents also are delighted to visit with the children. Many of them have children of their own, Müller says, but rarely get to see them.
“They thank me for bringing the boys,” she says, “particularly because my kids aren’t afraid of them.”
A Two-Way Window
A metaphor that comes to Müller’s mind when relating the mission of Happy Hand is a window through which “people can look into the church and see that there are happy people here; that we’re not so weird and there’s nothing to be scared of. But we also want to be a window through which the church can look into the world and see what it is like ‘out there’; to see what it means to be an Adventist Christian and do mission in this world, in this country where we live.”
For those Adventist churches that are feeling called to begin some type of ministry in their communities but are concerned about their chances of success, Müller counsels them to “take the leap.”
“We’ve found that people really need other people in their lives, and they’re longing for authentic relationships, for authentic people to love them.
“After all, this is our mission. This is what we’re called to do.”
Some 2,500 Adventists worship each Sabbath in Denmark amid its overall population of 5.6 million people—about 1 million of which reside in the greater Copenhagen area.
For more information about Happy Hand, e-mail Berit Elkjaer at or Anne-May Müller at .
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist World.