When Suzette Shreffler caught a man stealing from her thrift store, she did not call the police. She confronted him, explained to him why stealing was wrong and had him volunteer for an hour to make restitution.
“We had a talk, and we gave him something to eat because he was hungry,” Shreffler said. “We talked about Christ, and he said, ‘That’s the life I want.’ ”
The would-be shoplifter, whose name was Larry, decided to follow Jesus that day, and he became a returning customer. About a month later, he died in a car accident.
This is how Shreffler, the manager, handles thieves at Emahepeva’e Netao’o Hova’ehe (Everything Beautiful Thrift Store) in Lame Deer, Mont. The store offers goods at a low cost to the nearly 5,000 people on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, which is about 100 miles from a department store.
Now it’s expanding with a new building project.
The thrift store opened in May 2012 as a project of the Northern Cheyenne Ministerial Association, according to Willis Busenitz, store board chair and lead pastor at White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby.
Its current 2,800-square-foot space is becoming cramped.
“In 2015, we did about $40,000 worth of business,” Busenitz said. “We think that’s pretty significant for a small, rural setting.”
The plan for the new building calls for 17,280 square feet split between two floors. It will be built on sloped ground, making the lower floor a walk-in basement on one side. The basement will have a one-bedroom apartment to house visiting volunteers, as well as four office spaces: one for the store, the second for a conference room and the other two to be rented to community organizations. The upper floor will be divided into a display room and sorting room.
The board is trying to get a grant for solar panels on the roof.
“We’re trying to build a building that’s as green as possible so we don’t spend all our income on energy,” Busenitz said.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held March 20, and fundraising is ongoing. The store’s fundraising website has a goal of $700,000. In June, the store was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Montana Coal Board.
The store is not a Mennonite Central Committee thrift shop.
“[MCC has] been very, very helpful and encouraging to us, but because of living in an area of poverty, we want all the proceeds from the store to go back into the community,” Busenitz said.
In addition to supporting local organizations, the store has been able to hire two employees besides Shreffler.
The board is also considering projects such as a work-for-food program and an enterprise for beadwork, the traditional craft of the Cheyenne people.
“Our main focus is the thrift store, but we’re hoping for a lot more,” Busenitz said. “We’ve made it clear that this isn’t just a business; it’s a ministry.”
As pastor of community outreach at White River, Shreffler makes weekly visits to the youth detention center. “I don’t want to see more kids in there, so how can I work at keeping them out of jail?” she said.
Shreffler’s choice to forgive theft instead of calling law enforcement is her way of practicing restoration with offenders.
“I tell them they’re welcome to come back to the store,” she said. “I use those as teaching moments.”
While other local businesses post lists of people banned from their establishments, Everything Beautiful stays open to all.
“I always greet each person who comes into the store, so they know I know they’re there,” Shreffler said. “Many people say they just enjoy coming because they feel the presence of God here in the store.”