"God had a plan," said fledgling author Elizabeth O'Neill, during a book-signing held recently at Heavenly Treasures in Cattaraugus. "Writing's not my strength," she insisted with a smile. "I'd never have dreamed of trying to write a book - but He just wouldn't let go of me until I did this."
"This" turned into her manuscript, "How to Do Ministry in Your Own Backyard."
"It's all about supplying basic human needs to those who lack them," said O'Neill. And the lady knows what she's talking about. Since she and her husband, Chris, and their good friends Todd and Linette Crelly, launched Trading Post South Community Care Center nearly four years ago, the little storefront operation has served thousands of people.
Elizabeth O’Neill, Cattaraugus Trading Post manager and newly minted author, prepares to autograph a copy of her book, “How to Do Ministry in Your Own Backyard.” The book chronicles the birth of the Cattaraugus Trading Post (Saving Grace Outreach) and points the way for others interested in initiating such a program. Elizabeth and her husband, Chris, live in East Otto with their sons, Sean and Shane, and daughter, Caitlin. She has two grown daughters, Kelly and Meagan.
Sometimes the help offered has been straightforward and basic, like food; sometimes, it was clothing (jeans or a warm jacket, for instance); some of the help even took the shape of household furnishings, like a couch, a table, or maybe, a highchair. But one thing remains constant; every bit of assistance so freely given, has been accompanied by healthy dollops of warmth, friendship and encouragement.
Elizabeth says her book could be viewed as a manual for people who feel moved, as she was, to minister to others in practical ways. Chapter by chapter, she provides nuts and bolts solutions for the problems inherent in starting up an outreach center, like Trading Post South. She even includes an appendix that contains examples of the numerous forms (applications, guidelines, tally sheets - even Trading Post Dollars) devised to make administrative tasks easier.
Elizabeth talks frankly about her own misgivings when she and Chris first set out on their journey of ministry. But she joyously shares her abiding belief that, "God will help you over any hurdle when you are working for His glory." There's hardly a page that doesn't ring with her conviction that, "All things are possible, with His help." Indeed, faith is the over-riding characteristic of her narrative, as she advises her readers on doing God's work, wherever they find themselves.
In commenting on the ups and downs of starting Trading Post South, O'Neill writes, "I knew for a while that I had some sort of calling in the village of Cattaraugus, but I didn't know what form it should take. In the beginning, it was very difficult to listen to God, but He would not give up until I followed him."
In truth, reading the book is pretty much like talking to Elizabeth in person (except I doubt you can read as fast as she talks). Exuberant ideas pour out at breakneck speed, and she seems never to tire of expounding and expanding the Trading Post's mission.
Not long ago, she said, the "Post" opened a furniture store next door, so that people requiring a table and chairs, or a "new" crib for the baby could come and fill their needs. The latest project has been refurbishing two old upstairs apartments for the use of individuals (or families) who find themselves temporarily homeless.
To each new challenge, O'Neill brings her sunny (but iron-clad) disposition and her never-flagging faith. She feels that God has sent an endless army of volunteers, explaining, "God's people came when we called. We had very little money, but we knew our parent ministry was behind us." (Trading Post South was originally fashioned in the image of Springville's Trading Post, administered by Fellowship Hill Ministries, under the guidance of her previously mentioned friends and mentors, Todd and Linette Crelly.) In addition to the Crelly's help, various Cattaraugus church groups and individuals stepped forward to take on the gritty jobs of cleaning, painting and endlessly repairing the run-down building God had led them to.
O'Neill said because so many good people have assisted with almost every aspects of the Trading Post, she hates to name names, for fear of leaving someone out. However, in a section of her book called "Author's Testimony," she does identify several of the individuals she truly believes were sent by God to get the ministry underway.
Pat Gunsolus is one of them. Elizabeth said Pat showed up one day to help clean, and kept coming back, doing whatever needed doing. "She became one of my closest friends, 'grandma' to my children and a second mom to me," said O'Neill. "God had (placed) a voice beside me that was a familiar face to those in town ... It was a perfect fit for me and Pat."
Many such personal anecdotes punctuate O'Neill's book. However, her primary goal remains that of showing others, "How to Do Ministry in Your Own Backyard."
"I hope it encourages and inspires someone," she said. Her best advice - "Believe."