If you’ve been following my blog you would know that I have been in a job search for almost 8 months. Until God reveals what he has planned for the next chapter of my career life, I decided to take some of the financial burden off of my husband and get a part-time job. Not only to get out of the house, but to have a little income to buy gas, groceries and this year’s supply of girl scout cookies. Who can turn those little peddlers down?
I decided to apply for a part-time position my local Family Christian Store in Appleton, WI. They hired me despite the disclaimer that I was an active job seeker and was unsure if this would be a two week or two year commitment. They were also willing to uphold my uncompromising rule that I would NOT work Sundays. As a compromise, I agreed to help during the holiday season; “If” I was still there next year.
Much to my surprise, this store is so much more than a retail store; it’s a mission field, which is the exact reason why I want to write about my brief 3 month employment before the store closes in April 2017 and petition for the body of Christ to rally and invest to save your local Christian Gift Stores across the country. Please read on…
There has not been a day on the job that I haven’t cried. My first day, first DAY, a homeless man named Mark walked in our doors. Mark was shivering from the cold January air and humbly asked, “May I just sit here [on the folding chair that we had next to our imprint station] to warm my hands and toes?” He continues, “I missed the bus twice, it never even stopped and I need to get to the warming shelter before 5:00 PM ‘cuz if I don’t they will close the doors and I have nowhere to go tonight.” I tried to explain to Mark that he was close, really close, and if he would just go out our back door and take the street located behind us and he would be there – it would be a shortcut. He started to cry, “Ma’am, I’m not from here, I’m not sure where it is exactly.” Honestly, neither did I and I didn’t even know if the route I was recommending would actually take him there. A 4:15PM I called a cab. After paying the fee for the short 4 block delivery I realized that more than half of my earnings from my four hour shift would not only afford him a hot meal and a warm bed, but I could sleep that night knowing he would be okay (at least that night.) As if that wasn’t enough, while we waited for the cab to arrive, my associate gave him a bible (which I assume she paid for out of her pocket) and then she proceeded to pray with him. As I watched with amazement, I observed this dirty, scruffy, humble man sobbing and through his tears proclaiming, “I love Jesus, I love Jesus! Thank you!”
With each passing week more stories gripped my heart. Me, the unemployed corporate professional finds herself deleting job notifications, anxiously anticipating my next opportunity to serve the next broken heart that God would bring through those doors. A gambling addicted woman, a mom searching for the perfect gift to bring encouragement to her daughter who just delivered a stillborn baby. A father who tearfully searches for a book to encourage his wayward son, the mom who is seeking comfort from just learning her daughter has been sexually assaulted by her husband, she pleads, “I need her to be OK, she shutdown, I need to give her something that can help her.” A former convicted felon who found Jesus during his incarceration eagerly seeking a Christian CD by Zach Williams, “Chain Breaker” to play for the inmates he teaches in the local Jail Ministry. I will never listen to that song without thinking of him.
I prayed with women, emphasis WOMEN, with cancer and widows in their loneliness. I hugged veterans and prayed with numerous broken soldiers who suffering from PTSD and countless patrons who have been physically disabled from war, car accidents and workplace incidents. I fielded countless inquires in search of help for a prodigal son/daughter, a suicidal teenager, a rebellious teenager and an unfaithful spouse. People seeking how to face the hurt of an unequally yoked marriage, an emotionally abusive relationship and pornographic, alcoholic, drug addicted and eating disorder strongholds.
So here is my request:
Church – Wake up! I know you are a hospital for the broken, but your local Christian Store is the emergency room. Some of you have outreach ministries in food pantries, coffee shops and thrift stores, but seriously… when you have people who don’t even know what versions of the bible are and yet come to buy a bible because they want to start reading it is not your ordinary day in ministry!
Pastors – STOP COMPETING! I’m sure you have some statistics to measure your success whether it’s weekly attendance, percentage of giving or hearts surrendered to Christ, but we are the body! In the words of Casting Crowns, “Why is His love not showing them there is a way?” Churches don’t have an open sign that welcomes people in. I know you welcome people on Sunday’s and I have referred many people and have coached them to muster up the courage to walk through your doors. We can be partners, we can be friends.
Christ Followers – Some of you really get it. You stop in for your greeting cards with scripture printed in it, buy those great theological reference materials, you buy the Jesus paraphernalia and home decor; you are an amazing witness to God’s redeeming power. But even Matthew 25: 40 says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Please consider what you can do if you fund, start up or contribute to your local bookstore? It’s missionary giving and if you are all up on current events you would know that there is no greater mission field than the United States of America today.
This world does not have a shortage of pain, nor does it have shortage of aggressive online competition, but if there is one brick and mortar store that I think we need to fight for it’s the local Christian store. At a minimum, please pray and if someone finds the passion to open a store or keep one open, will you please respond? This is an urgent request and I have a feeling that Appleton, Wisconsin isn’t the only store that has witnessed the great need.
I thought about creating a Go Fund Me Page because I hope that you will be so moved, but that feels self-serving to me. Instead, if you are in a community where a local Family Christian is closing, will you please unite. Your community, your churches and successful business leaders can do it! There is a local manager and employees that would be honored to serve you. We don’t do it for the money, Lord knows Family Christian significantly underpaid. We do it for the people, the lost, the broken, confused and hurting!
The last thing I can say is fight. The employees are going to be without jobs or already are. The Family Christian chain has already sold out to a liquidation store and the days are numbered. The time to act is now.
My favorite scene from watching Little House on the Prairie was when the whole church got up and marched singing,
“Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Christ, the royal master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle
See his banners go!
Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Like a mighty army
Moves the Church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
Where the saints have trod.
We are not divided,
All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.”