Work: Our First Line of Christian Witness

6388137639_efaf640569_mWhen I was 17, I finished my first year of Bible School and went from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to Regina, 40 miles to the east, seeking work for the summer.

I got a job in a high-class men’s clothing store – Fred Barber’s on Hamilton Street. I have forgotten how I went about it. I probably walked in off the street and asked for a job and by the providence of God they hired me.

The boss, Mr. Barber, was a short, watery-eyed man who had a cigar in his mouth most of the time. His son, Gordon, managed the store; Jerry was a longtime employee; and Pat, the Irish tailor, had his workplace in the back room, open to the store by an archway.

I believe I was a fast learner, partly because I had already worked part time as a clerk in my brother’s grocery store in my hometown.

On occasion when the other men were busy I was able to sell several items of apparel to customers. I even got one or two men over to the suit racks and got a suit jacket on their backs before I was discovered and Gordon took over.

These men knew I was attending Bible School and this seemed a curiosity to them. They took opportunity to rib me about Christian things. On occasion when I was selling a customer a shirt and tie, Jerry would stand behind a clothing rack where only I could see him and sing in a little above a whisper the first line of “O come, all ye faithful,” beating time with his two index fingers. I think that was all the church music he knew.

Once when four of us were in the tailor’s quarters they got a bet under way. Each produced a one dollar bill and before I knew it they thrust the three bills into my hands saying someone had to hold the bet. I had neither the readiness nor the courage to refuse on the spot. They then teased me, noting that normally a Christian wouldn’t be involved in betting.

But they were not mean. Their playfulness showed they liked me. And they respected me, though to them I was just a 17-year-old kid.

They trusted me increasingly with the cash register and their customers. I sold a good number of Stetson or Biltmore hats that summer. In the forties men weren’t even properly dressed if they didn’t wear a quality felt hat, neatly creased on the crown and the crease steamed in place. That was part of the sale.

In that work situation, I believe the example of my immigrant parents, the severity of the times, and especially the benevolent promptings of the Gospel all worked in my favor.

In September I told Gordon I would be leaving soon to go back to school. To my surprise he eagerly began to persuade me to change my mind. He offered to double my salary (from $13.52 a week after taxes). Then he promised to teach me window dressing. I remained resolute.

Being a Christian had been an asset and a challenge in that situation. The Scriptures say, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Could that exhortation apply even to the workaday world and one’s secular job?

In the beginning, God worked — creating the universe (Genesis 2:2). Then he made a garden in Eden and put “Man” to work in it (Genesis 2:15). Adam and Eve’s two sons were identified first by their work – “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil” (Genesis 4:2). The Apostle Paul was not only a trained Rabbi but also a tent maker. Even our Lord was known in his community as a carpenter (Mark 6:3)

The entrance of sin into the world made work more difficult (Genesis 3:17-19) but did not annul it as a duty. Paul set this rule for the early church: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Thinking back more than 70 years, although I was a typical teenager still growing up, I believe I left a good influence behind with those men. It wasn’t that I had any opportunity to present the gospel to them or even enter into prolonged discussion on Christian topics.

But they saw I could be trusted, I was eager to work, and did as I was told. By my enthusiasm for the work and my willingness to put out for the customers I commended myself to them and many customers I served.

In the secular world, the quality of our work is our first line of Christian witness.

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Photo credit: Ciara McDonnell (via flickr.com)

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One thought on “Work: Our First Line of Christian Witness

  1. Moose Jaw – what an evocative name ! I’d never heard of Regina yet it’s a capital city, I did guess it was named for Queen Victoria .I looked it up and found that was a good guess.T he Marquess of Lorne ,Govenor General of Canada was married to Princess Louise ,daughter of Queen Victoria..In 1882 Princess Louise renamed the site formerly called Wascana , as Regina ,for her mother. I read Wascana means Buffalo Bones in Cree ,So ,Pastor Don, you moved from Moose Jaw to Buffalo Bones when you were 17 ,both places named for skeletal remains of big North American mammals .

    I’ve been looking at pictures of Regina .From a picture from 1882 it looks like Regina was just a single shack belonging to a Donald McDougal,situated on what is now Cornwall street. Looking at pictures from 30 years later,taken after the Regina cyclone of 1912, I see Regina had already become a big city. Next ,I saw pictures from 23 years later ,of the Regina Riot.,which may have led to the fall of premier Bennett.Regina has had an interesting and eventful history.

    ,I’ve never seen a city built upon such a perfectly flat plain of land,as Regina.Quite beautiful to the eye,,is Regina’s cityscape ,silhouetted against the sunset. Regina .seems to have grown quickly from almost nothing,just a single shack.When you went there, Pastor ,there can have been no single building more than 60 years old.

    We have a city sized town in England called Milton Keynes,planned deliberately on a location equidistant from London ,Birmingham,Leicester,Oxford and Cambridge.Like Regina it’s very modernist in look and sprang up quickly,Milton Keynes rose in the late 1960s. But wheras Regina seems to have risen from almost uninhabited land , just a solitary shack, Milton Keynes was built upon the long established vilage of Milton Keynes and encompassed many ancient & long established English villages and a few small towns… To UK eyes ,Regina’s rise from nothing is a remarkable phenomenon.

    You paint a very vivid picture of 40s Regina ,Pastor Don.Your piece really brought a time and
    place to life for me.

    Here in UK I remember most men wore felt hats well into the sixties ,and in the city &in the financial businesses , most wore bowler hats. The Regina mens interest in horseracing brought back memories.I wouldn’t have thought gambling a typical Christian pursuit either.Gambling can lead to great misery for families . But some Christians patake in it.

    My father was a heavy drinking atheist,a frequent gambler ,but always within his means His gambling never harmed us )Now he had a drinking companion, a Roman Catholic padre who loved the horses. They would happily go off on gambling weekends together,staying in a Leicestershire village pub,the Red Lion at Long Clawson, On the Friday and Saturday nights they would drink prodigous amounts of beer and watch horse racing on the television on Saturday afternoon placing telephone bets with the Tote,

    I’d go there with mother on Saturday lunchtime ,to receive the housekeeping money for the Saturday afternoon shop at Melton Mowbray.But no woman or child was ever allowed into the male only saloon bar.Mum waited in the Lounge bar & I would wait outside by the village green ,happy with my bottle of lemonade or ginger beer.

    The padre must have had a strong head for drink to manage to take Sunday Mass after the amount of alcohol imbibed the afternoon and night before.He was Irish and they say Emerald Islanders love their horse racing and maybe licquor too is acceptable within that culture. .

    Though alot younger ,I too remember the different value of momey. I think wages in Canada must have been much higher than here in England.. But maybe the dollar was worth less back then.I remember we used to call a half crown piece a half dollar A half crown was 2s 6d – 2 shillings and 6 pence. .So maybe back then $4 was equivalent to £1.In which case ,in Sterling eqwuivalent,you were on just over £3 a week in Regina,Pastor.Still high compared to England at that time,I would have thought.

    My first wage was £4 17s 6d a week ( four pounds,17 shillings and sixpence ) and that was much later ,in 1969 That was working as a junior clerk for Yorkshire Insurance,in York..I was 16.Here in UK wages would go up by quite high increments with each birthday – at 17.18,19 and 20 until aged 21 we would be on full adult pay.

    Pastor ,I do see what you mean about our work being our first line of Christian witness.By the way we live and work in our community people see what Christians are like.By our life & work folk judge our faith.It certainly is an awesome thing to be a Christian when one considers we are tasked with the responsibility of reresenting the Lord of the Universe.For this is what we are charged to do ,by God’s own inspired Word in the Bible.

    As after every Lord’s Supper, today,the presiding pastor sent us out into the world with words exhorting us to work and live for Christ.

    Pastor Don ,I don’t think,as a 17 year old, you were expected ed to evangelize God’s Word to these friendly Regina men who were espectful of you, You evangelized to them through the way you conducted yourself, & by the way you worked ,by the way you lived your life.You represented the Lord by your life,aware that your life was to be lived according to His Will.

    I’ve no doubt that there are some who preach the words of Christ’s gospel but don’t live the life Speaking the gospel is good.It’s right to tell God’s Word.But we represent the Lord by how we live. If others see we are strong in faith , generous in spirit,lovingkind to others , forgiving,cleanliving,,plain & simple & holy in our lives,honest & upright, free from bondage to money or harmful practises like strong drinking and gambling ,then we represent our Lord.If we do no harm, do good and love God with all our heart and strength and faith we represent the Lord. The saying is walk the walk don’t just talk the talk.This must also apply to the Christian walk,the walk with Christ.By us our faith is judged.If we’re judged good so is our faith.

    On the other hand,if we stumble into being meanspirited or bad tempered or unkind in some way to another person,we feel we’ve let down the Lord & the faith which we represent.I think the Holy Spirit is here to help us avoid that, if we are mindful

    I think as a Christian I am charged to evangelize,but I don’t think we have any power to change others or even change ourselves.That’s just my reading of Paul’s Letters.I think the ppwer is with the Holy Spirit who is ready to help us always.But we can bear witness & show others how the Lord changed our lives ,refering others to our Lord the Holy Spirit.

    Pastor ,yiour willingness to put out for the customers, seems to me to be part of fulfilling Christ’s second Law – love others.You served your customers.The very term ‘serving’ customers reminds me that at the Last Supper Jesus took the form of a servant by washing the disciples feet.

    In the secular world, the quality of our work is indeed our first line of Christian witness.Even in this secular world we have ample oppurtunities to act according to the Spirit.

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