Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blue Collar Man

I began working in youth ministry at the age of 18, so later in my life when I would tell people I had been in the profession for over 20 years they would inevitably say "so you've never had a REAL job, huh?"  Well let me tell you- I have had some REAL jobs!  In addition to working as both a waiter and a cook at Pizza Inn while I worked at New Garden Friends Meeting, I worked several "Joe jobs" between August of 1983 and November of 1985.  And I learned a little something from all of them!

I worked as the third shift (11pm-7am) warehouse manager for Kayser-Roth Hosiery in Kernersville, NC.  This was the same plant where my Dad worked as a supervisor for many years.  Warehouse Manager was interesting job title, as on third shift there was no one to manage but myself!  Every night I would roam the factory where socks were made, determine what kinds of yarn were needed from the warehouse, use a forklift to retrieve the yarn, and then take it out on the floor to the knitters.  I worked with a lot of women on this job, and very few of them had happy stories to tell.  Most were part of broken families, victims of abuse, substance abusers themselves, and many other tragedies.  On nights when I wasn't too busy with yarn, I would stand at the knitting machines and listen to their stories about themselves and their children and try to offer suggestions- and more importantly, hope.  Sometimes it was a challenge, but these nightly meetings always reminded me that there is "that of God in everyone," no matter how downtrodden or hopeless they may seem.  Telling these ladies of God's grace, hope and love was a ministry I would have not experienced any other place I had ever been, and it was something I still carry with me.

I tried selling knives door-to-door for three days before wanting to order a set so I could hurt myself, so I moved on quickly!  I went from that to driving a Volkswagon Rabbit (the powerless, diesel kind!) 8-10 hours everyday for Roadrunner Express Delivery.  I would pick up the car in Greensboro, and then drive a route that took me through Charlotte and on to Gastonia and Black Mountain.  My job?  To pick up Kodak film people had dropped in "one day developing" bins at various stores and deliver the photos from the film I had picked up the day before.  Yes- such a business once actually existed!  Spending 40-50 hours a week alone in a car left me lots of time to think and plan and pray about the future and what I wanted my next ministry to look like.  You read that right- what I wanted my next ministry to look like!  I still had so much to learn...

My final job before God led me back into ministry was as a salesman at Color Tile, a national chain that sold carpet, paint, and of course, tile.  The store I worked at was in Greensboro near Carolina Circle Mall, a mall no one shopped at or visited.  It was by a sewage treatment plant and the smell was horrible.  I could work a 12 hour day at Color Tile and not see but a dozen customers.  Part of my compensation was commission, so you can see how this was not a good situation.  But I learned a great deal during my few months there.  I learned how to measure a room, how to install tile, the right way to paint and how to unload trucks full of thousands of pounds of tile and carpet.  The things I learned at Color Tile and the rest of these jobs would serve me well over the years because they gave me a better understanding of what life is like for so many people- jobs they hate, financial struggles and family struggles.  The faith many of these people had in Jesus inspired me; I realized how important the hope that Jesus brings was in their lives.  Little did I know at the time how much I would need that hope twenty years later...  I now knew what it was like to be, as Styx sang,  "a blue collar man."

I did have one other job beside Youth Pastor during that time, spread out over a number of years.  But that's tomorrow's story, and it involves two guys named Santa Claus as well as Cal Ripken, Jr.  Don't miss it...

Because of Jesus,

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