“Why do you work at Walmart?” I lost count of how many times people asked me this question in my six years with the company. My response was always the same: “You only ask me that question because you don’t realize the value of the people at Walmart.” This response was usually met with a look of awkward guilt/conviction and shock. Throughout my time as an employee and a customer, I learned a valuable lesson:
People are of infinite worth.
I was asked to help launch e-commerce departments in five different Walmarts in Colorado. Initially, as with past projects, your mind thinks about the bottom line. Tight financial margins, onboarding new staff and equipment upgrades consume your attention. The light came on for me the first time I was asked to deliver an order. Years with the company meant I had interacted with thousands of customers. No past experience was as personal as delivering groceries to a home or inside a personal vehicle.
On the company’s salesfloor, customers, and associates typically interact in a very predictable manner. However, stepping inside the customer’s world through e-commerce shattered all previous interactions. Vulnerable and exposed, each customer’s warts and the imperfection were exposed. There were no fake smiles here. I felt so humbled to be able to experience a small piece of their lives. Historically, I always had been energized by my interactions with people, not products. This new depth of relationship I experienced during my Walmart years aided my revelation of the infinite worth of each customer.
Behind Walmart’s walls, I met a warrior-of-sorts, a quiet and strong woman working the night shift. Most days, the only time she slept was on break in her car. Her eyes softened when she described the future hopes she had for her children — children who had to be taken care of when her shift ended so she rarely rested herself. To this day, I still cannot fully process the strength of this woman. I pause to see her in my mind as I type this. A rare gem, she was one of many heroes behind the scenes at the company.
I was an athlete growing up, so my definition of “hero” growing up usually involved someone on TV. Over the years at Walmart, that changed. It was so dramatic, I was consciously aware of the change. I met men and women who had survived the very depths of hell and could smile about it. I began to see people, people with infinite value, of huge worth, as I surveyed my workplace.
The prominent 20th-century philosopher, Martin Buber, captured this distinction in his 1923 book, Ich und Du (I and Thou). Buber says an “I-IT” relationship happens when we miss the value of other people. When we see the true worth of others, we move into an “I-Thou” relationship.
Walmart taught me that the gospel is lived out in messy places, with real pain and real people. It is not on stage where the magic always happens, but in the daily grind. My best worship came in between clothes racks or throwing out trash. Francis Chan often writes on how God is found in the mission field. We often wait until we feel like we heard God perfectly before moving into uncomfortable areas. Walmart taught me that God was always with me in the middle of the mission field, I never had to ask, God loves people and is always pursuing the lost. Focus on the Family is on the mission field. The Daily Citizen brings true content from very hard situations in our country every day so you can join us.
What is keeping you from loving the people on your mission field?
Johnathan James is currently a Business Development Analyst at Focus on the Family.