A 2-Year Informal Observation of Christian Economics in One Small Town

A 2-Year Informal Observation of Christian Economics in One Small Town

By: Susan Deborah Schiller     #spiritofthepoor

This is a follow up to this month’s Spirit of the Poor link-up, hosted by Luke Harms. It's also led by Esther Emery and Newell Henricks, #spiritofthepoor and it's a really great place to get inspired about Heaven's Economics, Social Justice, and to meet people with great, big hearts who take ACTION with what they know to be true!

I find ideas in reading contributor's posts and I should have waited before posting my first piece… because I found myself typing a really long comment on Newell's blog and then decided I'd better hop over to my own blog to finish writing it, so it doesn't clog up his space… and this is BURNING in my heart, so I'm going to share this 2nd article, and if one needs to be deleted, that's okay.

I'm going to get naked (be vulnerable, exposing myself), once again, and I really don't know if I can make it look pretty.

In Newell's post he described Kingdom economics, based on Old Testament Scriptures – ones that are near and dear to my heart, particularly about the danger of charging interest, the value of releasing debt slaves, the dangers of land acquisition and hoarding, the year of Jublilee, and much more.

I like what I hear at Newell's place, because I feel his heart of compassion for the poor – generated by the flames of love in God's own heart.

I also resonate deeply with Esther Emery's Spirit of the Poor post and have been avidly following her journey of leaving an affluent Bostonian lifestyle to create a self-sustaining life experience in the woods of Idaho, living with her young family of five in a yurt!

Between these two, Newell and Esther, and the other "spirit-of-the-poor" contributors, I'm learning how to bring Heaven's economy to earth as we all struggle through the issues and share the individual steps we are taking to live a Kingdom lifestyle. I love the schooling we're receiving in participating in "spirit-of-the-poor"!

You see, I want to DO something to make a difference. I can't live in a yurt right now, as Esther is, and I can't build houses out of nearby materials, as Newell has… but there's something bubbling up in me that tells me there is SOMETHING, maybe a little thing, that I can do.

First, my economic history, in a nutshell:

I remember what it felt like to be a debt slave, back in the 90's. I read the Old Testament voraciously, including the passages Newell mentioned and I used to dream of a literal Jubilee and I actively imagined how it would feel. I prayed, of course, and more than that… I wrote in the margin of my Bible, "God, if You will lead us out of debt, I will spend the rest of my life helping others get out of debt."

Today, I'm debt-free and my savings totter around $1000, which I'm grateful for, but I'm also trying to build a better "safety net" and "nest egg". By most first world standards, I am poor. I am working to improve myself and my situation, as quickly as I can, but I want to do it in God's economy, His way.

Eight years ago I lived in the mountains, on gorgeous land I helped clear, in a "dream house" my husband and I purchased… along a rushing river. It was prime real estate.

Fast forwarding, my husband left me, and I ended up stranded in a high plains desert for two years, living in a hayfield at one point, moving every 3-4 months. I had never been homeless before, destitute, and beyond broken, so it was quite an experience.

My years in the desert taught me to relentlessly trust God for every provision, including jobs where I ended up being exploited, because my wealthy Christian employers saw my disadvantaged state and attempted to exploit me, even making me a slave, at one point.

I had to flee three times. It was not just me that endured this treatment. I saw it happening all around me, among minimum wage workers.

I can tell you that Kingdom Economics 101 is the OPPOSITE of White Christian Economics 101!

My First White Male Christian Employer in that town owned multiple businesses and noticing my lowly state, he announced, "God told me I should give you a job and a place to live." He offered me a position at his hotel working as night manager, living in an attached apartment. My first day working and living in the apartment, he attempted to seduce me. He tried to act like I was a participant in the arrangement, like "Don't you understand this is part of the deal?" I fled, becoming homeless and jobless once again.

My Second White Male Christian Employer also owned multiple businesses in that same town. I worked in his 52-room hotel during the busy tourist season when we often had a full house. I was the ONLY employee working the 3 pm to midnight shift. I worked the desk, answered the phones, did the laundry (washing, drying, folding, stocking maid carts), performed all the custodial work, indoors and out, maintained the pool and hot tub, did the nightly audit, performed repairs in customer's rooms as needed, did lock outs, and in the winter I shoveled sidewalks or raked leaves, in addition to filing, bookkeeping, database management, and more. I earned $8.75 an hour and I did everything in fast motion. Security cameras equipped with both video and audio recording made sure I didn't slow down.

No breaks were allowed, no time to go to the bathroom, unless you could squeeze in a moment in between tasks and the phone wasn't ringing. I would sweat so much that a bathroom wasn't necessary, most days.

The working conditions were illegal, but it's easy to get away with that kind of exploitation because every day our employer waved stacks and stacks of employment applications in our faces, warning us that if we spoke up we'd instantly lose our jobs. No one ever spoke up.

He used to fire people randomly, and then rehire them. It gave him pleasure, I heard him confessing to the local sandwich shop owner, to exert his "authority" and to keep us in line. I worked there for 7 months, until my body could no longer handle the stress of keeping up with such a heavy load. I literally ran until I dropped.

My Third White Female Christian Employer also had a hotel in the same town and I became her manager. She lured me in, knowing what the working conditions were like at her competitor's hotel and she offered me a "better" deal.

There were only 14 rooms, so I did everything as the sole employee on the premises, once again during the height of tourist season when we were full nearly every day. I lived in an attached apartment next to the office, cleaned rooms, handled the phone and reservations, custodial work, laundry, etc.

Occasionally part-time employees would come in to handle the overflow, but the more I proved I could do the work, the more work was given me, until finally I was expected to work 24-hours a day, 6-days a week.

Because the owners were devout Christians, they told me they didn't expect me to work on Sundays. I was not allowed to EVER leave the premises without permission from the owner. This was NOT part of our employment contract, so I wrote a letter with my complaint.

My pay was $100 per week plus housing, and after the first two months, the owners decided it was too much and cut back, while at the same time increasing my work load. The owner told me, "But, Sue, you know how weak and disabled I am. Can't you just cover for me?" That kind of excuse is okay once in awhile, but 6-days a week is immoral. I was becoming an accomplice to abuse.

The hotel was more successful than it had been before I arrived, and I actually enjoyed the challenge. I kept careful records of everything, and a few months later, after my employment ceased, I filed paperwork with the state labor board and also the local court, and I won both cases.

I wish I could say my experiences were "extreme"  or "rare" but unfortunately not. I know of several people in that town who were exploited in similar, and even worse, ways… all because we were judged to be "poor" and therefore, weak. It was common knowledge that a select group of business owners ruled the town.

My third employer, I was told by the Sheriff, played the game all the time with homeless people. Even after I left, I watched her woo a homeless couple into taking my place. Unofficially, the sheriff's office was urging me on to file a complaint at the court house. They told me I was the ONLY one, of many, to speak up.

The judge, at the end of the 2-hour hearing, said, "I do not see any credibility in Mrs. Black's (name changed to protect her identity) testimony." He then told me he was awarding in my favor due to my careful record keeping and the accuracy of my testimony.

I thank God for that righteous judge and for a righteous sheriff. Just a few righteous people can make a big difference!

This particular town is saturated in Christianity. Nearly everyone in town attends church. Almost all of the employers in this town are Christians and business is lucrative. Yet, the town is desperately poor, despite millions of dollars from the thriving tourism industry.

I did the bookkeeping… I know what their profits were. And yet, the wealthy Christians felt the need to exploit their workers to such an incredible degree.

I finally left that beautiful town filled with church spires. I was lucky. God protected me from the worst.

So, here I am – I am white. I am Christian – or at least that is my background. I love God. And I feel like I was born into the side of the oppressors and I wish it were not so. But my eyes are so wide open right now!

I am a witness and so I must speak up. If I speak up, maybe they will wake up.

For God to have allowed all this to happen, I know it's for Good. Maybe I am to be the Good that stands between the darkness and those who are oppressed, which is the original article I wrote for this month's #spiritofthepoor linkup.

I am not the same person who lived in the hayfield. But I am who I am today because of that experience and other experiences during that same time period.

I had friends and family who begged me to live with them and start over. I could have left at any time, because I have "affluence" in my background. I have true friends and good family.

But I  chose to stay in that environment because I WANTED TO KNOW what it's like to be POOR! I wanted to see what God could do for a poor person! I wanted to see if FAITH REALLY WORKS for the oppressed!

I wanted to FEEL what it is like to have no other resources other than a lifeline of prayer to heaven.

I listen to a couple of my friends who are still back there, in that gorgeous tourist town run by a Christian mob. They are in deep suffering, their names are on a black list because they stand up for righteousness.

Did I tell you that some of these Christian owners live in mansions? There's nothing wrong in that, except there is a terrible trap, a stumbling block.

The first Christian business owner, when confronted with his seduction tactic, confided (in the presence of a witness) that he could not make things right, because he was afraid he would "lose everything". He rattled off a whole list of properties he owned, businesses he had, etc… and because it was a small town, if word leaked out, he would have been put on the "black list".

He was afraid of losing his assets, due to the stigma of having been caught in immorality.

I don't think it's wrong to have a mansion or other "nice" things – I believe God warned against the dangers of wealth because He knew about these kinds of situations and the huge temptation it is to silence the abused and COVER UP the crime.

Am I bitter, I wonder, as I type this article that I never intended to write until I tried to comment at Newell's blog and the words just kept pouring out… way too much for a blog comment.

I don't feel bitter – I feel outraged. Angry. I want to DO something to make things right.

Even though I'm safe and secure now, I don't want to forget what it was like to live from minute to minute never knowing where I was going to live next… if there would be a place for me… if I could survive the heat, the cold, or the hunger.

I don't want to forget, even as I wrap myself in the arms of a wonderful White Male Christian man who is kind and compassionate, not exploitive.

I don't want to judge my own race, my own economic background of affluence, or my faith traditions, because there are very good and righteous people in them … but maybe I should.

Maybe I should say it as it is, because the MAJORITY of us are ASLEEP!

Asleep at the wheel.

It's too dangerous to be quiet.

Maybe, like Esther in the Old Testament, I was put in such a place for a reason. Because there is something that has been building, rising up within me, that wants to DO SOMETHING to wake up the Christians in that town.

Do you know, I went to several churches while I lived in that town… At one of the fundamental churches that actively serves the poor and appears to be doing GOOD things… do you know, that in front of my eyes and into my own ears, I heard this invitation to get baptized, phrased in these words: "We invite you to come and be baptized. Sign up with the church secretary. We will do a background check on you, and if your record is clean, you are welcome to be baptized in our church."

My challenge to White Christian Pastors, Leaders, and Church Members is this: What does it take for us to have a #spiritofthepoor mentality?

The great majority of us live in comfortable homes. We are often stretched financially and we feel pinched by our consumer debts, but we generally have enough to eat, travel, pursue degrees and get good enough jobs.

God told me in the half awake, half asleep minutes of an early morning, "You are each responsible for the health and vitality of your own town."

Apart from the global and national economies, I felt God was sharing with me that each of us has an individual responsibility for what is happening outside our own doors, in our neighborhoods.

Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. – Ezekiel 16:49

Maybe that is where real change begins… in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities… starting in the marketplace because most of the churches are asleep.

My model for this lifestyle is David and Therese Grant.

The Grants live in the Arctic Circle. David is a liason between high levels of Canadian government and the Inuit, creating jobs that are native-friendly, along with a reproducible business model that is based on justice and equality.

David models his lifestyle after Jesus, building relationships one person at a time.

Maybe I've been trying to find something "BIG" to DO to CHANGE the WORLD, when really the answer is simple, even childlike – just use my talents to bless the people in my town.

I had a dream, I call "Live the 13th" that describes what David is doing… and shortly after that dream, my granddaughter sang a song from her heart, that I call "The Morning Prayer" and it's about each one of us living a simple life based on gratitude, respect for nature, and service to our neighbors.

I want to see the global picture change. I want to see my country prosper with a righteous Kingdom economy, with all my heart. Maybe for now, I can BE the Good I want to eventually see shining from sea to sea, and stand in the gap for "the one" who is in front of me.

I feel like I've gotten some of my answers in writing this out. Writing is a powerful way to process what is wrong in the world and healing the pain in our own hearts. I hope you'll join us at #spiritofthepoor to add your own ideas, thoughts, and actions. We learn from each other.

This I pray.

Sue

Susan Schiller's life mission is to help rescue and restore those trapped in perpectual nightmares. Through activations in mini memoir writing she teaches us how to create our world. It's like discovering a spiritual blueprint within our childhood memories and using it to rewrite our future with God's Truth. A new family legacy is published, blessing the next generation.

In her past life, Susan has served in duties ranging from home school mom – to pastor –  to full-time deliverance minister – and to Midwest regional prayer coordinator for a large international ministry. These days you can usually find Susan soaking in nature, reading a book (or several), blogging, baking bread, or hanging out with her family and friends. You can get a free copy of Susan's upcoming book, "On the Way Home" by registering here.

Copyright 2010-2014, Susan Schiller, http://TeamFamilyOnline.com. For reprint permission for any private or    commercial use, in any form of media, please contact Susan Schiller.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily Heitzman March 3, 2014 at 11:52 am

Wow, Susan.  I am so sorry to hear about your experiences.  Thank you for being so vulnerable and honest. 

I am really glad you are able to feel outraged by the injustice you have both observed and experienced and that this outrage urges you to "DO something to make things right."  Too often, we – as Christians (and especially as Christian women) are "trained" to be "selfless and nice as Jesus was selfless and nice" (which actually means "shut up and allow and/or take the injustice quietly.")  Yet, this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught and modeled for us to do.  I'm so glad you are not willing to forget where you came from and are ready to turn over the temple tables and raise your voice!  

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Susan Schiller March 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Hi Emily,

I was the “nice girl” for most of my life… as you’ve identified many of us women, so well here. It doesn’t work, does it? Faith is active and requires action – righteous action.

Thank you for taking the time to read and share. I’ve really grown a lot just in the few discussions we’ve had at #spiritofthepoor. I have so much to learn and I look forward to getting to know you better 🙂

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Linda Honea March 1, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I will read up on that 5-year plan.  Right now I don't have a plan, Newell, I just have hope to have a plan.  🙂
Since my divorce, which reset all my plans, I am asking and believing God my wonderful Father for a house and 10 acres  Maybe it is time to put some action to my prayers!

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Susan Schiller March 1, 2014 at 4:49 pm

I can see you on those 10-acres, Linda… I need to, also, draw up a 5-year plan!

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Juliet February 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I should probably go away and think for a while before I comment but I have to say I'm blown away by your story. You are a voice for the voiceless and such a powerful one. From one so poor you have much that is rich to offer here.

And I think the five year plan is a good idea too.

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Susan Schiller February 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Your loving words go a long way, Juliet – thank you 🙂

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Juliet March 5, 2014 at 10:50 am

Like I said, I wanted to go away and think more about this post of yours. I feel really stirred by this series. Many things seem to be coming together for me right now and pointing me towards a simpler life and a more active commitment to creating a just and peaceful world. As I reread this inspiring story these words sang out to me:

Maybe for now, I can BE the Good I want to eventually see shining from sea to sea, and stand in the gap for "the one" who is in front of me.

It is this idea of standing in the gap, being a bridge between people at different stages that has encouraged me. I know I can be horribly competetive and it often leads me to forget that this isn't about winning 'Green Goddess of the Year' it's about moving forward. Finding people to learn from, passing on what you know yourself. Looking around and figuring out what works wher you are and what you can do to get closer to where you would like to be.

I don't like some of the stuff I've recognised in myself while this link up has been open. I do love a lot of the stuff I've read.  It's inspiring me and keeping me going. I also love the fact that I'm getting to know amazing people, like you and Newell and Esther and all the others who are diligently making changes in order to build the Kingdom. I feel really blessed to have found this thinking place.

 

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Susan Schiller March 5, 2014 at 11:29 am

I feel really blessed to hear your heart, Juliet! I find myself thinking more and more about economics, due to these discussions we’re having and the influence of Newell and Esther. I think about when I scan my kitchen shelves, or when I use bathroom products.

We may not have all the answers in our lifetime, but it’s our hearts that are changing, as your story here shows me. And maybe that’s the whole point…. I know my heart is softening. It’s breaking, as I see myself on the side of the oppressors. Sigh…

But I know I want to stretch and to change!

I’m writing on Feminine Economics today as a result of this article…. really digging in, down to my core, to make decisions for my family’s future based on truth and righteousness, justice, and equality. It’s like physical exercise, because there’s so much resistance… and so maybe this time, next year, we’ll be stronger to be able to have more practical and inventive ideas!

Thanks so much for sharing, Juliet, in such a thoughtful and kind way. Blessings!

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newell hendricks February 27, 2014 at 11:02 am

Susan,  Thank you for being so vulnerable and telling us your story in such detail.  It is powerful.  YES, you are a witness and your story bringsto light in such a personal way how our "Christian" society exploits poor people without batting an eye.  You go easy on some of your employers with their mansions, saying having the mansion is OK, but where did the money come from?  It is not OK.  When Jesus confronted the rich young ruler and told him to sell all he possessed, it was becasue the way one becomes rich is to disobey the commandments of the Sabbath, the commandment against continuous acquisition, the commandment against hoarding.  It is hard to be in the place of judging others, but if we believe in justice, then we need to stand in judgment of those who profit from the evil economic system which engulfs all of us.  I tweeted recently that when I was in bed recovering from 2  back surgeries, people from my church rallied and visited and brought me food.  Now that I can move around, they avoid me, so as not to be engaged in uncomfortable subjects.  I try not to be judgmental, but I must say what I believe, and let the judgment fall where it will.

One think I might suggest and to others is thinking about a 5 year plan.  Where do you want to be, by way of simplification of your life, in 5 years?  It is a good incriment of time.  It allows you to think of real goals, and develop a way of moving toward those goals, even though you can't achieve them this year.

In any case, thank you so much for your bold story, for the life you have lived and are living.  You are an inspiration to me.

Newell

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Susan Schiller February 27, 2014 at 11:41 am

Thank you, Newell, and you are right once again… It’s in the ROOTS that we discover what is built on righteousness and justice, or on sinking sand. I have so much to learn!

I’m going to take your 5-year plan to heart, and create one today. I started awhile back, but didn’t finish. Now’s the time…. thanks!

Reply

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