“Yeah, so,” Kevin nodded, “The three floors below us? They’re all sweatshops.”
That was more honesty than we expected when we shrugged off the “employees only” sign, hoping to talk to the factory manager on the fifth floor.
In class that week, we focused on sweatshops—a phenomena not unique to overseas factories, but present in the nearby buildings of Downtown LA.
Our class split into pairs, each exploring a different building, aiming to ask the factory managers about their clients, connections and brands, as well as the challenges of being a contractor.
On the first three floors, the articles we read in class came to life—glistening sweat on workers’ brows, a cacophony of whirring sewing machines and snippets of conversations in Spanish and Korean. We witnessed the environment of cut corners and job insecurity, where workers are paid cents per piece.
The sewing tables on the fifth floor, on the other hand, were spread out, illuminated by a crisp white light, and lacking the frantic energy of the floors below. We began talking to Kevin’s father, an older Korean man, who was proud to show us his family business—and more than happy to pass us off to Kevin when he walked into the room.
Kevin pronounced the word “sweatshop” with the ease of a native English speaker and the confidence of someone who was unafraid of accusation. My partner and I glanced at each other with raised eyebrows and slight smiles, knowing we no longer had to dance around the topic we were really interested in.
“Have you ever tried to close them down?” I asked, “Or reveal that they’re sweatshops?”
Kevin was immediately taken aback, “I would never be able to sleep at night!” He shook his head, “They may not be treated fairly, but some work is better than no work. They have families.”
Here, the pursuit of justice often hurts the very people it tries to help. Workers in sweatshops are vulnerable. They are often undocumented immigrants, unaware of their rights or unable to fight for them, and unable to find other work when sweatshops close.
Sweatshops are fierce competition in the sewing contracting business. But despite this challenge, Kevin and his family trust that operating with integrity is not only good for others, but will be good for them. As a result, they have not only built a good reputation with manufacturers, but they provide hope in an industry of despair.
Kevin and his family, an honest company in the midst of sweatshops, oppose the rampant injustice in the fashion industry just by existing.
This is what Christian ministry needs to look like.
In my experience, “ministry” has a narrow definition, centered around explicit explanations of the gospel, invitations to Easter services, or church-related vocations (pastors, worship leaders, and the like). These things are undoubtedly important, but this view of ministry excludes most of the average Christian’s daily life. Why?
To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Christ: to live all of life as Jesus would if he were in the same situation.
But when we funnel young Christians with a heart for others into seminaries or overseas missions—instead of recognizing that any number of “secular” fields are in dire need of their gifts, motivation and faith—we hinder the growth of the Kingdom in the arena of everyday life.
Throughout this semester, I’ve experienced a different vision.
Christian ministry looks like living a life that serves others. The majority of South Los Angeles rents from faraway landlords who are in it for profit. One family from a South L.A. church had the means to buy an apartment complex. Their ministry? To be model landlords and create a welcoming community, which daily impacts their tenants.
Christian ministry looks like creating quality, accessible products for the under-served. LocoL in Watts is a fast food restaurant with a mission: to make convenient and affordable food both healthy and delicious. No Bible verses adorn their walls, but their impact in the community is something Jesus would champion.
Christian ministry can come without strings attached, without needing a person to accept Jesus first or promise to go to church. Jesus healed the sick, loved the outcasts, and ate with the sinners, even outside of the context of spiritual teaching. Front Porch, a coffee shop in San Luis Obispo, serves the college population free coffee, free WiFi and opportunity for community—motivated by a love for Jesus that needs no fanfare.
It is possible to demonstrate the tangible love of Christ without imposing religion.
It is possible to live in the reality of the Kingdom of God now and, by doing so, invite others to join—whether typing at a desk job or running a Fortune 500 company, whether working in a daycare or leading a university.
For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Author: Hana Leuze