By Jamie Shafer
Often when we read about Christians in the marketplace, we learn of men and women who boldly integrate their faith at work. Entrepreneurs launch successful companies with Christian values at the core. Doctors pray with appreciative patients before surgeries. Office administrators hold lunchtime Bible studies where others come to know Christ. But for some, the narrative doesn’t include financial success or the immediate conversion of coworkers. Sometimes, the journey is hard and faith expressed at work is costly.
Although Stan and Gail Jonson would have identified themselves as Christians in their early years, Stan says their priorities painted a different picture. He was fully devoted to the pursuit of his career, and in his own words, to “chasing the almighty dollar.” As the story often goes, life looked good on the outside. Jonson was a successful executive at a well-known company, and in his home life, he was blessed with a wife and two children. The years went by, and though he was busy with work much of the time, he was providing for his family.
A Moment of Truth
When the Jonsons picked up their son for Christmas break after a somewhat rough first semester at Michigan State, he asked a question that changed his parents’ lives: “Are you Christians?” Stan remembers he was surprised, and frankly, offended.
“Yes, we are,” Jonson replied, put off by his son’s apparent disrespect. “Really?” came their son’s reply. He was looking for proof in his parents’ lives and was struggling to see it. Jonson remembers the quiet car ride home. They found it difficult to shake their son’s question. Gail later accepted Christ while involved in a women’s Bible study, and two years later, at age 47, Stan accepted Christ, too. Their lives began changing. Jonson smiles and notes that at age 80, the transformation is still ongoing.
The Jonsons became very involved in their local church and Stan became an elder. Instead of sharing the “cocktail circuit” with friends, they shared Christ. Things were changing at his company as well. New initiatives were being implemented, some of which Jonson had been involved in developing prior to accepting Christ. Now, looking at life through a new lens, Jonson realized some of these were “questionable practices” with which he should not comply. It was a crossroads moment.
Moving in alignment with his faith, he reported that he would not be able to act in accordance with the changes. He was immediately demoted to a lower manager’s position and forced into retirement two years later, at age 55.
At the time of his “retirement,” Jonson was escorted into an office that housed the executive job search program, where he shared cubicle space with others trying to find a new position. Some had been in the program more than five years. It had the potential to be a discouraging place.
But he began praying and much to the others’ amusement, told the group he wouldn’t be there more than 30 days. He prayed, searched diligently, and used the time to share Christ with others in the office. He remembers clearly, “On a Monday, exactly 30 days later, I was offered a job at a food brokerage firm.” Astounded, his coworkers kept asking him how he did it. He let them know he had been praying. He was invited to return and speak to this group two years later, and notes, “I got to tell 27 guys about the Lord!” Several of them chose to follow Christ. Jonson has remained obedient in sharing the gospel and is always looking for the next opportunity God provides.
He retired from the company payroll years ago, and now works full-time at his church, serving as an elder, in men’s ministry, and wherever there is a need. When he remembers that trying time in his life, he says with humility that he often wonders, “Did I really do that all for his glory, or was that about me trying to look like a good Christian?” But as it is for all of us, as our transformation deepens, we learn to surrender more fully, and we see the past through different eyes. Our Father can use even the beginnings of our stories to complete his own.
Jamie Shafer is the Communications Director at East 91st Christian Church, in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband Eric have two children.