The south has its own culture, and the workplace is no exception.
Every summer, our students work at local retailers, grocery stores and fast food joints to earn money for their time at Project as well as back home. This year, we have been blessed with jobs at Walmart and Chick-fil-a.
While I was sitting in the Walmart break room last week, I asked a few students if there are any noticeable differences between working in the south and their past jobs up north. Most of them immediately said there are. When I asked them what the distinctions are, the students were silent. They kept exchanging glances, waiting for someone to come up with an answer.
One student finally said, “I don’t really know, actually. It’s just…different.”
We started brainstorming to figure out what it could possibly be that makes working at Walmart in the south seem so different than any job we have had before. Many of us had worked retail in large department stores, so we decided it wasn’t Walmart itself that felt so different. As we dialogued, we really didn’t come up with anything profound:
“Well, it’s much, much warmer down here.”
“Maybe it’s the language? Phrases are used in totally different contexts. Like when someone asked for a buggy, it took me forever to figure out they were asking for a shopping cart.”
“Yeah, totally! I get that all the time, too. It’s so confusing. And it’s weird that different regions of the country literally have different terms for things.”
“I get called ‘sweetie’ and ‘babe’ and ‘honey’ a lot. Men, women, young, old – they all use those terms to talk to us. And it’s not creepy at all like it might be back home. It’s sweet. It feels like an old neighbor or aunt or uncle saying it.”
“Every woman gets a ‘miss’ in front of her name, too. I’m 21 and my boss is 65, but we both get a ‘miss’ in front of our first names.”
“People in the south seem to like Walmart more than they do in the north. Up north it’s all about Target. Down here it’s all about Walmart and people don’t seem to shop at Target very often, which is so strange. That makes working at Walmart really busy, too.”
After these comments, there was more silence. Everything we had said felt insignificant; none of these differences captivated the way we feel while we’re working at Walmart.
Now, as I sit here and reflect, I think I may be able to fill in the blanks.
Before working at my first Summer Training Project, I had never worked at a job with dozens of my friends and peers who were all living together, sharing similar experiences, and striving after the same goal – to know more of Jesus.
Think about it…in what other context could something like that happen?
I had never before felt like I had such a strong community with my coworkers. In previous jobs, I had become ‘work friends’ with people, but it was rare for those friendships to extend to hanging out on weekends or going out for coffee. Not only do we hang out together, but we actually live together.
Another marked difference about my first summer at Project was that I had never before viewed my job as an opportunity to minister to my coworkers and share the gospel with them. I wanted to be friendly and accepted by my old coworkers, but I had never thought about building deeper relationships with them or telling them about my faith.
Along with that, I never saw myself as an ambassador for Christ while I worked various jobs throughout high school and the beginning of college. Like I said, I had never really thought about sharing my faith with my coworkers, so it wasn’t like they would have even known I was a Christian. I didn’t have to ever think about how my actions, speech or work ethic was reflecting Christ. At Project, while students are constantly inundated with gospel truths, it’s impossible to not bring that into the workplace.
And let me tell you, that’s a really good thing.
That’s merely one example of students seeing how the gospel and Christianity is not simply a part of life – it is life. You can’t shake off your Christianity when you get to work. Believers in Jesus have been crucified with Christ and no longer live for themselves, but it is Christ and his love who lives through them (Galatians 2:20). As God grows us, his gospel shapes how we view everything in life, including work.
Maybe that’s why working in the south feels so different. It isn’t so much because the geographical location has changed;
It’s because we have.