One of my favorite concepts from Chinese culture is yuanfen, the somewhat mystical concept of
how fate brings people together through seemingly random encounters. Since moving to
Shanghai, my life has been full of numerous interesting connections that just feel like something
more than chance. Call it yuanfen, or call it seeing "the hand of the Lord in all things" (Doctrine
& Covenants 59:21), or call it having a great time in the world's most fascinating city.
A recent yuanfen experience was meeting Jeff Fletcher, an American musician with many talents
who has been in Shanghai for about five years. Jeff is currently recording music that incorporates
healing sound and designs corporate stress management programs with an integrated,
Jeff is a serious Christian (but not the LDS flavor). His approach to work as a ministry touched
me, and with his permission, I'll share an episode from his life that might help all of us in our
own ministries here.
Jeff grew up in Philadelphia without a lot of money. As a kid, he worked in the restaurant
business, starting as a dishwasher. This is filthy, nasty work. But he maintained a positive
attitude: "I would think of all the people who might not get a clean dish unless someone cared
and had enough integrity to act responsibly, to see that as a ministry."
Work, even tedious, mundane work, as a ministry - what an interesting concept. "Whatever you
are doing could be a ministry," he told me, "if you had the wherewithal to imagine it that way."
His work as a ministry is best illustrated by an experience he had later while selling shoes. Here
are Jeff's words that I transcribed from an interview with him:
When I was young, I went from one lousy job to another, as most people do. After
working in restaurants, I also sold shoes. First I was a stockboy. I worked in a dark,
smelly basement processing the shoes when they came in.
Then one of the salesmen quit, and they invited me to come upstairs occasionally to help.
I had already begun wearing suits in the basement to work because I envisioned myself as
working on the floor upstairs. They complained: "Why do you wear suits? You work in
filth." But I was thinking about the future.
Working upstairs, since I knew the inventory inside and out already, I was able to help
customers quickly. I loved selling and was able to talk with customers, engage them,
offer good conversation, and help them want to buy shoes from me.
We had a guy come into the store who just reeked of not having had a bath for years. His
shoes and socks were stuck to his feet. My boss said, "Get him out of here. He's just
some homeless guy, get him out of here!" But I invited him to sit down and asked him
what size he wore.
My boss whispered, well, he didn't so much whisper, he just told me, "This guy doesn't
have any money. How could he buy shoes? You're being ridiculous. Just get him out of
the store. He'll run all the customers off."
The guy mumbled for a minute and I thought I heard "ten and a half" in there somewhere.
I knew we had some closeouts in that size that were very cheap, just $10. I grabbed a pair
and took his shoes off, and then I realized the condition of his feet. They had pus and
boils all over.
In light of the teachings of Christ, I thought that if this man needs shoes, I couldn't
assume that he didn't have money just because he needed a bath. Now shoe salesmen
also tend to have low self-esteem, and that limits what they are willing to do for others. I
realized that perhaps the only shoes salesman who could help him - the only one who
would be able to get on his knees and pull of the pus-infected socks off this man's feet,
put fresh socks on, and try shoes on him - was me. So I pulled his socks off.
I saw his feet. I took a cold towel and kind of wiped the liquid from his feet, put a fresh
pair of socks on him and put the shoes on and asked him to walk. He got up and walked
around the store, and made noises, reached in his pocket, asked how much the shoes
were, then paid me and left.
My boss was astonished and said, "You could sell shoes to anybody."
"Why? I didn't really have a conversation with him. He came to a shoe store. I assumed
he might need shoes. He couldn't really speak clearly. He may have gone to several
stores and they turned him away because no one could understand him."
The experience reminded me of the scene in the New Testament where Christ washed the
feet of his disciples. I thought of that and I was convicted. I thought of all these people
working here, and felt that maybe thus guy was sent here because I am here and I'm
I won't say I'm a Christian, but I'm an aspiring Christian. And I looked at this guy as an
opportunity to practice. To me that's far more important. If you're actually practicing
Christianity, then whatever you're doing, whatever your job is, the beauty of Christianity
is that it cannot be impaired by circumstances. So if you're a dishwasher, you can be an
upright dishwasher. If you're a waiter or you're selling shoes, you can be an upright
practicing Christian in that profession.
I love this story and so appreciate the example of service and refusing to "foreclose" on
someone, as Jeff puts it. He told me that through these early work experiences, he learned that
his value wasn't a function of his job, and "that a human being's value is in no way a reflection
of their accomplishments, their education, or their net worth." With that perspective, Jeff had the
imagination to not let a difficult tedious job depress him. He used his imagination to see his work
as a ministry, and to see a lowly client as a son of God deserving kind and fair treatment. May
we all have that kind of ennobling imagination in our own work.
Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his
LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on
the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton,
Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra.
He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.
He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent
Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.
Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering
Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US
patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications.
Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.