I love a great deal. Who doesn’t? With online shopping, the best deals are literally a click away. You just have to allow three months’ shipping time for those $3 sweaters to travel from China to your front door, right? With Christmas right around the corner, it’s time to start the madness of holiday shopping, and though we don’t know each other well, I want to ask you consider something very important to American consumers – something you may have heard whispers about, but perhaps you don’t really understand.
As a Christian momma who loves to save a dollar and give great gifts, I’ve done some reading about cheap products from China over the past few years. Something just feels weird about it. If I can’t buy the fabric to make a shirt for $3, how on earth can I buy one for that price? I mean, when you add in the thread and buttons and time, there’s just no way. The truth behind the low prices is, when I buy a $6 dress, I am probably supporting the political machine that is imprisoning my persecuted Christian brothers and sisters for the heinous crime of peace and love — or perhaps the intense poverty that forces four-year-old children to work ten hours a day. I don’t think much about that when I’m Christmas shopping on a budget. It kinda puts a damper on the “deck the halls” mood.
This morning I read James – the Tell It Like It Is brother of Jesus. James, who I love and admire. James didn’t believe his brother was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Being a big sister, I cannot say that I blame him. James was a wise man, even if a bit slow on the uptake. In Chapter 5, he calls out the rich and tells them how the laborers who they sinned against have been heard by the Lord. The rich. The persecuted laborers.
Even if you live on government assistance in the United States, you’re rich in comparison to the population of the planet. We Americans are “the rich.” That’s all there is to it. The few who will read this blog also have a computer or smart phone and probably have a home, electricity, running water, a job, and at least some primary education if not college. You’ve ordered stuff online and you buy things weekly. Things you want, not things you need to live. You, my friend, are “the rich.”
And while you’re probably a very nice person who pays taxes, goes to church, and perhaps volunteers to serve the underprivileged, you may unknowingly be supporting that engine of persecution in the anti-Christian nations overseas. This is going to sting: once you know, you know. The way I see it is, the slave and prison laborers who make the cheap stuff we buy from China (and other nations) are the laborers being sinned against — by the rich (us). Ouch. Once you know, you know.
Those naughty criminals
Imagine being taken from your family in the middle of the night, thrown into prison, not being able to speak at your trial, then being sentenced to 4 years in a labor camp where you will work 16 hours a day, live in squalor, eat next to nothing, and are likely sick many times. As a Christian, you will be hated by many of the prisoners and jailers, so your life will be in constant jeopardy. You may or may not be allowed to see your family a few times while you’re behind bars. And your crime? Possession of a bible.
During those 16-hour workdays, you cut cloth for shirts that are sewn by another group of prisoners. Your hands become sore and bleed. After weeks and months, you develop callouses. The long mundane days are your life for the next four years. You are a zombie: eat, work, snack, work, eat, sleep, repeat. No days off. For four years.
In the meantime, Americans who own 12 bibles each are buying shirts for $3 online, and you persecutors are making all the profit from your slave labor.
Amazingly, according to the stories I’ve read in Voice of the Martyrs books, many of these Christians actually do not blame anyone. They grow in faith, consider prison a “school” for faith, and convert convicts to Christianity. God indeed works all thing for good. Despite this, once you know, you know, my rich friend.
But wait. There’s more.
Nike, Starbucks, Nestle’s – even these big American companies have made a buck off of slave or prisoner labor in foreign countries. That almighty dollar has such power, girls. It’s so, so, so strong. It’s up to us, the little ol’ consumers to say no way. No way are we going to put our hard earned dollars – from making crafts, waiting tables, checking groceries, selling stuff, nursing sick people, teaching kids, fighting crime, cleaning houses, selling houses, making food, raising families so our spouses can earn the family income – no way are we going to support forced labor and slave labor, especially in countries where the judiciary system is unfair and corrupt!
(I have to clarify something here. Some American prisoners produce products such as clothing and plastic cutlery, and they work in call centers and on farms. Because the American justice system has due process and acceptable labor standards, I personally have no issue with this type of prisoner labor. I believe a solid day’s work makes a person feel good physically and mentally, where sitting in a cage is depressing. The government does profit from these programs, but the government also supports the prisoners by providing room, board, medical care, and many special programs, in addition to an attorney when needed. I’m not against using justly accused prisoners for labor, so they can “pay their way,” if you will, and live a productive life while serving their sentence, as long as they are treated justly.)
Altering how you shop will be a lifestyle change. But you can feel good about it. If your kids balk, if your husband gripes, show them pictures of the kids at work in the slave camps. Have them compare a day in their own life to a day in a child’s life as a slave laborer. That should shut them up, at least for a minute.
I am not trying to guilt you, though that’s what I felt at first – guilt. I couldn’t take back what I’d already done. All I want to do is educate you, so you can in turn educate your family and friends. No one wants to hear this. We want cheap stuff! We want to be deaf and dumb to the reality of how the cheap stuff makes it into our wardrobes and homes. We’ve been fed a lie that cheap stuff is good. Don’t be a sheep. Open your eyes and mind – ask where the cheap stuff comes from and how the economics works. Be a smart consumer, so you can put your heart behind your money and store up your treasure in heaven, rather than your closet.
Are you with me?
You will fail. I do. I suggest reading The 7 Experiment by Jen Hatmaker. It can help you put your lifestyle into perspective, without making snap decisions and massive changes until you’ve really thought things through. I also recommend reading anything published by Voice of the Martyrs. This organization helps the persecuted Christians across the globe. I’ve read many of the books they publish, which feature biographical stories of the victims who experience prison and persecution firsthand. The tales are eyeopening and heart-opening.
Want to learn more?