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What Amway taught me as a Christian

The day my husband and I quit the Amway business was one of the happiest days of my life.

No longer would I have to leave my baby with a babysitter to drive late at night through poorly-lit parts of outer Sydney to “show the plan” to an unsuspecting and often hostile audience.

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If you’re not familiar with this American network marketing business, showing the plan (explaining the business structure) is how you sign up distributors who become part of your “downline”. They then buy the Amway cleaning and other products, and this method of growth – rather than selling products directly to customers – is the way to achieve a self-sustaining income.

“It’s the kind of business you wear,” I remember one speaker explaining.

It was awkward, difficult and often embarrassing – particularly when a colleague berated me for insulting him with such a proposal – and it took over normal life. You were supposed to show the plan about 15 times a week if you hoped to climb through the levels to the dream goal of diamond. Each network was headed by a “diamond” distributor who basically lived off the earnings of their “downline”.

At regular rah-rah meetings you were urged to “develop a dream” and “treat everyone you meet as a prospect”, listen to tapes in the car and basically turn your life over to the business – weekends, evenings, every minute of the day.

“It’s the kind of business you wear,” I remember one speaker explaining.

That’s what I hated about it. I just wanted a normal life where friends were friends, not prospective customers or distributors. Amway seemed to poison everything.

But now that I’ve been free of the rigours of the Amway business for a quarter of a century, I’ve become grateful for the contribution it made to my life.

First and foremost, it was God’s chosen path through which my husband and I became Christians. When he came home one night and told me he had signed up for the Amway business, my baby was eight months old, and I was thoroughly enjoying being a first-time mum at the advanced age of 39.

My husband was finding the burden of supporting us so heavy that he was attracted by the idea we could build a business from home that could eventually lead to financial independence.

For my part, I had been amazed at God’s kindness in giving me a beautiful son after I had lived a hedonistic and self-indulgent life, mostly ignoring God except at moments of crisis. This gratitude to God prompted me to want to baptise my child. But I hadn’t been inside a church, except when visiting my mother, for about 20 years, and, other than her, I didn’t know any Christians. I certainly wasn’t one.

Ironically, it was through our Amway network, called Network 21, that we met many practising Christians. One of these was an elderly Uniting Church minister, who offered to baptise our son at St Stephen’s Uniting Church in Macquarie Street, Sydney. As a result, we started attending that church and began hearing the gospel in a way that spoke to our hearts. We responded in faith and were confirmed.

When our son was about three, we found our way to St Matthias Church, Centennial Park, where we came under the preaching of evangelical firebrand Philip Jensen. His preaching on 1 Timothy nearly blew me – a lifelong feminist – out of the water. But I couldn’t ignore words that had the ring of truth and we began seriously studying the Bible.

In God’s kindness, my husband and I walked hand in hand into a strong and active faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to walk in his ways rather than those of the world.

As off-putting as it sounds, treating everyone you meet as a prospect can have value…

And guess what? As we grew in our faith, we discovered a desire to share that faith with our friends and family. And I realised that many of the principles we had learnt through Amway could be adapted to Christian evangelism.

A prime example was the advice to go out of your way to help someone get to a meeting. If you invite someone, don’t rely on them to make their own way there. Offer to pick them up and take them. It’s up to you to do the work; don’t leave it to them. This is a great way of overcoming the human propensity to accept an invitation, so as not to offend, then get cold feet at the last minute. Remember this the next time you invite someone to church or an Alpha course!

As off-putting as it sounds, treating everyone you meet as a prospect can have value if you see it as always being ready to give a reason for the hope you have in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15).

And how amazing would it be if we imposed on ourselves a discipline of “showing the plan” – aka sharing the gospel – every single week! Surely that would lead to fruitful growth in God’s kingdom!

I’m not suggesting that all of Amway’s business principles are helpful. Treating one’s “upline” leaders with a level of recognition bordering on adulation is definitely out.

The stronger your vision, the greater will be your willingness to overcome your inward objections to sharing the gospel.

But there is a place in kingdom-building for dreaming big. Not for a swanky car or a beach-side home but in the way God yearns for everyone who is perishing to come to him. The stronger your vision, the greater will be your willingness to overcome your inward objections to sharing the gospel.

The Christian lifestyle is one we should wear every day, not just on Sundays.

And listening to tapes – yes! Not the motivational cassettes by American speakers such as Zig Ziglar that we consumed daily in the car. But listening to Christian music, podcasts and sermons is a great way to help you grow in strength in your Christian life, like a tree planted next to a stream (Psalm 1).

And just as I had to force myself to go to motivational and training meetings, let’s not weary of meeting with other Christians – even when we don’t feel like it – to encourage one another as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25). (I’m talking to myself here!) The Christian lifestyle is one we should wear every day, not just on Sundays.

Yes, God has unusual – even comical – ways of bringing back to him people who are far off. And all I can say is thank you, God, and, okay then, thank you, Amway.

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