In the mid-90s, my parents decided to become Amway consultants. I think a lady at work my parents admired got them involved initially, and she and her husband became my parents’ sponsors. Amway operates on the pyramid model (A.K.A. pyramid scheme), in that you get profits not only by selling things but also by getting people to join your group who sell things, too, and you get a cut of their profits, too. The more people you have joining under you, the more money you earn by way of their sales. If it sounds too good to be true — free money flowing in because other people are selling things — it is. Making it even more too good to be true is the company affiliation with Christian values, which I am sure is a huge selling point to those who are already Christian and are skeptical about this business model. At least, I think that’s what sealed the deal with my parents.
Suddenly, our home was full of products that replaced all the brands we knew and loved. Toothpaste, laundry detergent, candy, make up, and all kinds of other things were in our house, and we were to be using them instead of our regular brands. I remember hating the taste of the toothpaste and the smell of the laundry detergent. I kept these thoughts to myself, though, because I knew my parents were trying to make money through this venture. It all made me sad that we had to be uncomfortable with stuffing our feelings in order to not upset our parents. I only ever liked the make up. It was actually good stuff and I loved all my mom’s samples she used to throw her Amway make up parties.
Going along with convincing folks to join Amway were regular meetings my parents attended, which always featured some fired up and charismatic speaker who was equally a huge believer in Jesus and Amway. Every speaker was an Amway success story. Every meeting left attendees feeling inspired by the prosperity gospel: Jesus wants you to be wealthy.
Weekly meetings weren’t the only in-person events Amway held. We attended as a family several national conventions. We went to Florida, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.
My mom and I attended the convention in D.C. in the summer of 1994, right before my freshman year of high school. I had been in 6th grade on a school trip and I had eagerly awaited an opportunity to go again. It was the summer the US hosted the World Cup, and it was cool to see how celebratory our nation’s capitol was over the occasion. I was a soccer enthusiast at the time because I had started playing soccer a few years before to be like my big sisters. I bought a World Cup t-shirt in the gift shop in our hotel and awaited sight-seeing opportunities. Typically when we had gone to these conventions, the kids all went off and had fun together, while the adults attended the motivational meetings and workshops.
Instead — and I should have known better — we were treated to hours upon hours of teary-eyed success stories in the expanse of a huge convention hall, situated just across the street from our hotel. My sister wasn’t there to entertain me nor were the usual kids I knew, so I was stuck going to the entire convention. It was awful. I did a lot of people watching during these times and found ways to entertain my crying-on-the-inside-because-I-was-bored-to-death self.
On the final day of that particular convention, which was a Sunday, there was a worship service in the convention hall. I had grown accustomed to listening to the wind up of the speaker and then promptly tuning it all out. Each story began with how off track the speaker’s life had become before they found Jesus and Amway. Then they shared how they were believers in Jesus now and millionaires and life was so awesome now and this life can be yours, too. You just have to believe.
So I tuned out the wind up this particular day after hearing the speaker say there were three kinds of Christians. I did not hear what the three kinds of Christians were, but I did assume that everyone in the room fit into one of the categories, including myself.
We were told to bow our heads in prayer, and then were told that if we identified with any of the three categories, we should stand.
I assumed, again, that the three categories covered everyone on the room, so I assumed everyone was standing.
Standing there with my eyes closed, I imagined the room full of everyone standing up, like I was.
The speaker told us all to open our eyes.
In a room of prpbably 500 people, about 20 of us were standing.
The speaker told those of us who were standing to come down front to the stage.
Mom smiled up at me encouragingly. “Go on,” she coaxed. She looked so proud of me.
This was all so wrong.
I went to the front of the stage where the speaker, tearful to have affected these lost lambs with her tale, touched the tops of our heads and offered a prayer to God. She had us repeat the words back to her about accepting Jesus into our hearts.
I kept my eyes downcast. I wasn’t actually ashamed of Jesus, I just already knew him pretty well and felt bad about acting like he had been a stranger to me. I had gone through confirmation only two years before and my faith had always been a huge part of my identity.
I think they gave me a Bible and I went back to my seat. Mom hugged me. I was so humiliated to have been involved in that whole ordeal, especially since I had actually been faking it, unintentionally. And I couldn’t fess up to anyone because everyone there was so proud of me for being saved.
My parents didn’t stick with Amway too much longer. They took a look at their finances and saw they weren’t actually bringing any money in aside from their income from their jobs. In fact, they’d lost a lot of money chasing the prosperity gospel.
I am glad they stopped because the whole time we were involved felt like being in that fake alter call for me.
It felt awesome to go back to known toothpaste and laundry detergent. It felt good not having to explain weird products and weird family trips to my friends.
It felt good to not be confined to that brand of Christianity, too. I could be the authentic me again, an authentic Child of God.