"Hello, PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals]," answered a woman.
"Hello, this is Denise Walker," I began. "I recently heard about the animal testing practices of [XYZ] company. Is your organization doing anything to assist these poor animals? I want to do something to help."
"Ms. Walker, we're just as concerned as you are! Give me your name and address, and we'll send you a membership application right away," she bubbled.
"Great," I exclaimed. "My address is P.O. Box 10937 . . ."
I hung up the phone and sighed. The conversation had sounded good, but there was one big problem: I wasn't Denise Walker, or concerned, or the holder of a P.O. box. To put it bluntly, I was a professional liar.
I worked for a public relations firm that specialized in clients that, because of mismanagement, had messed up the environment (groundwater poisoning, animal testing, air pollution, etc.). Our clients were big-name chemical, oil, and manufacturing companies. Companies that could lose millions if we didn't do our job right.
One of our clients-a perfume and cosmetics manufacturer that tested its products on animals-was getting a bad reputation because of animal rights activists, and the media was eating it up. Our job was to "reposition" the client as a good corporation by trying to turn attention away from its animal testing and focus on its positive community service.
My assignment-as the new employee fresh out of school-was to infiltrate the "enemy" camp. I'd already joined national animal rights organizations by going undercover as a concerned citizen wanting to help animals. Now I needed to find out how the activists planned to damage our client's reputation.
In the next few months I became an animal activist by day, a guilty Christian by night. I even had a special post office box set up to receive PETA's newsletters-and money from my boss for membership dues. My boss called it "investigating the competition," but I knew it was lying.
Although I eventually landed a promotion and a transfer to the Washington, D.C., office, I couldn't forget the fact that I basically had lied my way up the ladder. I also came to the realization that although God had allowed me to get the job, I had chosen to use the position for my personal gain and glory instead of His. I had been ignoring my conscience for more than a year, living a double life five days out of the week and trying to resume my Christianity on the weekends. I knew I needed to make a change.
"God," I prayed one day, "forgive me for not conducting myself in the way a Christian should, but thank You for giving me the knowledge to realize my wrongs. Please help me get out of this situation-or if it is Your will for me to stay here, give me the strength to stand up for what is right. Amen."
I'd learned in church, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33, KJV). But now making a decision to stick by my standards might mean losing my job.
Amazingly, within a month I received a tip from a coworker about a position in a senator's office on Capitol Hill. I was hired immediately after my interview. I resigned from my job and began my new career in politics.
Soon after starting my new job, I returned to school part-time to finish my degree. Halfway into the school year my boss asked me to change my class schedule or else come in on Saturdays to accommodate an increased workload. I explained that it was too late in the school year to change, and as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian I didn't work on the Sabbath. Unfortunately, my answer wasn't good enough for him, and I got fired.
Two weeks later I was hired as a janitor in a medical clinic. As my sister jokingly put it, I was thrown from the boardroom to the broom closet. But at least I'd finally stood up for what I believed in.
Eventually I landed a job at a Christian magazine. That's when Romans 8:28, my favorite Bible text, became real in my life: "All things work together for good to them that love God" (KJV).
Debra McKinney Banks was editorial secretary for Message magazine for several years. She and her husband now live in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, where she homeschools their three children and manages a health food co-op from their home.