Saturday, July 22, 2017
"True Christian mission is love in action. There is no better way to manifest love for God than to show unselfish love for those whom you serve." — David O. McKay
My wife and I both grew up in Texas where John Wayne dictated that you were supposed to do everything for yourself (pull yourself up by your own bootstraps) and not get help from anyone. Having to get help was a sign of weakness and having other people help you was just “putting’ on airs.” So you can imagine our discomfort when we discovered that here we were expected to have people help us all the time. When we lived in the United States, we never had "staff." We did have a woman who came to clean once a week who was the mother of one of Karen's students and really needed the money. We did it more to help her than to help ourselves. Since we have been here, having workers has been one of our hardest adjustments—yet necessary and a part of our mission agenda. Not just that the NSSF (social security) requirements were hard to understand and implement, but since none of us went to language school, miscommunication was also a serious problem. Then there are the cultural differences. In the U.S. there is a thing called "personal space" and another called "personal property" which don't really exist here. It has been really hard getting used to having other people in the house and on the grounds every single day. You can imagine our surprise the first time one of our staff didn't show up for several days because of the funeral of distant relative. We were even more surprised to discover that we were not to work outdoors when a neighbor had a funeral (that slowed down several of our construction projects since neighbors die with a saddening frequency). We have learned of our obligations to our neighbors to help with funerals and to help with neighborhood watch kind of things. After living here for twelve years, we are still caught by surprise by national and muslim holidays—you'd think we'd learn. With a full-time staff of nine people (cooks, teachers, security, landscapers, cleaners, and school aides) we have also had to learn to deal with intertribal issues as well. We have only had to fire two people in twelve years (one drank on the job and one slept through his shift as night security guard). One of those took us to labor mediation and lost his case, but I gave him a gift of a month’s pay since I knew he would not be getting any work soon. The labor mediator thanked me for my humanity—first time that's happened (not the first time I was humane, but the first time I was thanked by the government). Most of our workers have been with us for many years, yet there are still disputes among them that I have to settle and that “divide the baby in half” has already been used. I'm not whining, I'm just giving voice to some of the things we did not expect when we came. After all, we got three whole days of training right before we left. Yep, three days training for twelve years of service in a third-world culture with a new language for us.
By employing as many as we can and by paying them really well by local standards, we are enabling them to send their children to school, to feed them well, to buy uniforms, and bicycles. Because they work here, they are in the upper middle class of Bunda society and are elevated in the eyes of their friends and neighbors. One of our workers once said it was her dream to be able to work here. We just never thought we would have what some would call servants. We can be servants—that’s a role we like, it’s having people care for us that’s hard to accept. It’s okay, though, God has had us in His hands every minute of every day, and we are truly thankful. One of the things we were told in our brief training was to learn to laugh at our mistakes and to learn from them. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt. Now, we have workers to laugh at our mistakes with us, but we love them and the relationship is more like that of a family than of employer and employees. Once again, God has given us a lesson in humility and taught us that to serve sometimes means being served as well.