I grew up in a culture of work. Every man worked, every day. Not working was a symbol of idleness, indolence, and worthlessness. My father went to work early every morning and came home late every night. My wife’s father worked as a truck driver even after serious cancer surgery that would have made most men semi-invalids. Once, as he was loading a large box into a customer’s car, the customer said, “I would have loaded that myself, but I had my bladder removed five years ago.” Karen’s father replied, “Yep. I had that same operation six months ago,” and shut the trunk lid and shut the man up as well. I have several graduate degrees but I worked full time through each and every one of them. My last one, I was a full-time graduate student, and a full-time pastor, and a part-time instructor at Boston University, putting in almost 120 hours a week. As a pastor, I never worked fewer than around 80 hours a week, so, now, I feel as if I am the village neer-do-well, just a worthless lump of humanity. I don’t go to work every day, I don’t have meetings, and schedules, and appointments to keep. I write this blog every day, but that just takes up two hours at the most, and many days much less than that. It’s just hard to have any self-esteem when the other missionaries around here do go to work every day and spend hours and hours in the field while I just sit around my house.
Yes, I am retired and over 72 years old. Yes, my health is bad and I can’t travel more than an hour away from the house. Yes, there are decades of hard work in my past, but that’s just it, it’s in the past. I think one of the hardest things for anyone who grew up in the working culture that I did—is to relax, to stop working, to rest and enjoy what life can give you. Even here, in the first seven or eight years, I worked hard every day, but after all my surgeries and health problems, I just can’t, not anymore. This leads to sometimes serious depression. What should happen, is that I should remember, every day, that the three- and four-year-old orphans in our school here wouldn’t even be here, wouldn’t be eating every day, wouldn’t be learning if it weren’t for what we have done and are doing—it’s just that I’m not doing it, not personally. And that’s not to mention the other six preschools that we’ve helped start and maintain. The Methodist Church in Tanzania has gone from four churches and 200 members in 2005 to almost thirty churches and over 4,000 members today. I didn’t do all that work, but I helped and personally baptized over 500 individuals. One Sunday at the new church in the village of Kabainja, I baptized 82 adults in a little over two hours. I don’t do things like that anymore, so I think I am useless. Yes, over 10,000 people now have clean, safe drinking water and cholera deaths are way down thanks to our production and placement of biosand water filters, but those folks don’t come by every day to say thanks, so it’s easy to forget them. It’s easy to forget the 1,000 plus Tanzanians whose lives are better and healthier because they attended sanitation and hygiene seminars that we hosted here and in villages. It’s easy to forget the almost eighty Christian teachers that had their educations paid for by folks back in Arkansas and that wouldn’t have happened without our active involvement. Those teachers are scattered all over Tanzania and don’t come by to say thank you, although many did when they graduated. It’s just hard to rest on your laurels when you don’t think you deserve the laurels in the first place.
I wrote about failure yesterday and how it’s just a bruise and not a tattoo. I think I need to go back and read that again. I think I need to review my situation like Fagin did in “Oliver.” I may be just an old horseshoe nail, but as the poem goes, “For want of a nail, the horse was lost. For want of the horse, the rider was lost. For want of the rider, the battle was lost. For want of the battle, the war was lost.” Turns out, an old horseshoe nail can be pretty darned important, but it would never think of itself thus. I have to remember how much wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been here. Maybe we all need a “Clarence, Angel Second Class” to show us what life might have been like if we hadn’t been here (“It’s A Wonderful Life”). I’m gonna try to feel a little better about what we’ve been able to accomplish and think a little less of myself as a neer-do-well just because I don’t get dressed up and go to work everyday. Maybe you need to review your situation, too. Maybe you are way more important than you think. I tend to believe that you are. I think God thinks so, too.