(blog written by James)
When we were preparing to leave for the mission field, we received a lot of excellent counsel from friends at home and those who had served overseas. However, one thing no one ever covered with us was how to buy a hoe for your worker. In fact, we gave little thought to the idea of having a worker at all until we had gotten a house. We knew that most of those from the US in whatever capacity, including missions, had people working at their homes, but we didn’t know that less than two months after arriving here, we would have three people employed by us. And we didn’t realize how much work is involved up front in having workers!
What we learned upon arrival is that most Zambians with decent jobs employ one, two or all three of the following: a gardener to take care of the outside of the property, a housekeeper to take care of the inside (of course!), and a guard to secure the premises. It is considered stingy and offensive for someone from the West not to employ anyone. In an economy where 50% of the people are unemployed, it sort of makes sense that the folks would expect those with means to provide jobs whenever possible.
In God’s providence, we were able to get a house for a very good price—about half of its normal asking value for rent. But that also meant that the house needed a lot of cleaning work inside and the large yard needed a lot of help getting into shape. Of course, if you are white in any neighborhood, you need a guard for protection against petty theft (I hope to write a blog soon on this one!). So, we find ourselves with three employees for whom we’re responsible. We pay them above average wages for Zambian workers, and yet still our cost for the workers and their provisions is very reasonable. For example, it costs us less to employ a gardener full time than it would to pay someone twice a month to mow our yard. So, with the same pastor’s salary we received at home, we are now providing for our own family, and also to some degree for four other families. The guard and gardener are both married and have one child, and the housekeeper has a son as well (which you know from previous blogs). We are providing her a home, and also a home for the church secretary Patience and her sister Amanda. It is a blessing to have the means to do all this, and we’re thankful for the Lord’s provision and for His guidance in giving us good workers who do their jobs well and who we feel we can trust.
As well, it is a heavy responsibility. These four families are dependent on us. They have become added to our daily prayers as those connected with our household, and to whom we have a measure of responsibility. They need tools and equipment to do their job, food for their lunch, and sometimes help with medical care or other family needs. And they are looking to us to provide that for them.
One missionary manual that we read recently stated, “ It helps to think of your workers as extended family, though still employees. You are responsible for them and to some extent for their families, and they are responsible for taking care of you. Treat your workers with respect and generosity, sharing what you receive. On the other hand, do not treat your workers as equals (friends rather than employees), as this is confusing in this pecking-order society. This may encourage them to act more like friends than workers (taking extra time off, using food not allotted to them, etc.)”
So you can see the difficulty in keeping the proper balance.
One of the greatest and best changes for us in being here is seeing how interconnected people are as opposed to the states. Through the close proximity of life and living for people here, you are forced to be part of many other peoples’ lives, and they are of necessity part of yours. Only a hardened and incurable individualist could manage to avoid this interconnectedness. One missionary friend here, Steve Allen, who has been a great help and encouragement, said that many missionaries who move here become embroiled in controversy simply because they’ve never had to live in community with other ministers and ministries, much less with a whole other culture. They have petty problems within their missions team and often end up going back home as a result. May the Lord spare us! And may He help us to develop with wisdom and grace the many new relationships that have come into our lives. It is certainly a challenge. We just don’t realize how much we treasure what we think of as “our space” and our privacy until both are assaulted constantly in the shoulder-to-shoulder, sunup-to-sundown involvement in people’s lives that is part and parcel of the culture here. Jesus’ maneuvers to get alone with the Father make more sense than ever now, since I am not down the hall in my office by myself for hours every day. And the necessity to still find that time with the Lord has also been made clear in these days.
But our Lord chose to be among people, because it was for our good and our salvation that He had come into the world. And it seems that almost any occasion for being in proximity to Jesus provided the opportunity for a transcendent experience—for a revelation into eternal things, for a spark of the divine to flare up in the midst of the everyday and commonplace. Jesus was the Master teacher, we know. What made Him so effective? Was it not in part, at least from the human perspective, due to the fact that He was always with people, and studied them, and knew what they were about? John tells us He did not need to be told what was in a person, because He knew… And He was so effective as well because He took advantage of walks with His disciples, of meals, of weddings, of news items told to Him, of disputes and conflicts between people—of anything and everything to turn the occasion into a time of valuable insight and instruction. More and more, it is my prayer that I will use interactions with my workers (one of whom is a Jehovah’s Witness) to show and speak the truth of the gospel. And it is my prayer that I will spread the seasoning salt of God’s grace when I’m buying and selling in the markets and on the side of the road, when I’m riding somewhere with someone, or they’re riding with me. I want it to be the case that anyone who spends half an hour or more around me would be able to take something positive away from the experience.
Pray for us (and for our often overly-individualistic homeland) to be more comfortably community minded, more willing to share our lives, more willing to be “incarnate” in this country and context God has placed us in. And at the same time, pray we will be spending the time with our Savior that makes all our interactions with others have the savor of His presence.