When I went to work in Somaliland last year, I met a former colleague called Yvette Lopez who has been doing development work all her adult life. Some of the stories she told me about her work were touching, albeit her position not being enviable. When I saw her work, I was intrigued by what motivates her to sacrifice her personal comfort with so much gusto for the sake of the underprivileged. That is when she gave me a reason that fascinated me since, and that I still ponder till today.
On an ordinary day, she might spend a whole afternoon and evening with a band of Somali human rights activists. They might be going through a confidential document written in the Somali language in a bid to translate it into English. She only understands and speaks basic Somali language and collectively, the human rights activists might just speak a few English words. The whole exercise would be conducted while sitting on cushions on the floor on a boiling day with occasional breaks for hot, saccharine tea – just the way the Somalis like it. Apart from being taxing, working on human rights in a country like Somaliland puts you in constant danger with the threat of life constantly hanging over your head.
Yvette told me that the main reason why she finds satisfaction in doing this kind of work is that for her, it is not just a job – it is a prayer to God. She has made it a practice to see the Spirit of God in the faces of the people she works with, for, and amongst. Being a Christian in a country where no churches are allowed, she offers her work as a sacrifice to God.
When I visited church here in Nairobi recently, I was impressed by the emphasis put on giving to God. Before the collection of the weekly offerings, special prayers were said and the congregation was made to chant some verses from the Bible that specifically remind them that God ordered them to give for His service. And what does the cheerful giver get in return? Favor in whatever issue he or she might wish to request upon giving. There were envelops with a place for writing your name and a multiple choice question with instructions to tick the purpose for which you are giving to God. Among the reasons were tithing and cancellation of debts. In tithing, you give a tenth of your income to the church as the Bible instructs. I suppose filling the ‘cancellation of debts’ space ensures that a miracle will happen and all your debts will be cancelled. No amount was specified for this kind of service.
I am not saying that giving money in church is wrong. But if you live in Kenya, you know that many ‘miracle’ churches are springing up daily in residential houses’ backyards, only to turn into booming business empires almost overnight at the expense of the faithful congregation. If the only thing to show for all the coaxed giving is the preacher’s extravagant lifestyle – expensive clothing, huge vehicle, prime air time on TV – then you and I have a reason to believe that something is wrong. People have been led to believe that you can only get God’s favor by giving money. Isn’t that the definition of bribing? A friend told me about how some churches in Zimbabwe are even demanding household items from its members. Hey sister…If you don’t have any money, why not just pawn that fridge for a special prayer to secure you a job?
The basis of any religious teaching is love for God, love for self, and love for others. No amount of money given on a Sunday morning will absolve the guilt of a man who has abused his body all week and rode on other human beings in order to make a profit for most of the days. Neither will this kind of sacrifice make him righteous in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, there are churches that have cast out their nets for just this kind of fellow – more to cash on the spoils of his misdeeds than to enlighten him.
A widow who spends her working day cleaning the septic wounds of the sick in the government hospital should know that hers is not just a job. So should a kindergarten teacher who is instrumental in the shaping of the life of our children at that formative stage. YOU should too. How? If you spend today doing your work as a prayer to God and seeing His Spirit in the faces of the people you serve, you might discover that suddenly you are on to something that gives more meaning to your relationship with God, to yourself, and to others. I believe then it becomes a worthwhile sacrifice and not just a job.