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Why is 'Work' a Bad Word?

These memes make me realize I live an odd life.

For missionaries, salary has never been connected to quantity or type of work. In fact, we don't technically receive a salary, but a stipend that comes from church donations. Since most of my adult life has been spent as a missionary, this is normal to me, but sometimes I remember that it's actually rather odd.

Haven of Peace Academy, where I am now serving as elementary school principal, is an extremely high quality institution. I would argue that we offer the best education in Tanzania (admittedly I am biased!). We have almost 400 students (K-12), three full science labs, a 25-meter swimming pool, a huge new library, and just broke ground on a performing arts center.

HOPAC has 500 students on waiting lists. This week, I am in the process of giving assessments to children who want to start kindergarten in August. We have over 60 applications for a class of 23, and there would have been more, but we made December 31 the application deadline. Other schools similar to HOPAC have huge billboards around the city, but HOPAC never needs to do a speck of advertising.

But what's odd about all of this is that HOPAC doesn't pay most of their teachers. In fact, because it's a non-profit school, it's not legally allowed to pay anyone except Tanzanian citizens. Most of the teaching staff are missionaries. We get some help with housing, but no salary.

So that means that when I took this giant job, Gil and I knew that we would still be living on the same stipend as before. Our standard of living wouldn't be increasing. But that wasn't an issue, because our work here has never been connected to our salary.

Most of the staff I work with are living the same way. In fact, for couples where both spouses are on staff, it actually costs them to work at HOPAC, since two-parent working families tend to have more expenses. Even those teachers who are Tanzanian, and thus allowed to receive a salary, could be earning a lot more if they were working somewhere else.

So all of this begs the question, Why on earth are we doing this? Why did I apply for this position when salary wasn't a part of it? Why are most of the teachers I supervise volunteering for this job?

It's because mankind was created for work.

Work came before the Fall of Man, not after. Adam was given a job in the Garden. And there's no reason to believe that in Heaven we're going to sit around on clouds all day. We'll be working. Indeed, the sweat and pressure of work is a result of sin, but not work itself.

True, many times we need to understand the value of rest--that's another conversation. But often, we also need to understand the value of work.  And not just because work is how we eat and pay the mortgage, but the intrinsic value of work--even work we are not paid for.

I lean towards capitalism, so I understand the value of getting paid for a job well done. I know that for the vast majority of the world, if you want to eat, you need a salary. Volunteering usually is not an option. But there is something incredibly freeing about working in a job where salary isn't connected to work, and it's taught me a lot about work's value.

Perhaps part of the reason why it was no big deal to take this position, knowing there was no salary, is because I've been working without a salary for years now. Isn't that what a stay-at-home-mom does? Raising children, volunteering in ministry, creating a home--all of those things are most definitely work, but none receive a salary.

As Christians, should we be equating the value of work with the salary that goes with it? Or can we see work as God meant it to be?

Work is Redemption. Creating music, feeding children, sweeping the floor, caring for the sick, fixing the leaky pipe, plowing the field, cutting hair, coaching the team. All are ways that we redeem a broken world. All are a privilege.

Yet our culture communicates to us that the only purpose of work is to earn money. And that the real goal of life is to earn enough money so that we can entertain ourselves with vacations and Netflix and baseball games and retire as soon as possible.

So often we forget that we have been created for work. 

I think that embracing this is what makes HOPAC such an extraordinary place. Of course, on a very practical note, volunteer staff are what make HOPAC so affordable for so many families. It's the reason why our fees are half to a third less than any other comparable school in Tanzania. But probably more important is that the staff knows that there is a greater purpose in what we are doing. None of us are in it for money, power, or position--because it's just not there. We are called to love and serve Jesus--and that makes all of us incredibly devoted to our jobs and students.

I'm especially privileged right now because I get to do a job that I adore. Of course, sometimes work is drudgery, and I've been there too. But as Christ-followers who are corporately working together to redeem this world, should we try to do the least amount of work we can get away with? Should it always be about money? Can we instead see work as a way to use our talents, a way to serve others, and a way to bring redemption to the world?

Somebody needs to create a meme about that.

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