A recent Facebook post by the Zambian pastor, Conrad Mbewe, celebrating his domestic help of over 20 years, garnered over 4,000 likes and nearly 800 comments. Most responses commented not just on the lady’s rare dedication but also on the godly and welcoming atmosphere in the family which had made it possible for her to stay that long.
I think the post struck a chord with so many because we don’t usually think of domestic helps like he did. We are prone to see them as nothing but helps, a person (often a lady, but a guy as well) who is there at our beck and call to perform an endless list of tasks. Yes, they are human, but not quite as human as us. We can scream at them, mete out horrible treatment when they misbehave, and even consign them to the worst part of the house to stay. After all, we pay their wages, and they owe us their very lives. Or so we think.
God as servant
When the Son of God came to our world, he deliberately chose the image of a servant. He rebuked his disciples who were jostling for honour and prestige, reminding them that he was in their midst as a servant (Luke 22:26-28). At his last meal, Christ did what no Jewish rabbi would do. He bent down, with a towel around him and a bowl of water in his hand, and washed the feet of each disciple! Thus, in that single act, Christ forever dignified the role of a servant.
So while the world seeks to celebrate the rich, the powerful, and the famous, we learn that the true heroes of our human sphere are servants. These could be full time domestic servants or simply individuals who bring the serving mentality to their tasks, relationships and roles. They are those who apply their energies and abilities in meeting the needs of others. And they are those who, in the words of Paul, think of others as more significant (Philippians 2:3).
Loving imperfect servants
In a fallen world, there are no perfect servants. And it is futile to romanticize the idea of ‘serving’; genuine service calls for literal self-denial. It calls for death, death to prideful ambitions and selfish aspirations. But in this dying, there is abundant life (cf. John 12:24).
True, some have been hurt and betrayed by domestic helps. Some domestic servants have carried out gruesome acts of abuse, especially on children placed in their care. Nevertheless, it helps to remember that God is rejected by his creatures every moment, yet he chose to love us and die for our sins. In a sinful world, sin is a constant reality, a persistent risk – it can never overrule the responsibility to love others in God’s name, including imperfect house helps.
How can we navigate this huge obligation? How can we relate with our helps in a way that is both loving and yet sensitive to the dangers of a fallen world? I think the scriptural counsel to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves is a good place to start.
Carry out due diligence on every help you intend to employ. Find out as much as you can. What’s her background? Where are the previous places of service? Can you confirm the character from past employers? Above all, bring your hiring decision before God in prayer.
At the same time, be gentle. Love her as your own soul. Care for him like a brother. Pray for her like she is your own sister. Be gentle enough to correct when wrong, admonish when astray, teach when ignorant, rebuke when naughty, and praise when good.
We follow a shepherd who is tender towards all his sheep, yet strong enough to carry the weak. In the words of Isaiah the prophet, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3). Christ is the perfect picture of strength and mercy harmoniously combined; he is as just as he is compassionate.
And he invites us to be likewise.