So, as many of you may know, I recently moved back to Nigeria with my family, after having lived outside of Nigeria for almost 23 years! One of the most significant features of living in Nigeria, and in many African countries for that matter, is the availability of affordable domestic help. I ain’t complaining! But there’s more. Some months ago, I was at the Palms Shopping Mall in V.I with my kids, running errands. While standing at the check-out counter, my husband, Fiyin, called. He’d been away all day in Ibadan, a city about an hour away (more like three hours, with Lagos and Expressway traffic etc.) and he was calling to tell me that he was just about getting home. When I asked him to please send our driver, Mr Jeremiah to come and fetch the kids and myself at the mall, we got into a whole discussion about whether this was wise or fair to Mr Jeremiah, seeing as he’d been driving all day, and he still needed to make his way home to his family. I dropped the call and was startled when the check-out guy asked me, “Madame, where are you from?”
Now I have had that question thrown at me for 23 years but never in a million years did I think that anyone in my own country would need to ask me where I was from!
“Ah, ah, what do you mean nau?” I asked the guy.
“Are you from South Africa?”
That tickled me, considering!
“No, I’m Nigerian!”
“Ah! Okay, is your husband from South Africa?” Now I was amused, and curious! What in the world?!
“No o! We are Nigerian. Why nau?”
“Hmmm, you people are different o. I have never heard a Madame and Oga discussing whether it is fair to send the driver to come and pick the Madame in the mall since the driver has been driving all day, all the way to Ibadan and back, and it is a Saturday, and he should not actually be working today…and so on, and so on…ah! Nawa o.”
I laughed! Apparently, Fiyin and I had had an audience to our discussion, and the thought of a Madame and Oga actually considering prioritising the convenience of the driver over the convenience of the Madame was absurd to him. The whole exchange really got me thinking, and fixing for some truth-tellin’; what does the Lord have to say ‘bout that? And you know, that’s what I am becoming all about, and that’s what The Narrow Gateway is all about – a platform from which we seek God’s truth about various daily realities that ordinary people like you and I encounter, and then tell it to truth seekers, so that we may know and share the truth and the truth may make us free to walk in the glorious liberty for which Christ set us free, fully expressing the gifts and callings that He has assigned to us, by which souls can be saved!
Now bear in mind, I’m talking about Nigeria, my country, which I am only now discovering as an adult, and growing to love. Here, the poor are so capital-P-poor that according to the World Bank’s last stats (in 2009), they make up approximately 53.5% of the Nigerian population (conservative stats, I’m sure), and they are classified as living below the poverty line, that is, living on less than $1.90 per day! Now guys, we are talking between N570 and N950 per day, depending on who is buying (for my South African side, think +/-R25 per day!) if you know what I’m saying! As in, you can buy one, maybe two bunches of plantain from Obaleinde Market, if you are lucky! Mr Jeremiah’s transport to and from my house alone costs about N800 per day. So, you can only imagine, right?
A tragic by-product of the abject poverty that plagues the vast majority of Nigerians is therefore the economic divide. You can fit a whole nation into the gulf between the haves and have not’s. And of course, where there is such a drastic divide, coupled with a dire absence of social justice and social security frameworks, an imbalance of power abounds, and it leans heftily toward those lucky enough to earn a living income. I have seen this imbalance of power play out as subservience (No, I do not mean respect, I mean subservience) by the poor towards those who are perceived to be the haves. A man or woman, regardless of age, does not have to be employed by you to call you Oga or Madame and to bow when you approach, or get up to offer you their seat, only for them to squat on the floor or leave the room and go and stand outside. It’s like all they need in order to accord you this level of ‘honour’, is to think that you are not poor! The have not’s seem to ‘know their place’ and boy, I find that really disturbing. So you can imagine why the check-out guy at the Mall was asking if I was Nigerian; he just could not understand why I, an apparent Madame, would give two hoots as to whether my driver was tired from a long day of driving between cities.
So I have to ask myself, in the hands of a truth seeker like me, in the hands of one who has been and continues to be forgiven much and saved by grace, in the hands of one who would have been consumed, but for the unfailing mercies of the God of heaven, how is this power meant to be wielded? “What’s Our Lord Sayin’?” We cannot shy away from the reality that we live in a broken world that is filled to bursting with the unfair disparities. I’m talking racial disparities, gender disparities, economic disparities, national disparities, you name it. Those of us who are on the more favourable side of one or more of these disparities may shy away from admitting it, but hey, let me just put it out there, that though I have my own challenges in life, I often cannot help but live in relief that I was not born into some of the hopeless circumstances I see when I look at the world around me. But as a child of the King, am I allowed to just carry relief and go on merrily enjoying life? No! I need to get woke and stay woke, as we say nowadays! (Bear with me while I reach out to my inner Generation Z!) I need to be keenly aware that as a Christian, any privilege and resource that I happen to have was given to me by God, not because I deserve it, not because I am better than anyone, but simply because God has, in His wisdom, decided to give me that specific tool or privilege so that I can use it to pour out His love and presence into the lives of people He has assigned to my care. Everything the Lord has blessed us with is a talent, like in the Parable of the Talents, a seed, and Jesus expects us to plant it in the lives of people, nurture and care for it until it grows and bears fruit.
What does that mean practically in the context of the power that you and I wield in our domestic relationships? It means that we are called to use that power to uplift and empower, and not to entrench subservience and under-privilege. For me, I believe that as a Madame, God requires that I show and model love, kindness, genuine care and concern to my domestic helpers. He wants me to get woke to the reality of their circumstances and to do whatever He makes it possible for me to do in order to help them. If they are not Christians, God wants me to share the Gospel with them not just in word but also in character. They need to see and feel Jesus Christ in me, which means, I do not get to be a Hallelujah Somebody! sister outside and on Facebook, and then I turn into a tyrant within my home! If they are Christians I need to remember that they are first and foremost my brothers and sisters in Christ, and in the eyes of the Lord, there is no slave, nor free, no Jew nor Greek, no male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
“What’s Our Lord Sayin’?” How does He expect you to wing being an Oga or a Madame, and a Brother or Sister in Christ at the same time? Consider these truths:
- Love your neighbour as yourself. And let’s note the Lord did not put any caveats there when He gave us this instruction. He didn’t say that we should only love our peers, or the guy next door that has a similar background and education and professional life to us. No. Your neighbour includes that guy that you may instinctively feel different from, better than, superior to. (Mark 12:31)
- Be humble. In Mark 12:38-44, Jesus told us to beware not to be like the Pharisees who like to go around in their long robes, who love to be greeted in the market places, who expect to be reserved the best seats at gatherings, who treat the powerless with indignity and rob them of the little they actually have, and yet like to go around and call themselves righteous! Jesus said that such people will receive greater condemnation! Paul added to this that we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. (Romans 12:3) Hmmm…
- Greatness is not what we think it is. Jesus was clear that whoever desires to be great should first learn to serve others, and whoever desires to be first should first learn to be last. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28).
- How do you wield your power? Even when we have power and can wield it, it does not mean we have to wield it to entrench subservience or under-privilege. Jesus had all power, but He chose to lay it down so that His life could serve and uplift us, even when He knew that the majority of us would reject Him. This is a great example. We do not have to deny our power, but we can choose to use it to make life better for those who are less fortunate, instead of using it to make our lives better at their expense.
A couple of days ago, Mr Jeremiah was taking me back home after dropping my daughter off at school. “Madame, please can I say a few words?” He began. Hmmm…now we’ve been working together for 11 months now, so I know that when Mr Jeremiah says those words to me, and he does so every few weeks (!) I’m in for quite a speech! So I feigned a serious look on my face, just in case he glanced at me through the rear-view mirror to see if I was listening, because to be honest, I wasn’t really intending to pay him much mind (yes, I still have work to do on this very front! Lord help me). But when he started speaking, I found myself jolted to attention, and convicted. He is a slow talker, and so in his usual style, he took his time telling me about the impact that Fiyin and I’s approach to managing our domestic staff has had on him and on his life. He poured out one offering of gratitude after another and I started to feel uncomfortable. When he started saying that he was planning to bring his wife to come to our house for a ‘meet and thank’ as soon as was convenient for us, I was like, “wait, wait, wait, is enough is enough!” You see, Mr Jeremiah’s attitude of genuine gratitude for the kindness we have shown to him and his family challenged me so much, because I realised that it had never really occurred to me to express gratitude to him for being so reliable and eager to serve, for being trustworthy and protective of us, and for driving so carefully and obeying traffic laws in an environment where other road-users will angrily and tirelessly hoot their horns at you because you actually did the right thing and yielded before entering into a traffic circle! So I went on to thank my driver for his great work ethic, and his respectfulness, and his overall care for me and my family.
As I spoke my thanks, I felt the Lord saying to me that this relationship is not a one way street, in that just as God has assigned to me the responsibility for Mr Jeremiah’s care, He has also assigned to Mr Jeremiah the responsibility to care for me and my family. And from the both of us, God will require an account of how we cared for His children. I share this bit because I know that this is a sore spot for many who have domestic help, especially if you have been mistreated or used by one who you genuinely tried to show Christ’s kindness to. I hear horror stories and I have experienced one or two myself, of domestic helpers who robbed their Ogas blind, or abused the children, or who dabble into occultic things and try to put juju on their Ogas to steal them from their Madames, or even try to kill them off and all manner of nonsense. I know this stuff is real. As a child when we lived in Ibadan, Nigeria, we had a house-help who confessed, after leaving our employ, that she was in a cult and she had been trying to kill off one of my brothers and initiate me into her cult! I was less than 10 years old! The truth is when we have people working in our homes, we are exposed, we are vulnerable. But who has the power? If we are children of God, walking in the fruits of the Spirit, and in the Lord’s grace, we do! That right there is just plain truth-tellin’. Therefore, the way we treat our help should be baseline aligned to the values we were saved by grace into, that is regardless of how they behave. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And as we honour God by living according to His standards, He will honour us by bringing to us domestic helpers that fear Him, and/or by unmasking to us domestic helpers that have evil intentions, so that we can remove them from our homes, and/or by protecting us from such domestic helpers so that no matter what they try to do to us, they fail.
May the Lord continue to protect us and empower us to be a force of upliftment in our communities and nations. May we be bold to live the truth, even when it appears absurd, trusting that God Himself will reward our complete trust in Him. Lastly, and most importantly, whenever we encounter any situation, may we get into the habit of asking ourselves, “Whats Our Lord Sayin’?”
I’d love to hear from you! How have you winged being a boss (including outside the domestic setting) and being a Christian who the Lord requires much from? Please share some of these in the comments section, or post your thoughts on my Facebook page @thenarrowgateway.
Otherwise, just leave a comment or two about your thoughts in general. And don’t forgot to Like my page on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. The handle is @thenarrowgate4. I look forward to getting to know you better!
Yours in truth-tellin’!