I started to write about how I came to be here in Haiti back in December and now I’m ready to continue with the story. If you want to read the first part first, go here, then come back.
Before finishing college, I had decided to find a career in some sort of ministry (mission work or what have you) even though I had no idea what that would look like. Eventually I graduated college (in December 1998) and I set out with a plan of sorts. I decided to work hard and pay off my student loans as quickly as possible before finding my niche in ministry. This period ended up stretching out almost 3 years, and I feel like I wasted a lot of time. I want to talk about it a bit, because I think there are a lot of Christians that get mired down in a similar way.
The cause was money. That, and pride. The thing is, I didn’t have to pay off my student loans in order to go into ministry, I wanted to pay off my student loans and I wanted to have 10-20k in the bank to have as a buffer when I eventually jumped in. I also wanted to somehow prove to my family and friends that I could run the rat race. And oh yeah, I wanted to restore my old van. Of course, I didn’t see what I was doing at the time.
We’re largely a product of the society we grow up in, and in the case of the US, that means that we all want to have a nice house and a nice car. And a flat screen TV. And shiny stainless steel appliances, etcetera. I knew already that these things don’t matter and really only get in the way of a healthy relationship with God. However, putting a concept into practice can be much more difficult than simply understanding it intellectually.
I had a beautiful old VW van, a 1965 splittie. It was a gift from my parents back when I was in High school because of good academic performance. I loved my van so much, and driving around in my van would always make me happy. A lot of people couldn’t care less about a 40 year old hippie van but most people in my own circle were jealous of it. I would frequently find notes tucked under my windshield wiper saying “sell me this van” and a phone number. I agonized over taking care of it, and any little mechanical problem would get me worked up and I’d drop everything to fix it. Sorry, I have no pictures of it in digital form.
The summer after I finished college, the brakes went out on my bus at just the wrong time and I ran into the back of a Honda. At the time, I saw it as a terrible disaster, but in hindsight it was a blessing. I put way too much value into my van, and the important things suffered. It’s not too far-fetched to say that perhaps if I still had that van I wouldn’t be here in Haiti at all. Oh yeah, nobody was hurt.
I thought long and hard about my loss, and decided to turn to a new chapter in my life without prized possessions. I traded a case of beer for my next van, a beat up old 1970 model. It was dented and rusty and perfect, and though it had no engine when I bought it, I had it running in a week. I found it so liberating to own a van I wasn’t emotionally attached to. I had some bad luck actually – I was rear-ended twice within the next year and neither time did I really care. (The first time the other guy’s airbag went off – I just laughed and told him to forget about it and go get his airbag reset. The second time the van was a write-off (a free van can still be a write off, it seems) but it still drove fine so I spent the money elsewhere.)
After losing my van, I still had a way to go in my spiritual journey before I was ready to make my jump. I had trouble getting an engineering job like my degree was suited for. I think it may have been because I didn’t really care about the work. It was interesting, but I didn’t intend to have an engineering career. I just wanted the job as a means to paying off my loans and moving into missions. I worked briefly as a temp, in a cubical, and I didn’t like it very much. I also worked for almost a year as a technician at a testing equipment company that made shaker tables. It was interesting work, but I just didn’t care about it at all.
At that point, Cathy Haskell encouraged me to press forward in spite of still owing money on student loans. It was wonderful advice, and I’m so glad I didn’t wait any longer. I had only paid off about half of my student loans in those 3 years. The rest was paid off within the next 2 years out of excess donations to my financial support. It turns out that most people do in fact run the rat race, and make money, and want to help people who are willing to step out. 7 years later, I don’t have all that much money, but I feel rich in so many ways.