The Next Faithful Step
Sam Lee retired in December 2007 at age sixty-two. He had worked thirty-five years as an engineer for the United States government, where he spent most of his career overseeing large projects assigned to defense contractors. He and his wife Sunny (who never worked outside the home) had saved diligently. So they knew they could live on the combined income that came from his pension and the interest from their investments.
Sam and Sunny were not sure exactly how Sam was going to spend his time once he retired. But they knew for sure that they wanted to go on one big trip to celebrate. Sam occupied the first months of 2008 with planning every little detail of the trip. He treated it like one of the colossal projects from work. He made a binder with all the relevant details, researched just the right places to see, and determined just the right time to go. They waited until just after the big tourist season and left in September for six weeks in Asia. And they visited places they had only seen on television and experienced things they had only heard about from friends. It was exactly what they had hoped to have from the vacation of a lifetime.
But there was a problem. While they were gone, the stock market crashed. Sam and Sunny were hit very hard. The mutual fund they held lost one-third of its value; that was money they had saved for retirement. At first, they hoped that things would turn around. But as Sam read more about the recession, it became obvious that the economics of the country—and the economics of their household—needed some kind of change.
So in January 2009 Sam decided to go back to work. He had enough contacts with defense contractors that he figured he could find some kind of consulting work overseeing government contracts. But after four months of fruitless searching, he realized that there was no contract work to be had. All the companies he approached said the same thing, “We would love to hire you, but we have a hiring freeze. We can’t hire anyone.” So he started looking for anything that would allow him to do what he called, “honest work.” For example, Sam applied to manage a bookstore—and when that did not work out, he applied simply to work at the bookstore. He became as focused on the job search as he had been on the trip to Asia. But, over and over again, he was rejected for positions. And he became discouraged.
Throughout this process, Sam had continued to be a part of the Men’s Bible Study at his church. The men would study the Bible together and then, as they called it, “let their requests be made known to God.” Sam was honest in these prayer times about his frustrations and each week asked the guys to pray for the job prospects he was pursuing. After many weeks, he felt deeply embarrassed. “I’ve never before failed in something I set out to do” he told Sunny. One summer day, Lucas asked Sam to stick around after the study. Lucas said he had a proposition for Sam.
Lucas owns a block of store fronts with small businesses in them: a barber shop, a diner, and an auto parts store. Lucas said, “Pick one. I’ll hire you at any of them. I need someone to keep the books at the barber shop, someone to oversee the diner, and someone to manage the auto parts store.” Sam was embarrassed (even Lucas could see that), so Sam asked, “I appreciate the thought. But I am not sure if I’m comfortable with it. It feels like charity. And, um, don’t you already have people doing those jobs?”
Lucas responded, “Sure, I do…but not someone I can trust. One of the biggest problems with a small business is employee theft. Stats say it costs about 20%. I trust you. You are diligent and organized; you work hard. You know how to supervise people and get things done. I don’t see this as charity. I see you as the solution to a real business problem.”
Sam and Lucas continued to talk after that.