Have you heard of the new FLSA laws that will be taking effect December 1, 2016? The laws that double the minimum wage for employees to be considered salaried workers? The laws that make everyone who earns less than $47,476 to have to keep track of their hours?
Oh man is this a frustrating law for someone who has chosen to give her life to a mission. I’m not talking about someone who has a job and is trying to figure out how to make ends meet. I’m not talking about some young administrative assistant whose boss takes advantage of her time because she needs a job and so when he asks her to stay late three or four nights a week she wearily agrees. I’m talking about a mission worker. I’m talking about someone who is called to serve the needy. I’m talking about someone strong and qualified and capable who wants to give her life answering cries for help just like Jesus did 2000 years ago.
I’ve done quite a bit of research and there doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room for a person like me within the new FLSA laws. For years when I’ve given my personal cell phone number out for work purposes I’ve told people they can call anytime between 6:30am and 10pm. For years I’ve been contacted by colleagues on what some would call my “day off”. Guess what? People in ministry, people in mission, don’t have days off. Remember when Christ asked the people if they would pull their ox out of a ditch on the sabbath? I think He was okay with that. I think he was actually encouraging those Pharisees to take care of the needy around them on their “day off”. I think he was telling them to be less rigorous with keeping track of the details and more compassionate toward the people around them.
Now some 2000 years later, after 18 years of serving the Lord, of helping people anytime of the day or night whenever they need me most, of living my life right here in Southwestern Pennsylvania as a missionary serving some really needy people, now I have to start keeping track of my hours? Really? So when I’m making dinner for my family and a colleague calls with a question do I start the clock? I’m making dinner for my family at the same time. Does that count for anything? Do I keep track of half the minutes that I’m on the phone? When one of the young men I helped a few years back finds my number and calls to see if I can help him get some new glasses and interrupts my evening with my husband but I chat with this young man and ask about his family and he asks about mine, am I working? Am I helping a friend? What if I’m preparing a mailing to go out to friends and supporters? Am I allowed to fold those papers while I watch the Penguins work for the Stanley Cup? Start the clock, I’m folding quickly now because there is a break in the action. Stop the clock. The Penguins are on a power play and I want to see every second of that. Start the clock. There’s a television time out. Stop the clock. We scored. I need to cheer and watch the replay! Seriously? Seriously?!?
How am I going to keep track of my hours? This changes everything. I’ve given my life to this little mission. I’ve chosen to serve the needy in our community even when it isn’t convenient, even when it makes life a little crazy sometimes, even though I could be making double my income if I’d have chosen to use my college degree instead of helping the poor. And now I have to keep track of my hours?? Ugh.
And you know what is even more frustrating and disconcerting? New folks. New young people who come on board with our mission. We could offer them $47,476 as a starting salary so they don’t have to keep track of their time and they can learn to eat, sleep, and drink mission work. They can be immediately immersed in giving of oneself to others. But where is the sacrifice in that? $47,476 is a lot of money for a kid just starting out. It’s not a sacrifice to earn that kind of money. It’s an awfully good job for a 20 year old. See there, starting out with a salary of $47,476 immediately takes out the calling of Christ on one’s life and makes the same work a job. My labors for the past 18 years have been the work of Christ, the work of a mission worker, the answering of a call. But anyone we hire to work alongside me will be thinking that this is a pretty good job; you don’t even need a college degree and you can make a real good living. Well that changes the whole ethos of this organization that I have been a part of molding and shaping for almost half my life. This changes everything.
Ok so instead of giving these young people a salary now we choose to pay them by the hour. We tell them to give their lives to answering the call. We tell them how important it is to be ready to serve whenever there is a need. We tell them that they need to listen for God’s word. And now we are also going to say, “and don’t forget to punch in whenever you need to respond.” When that phone call comes at 10:30 at night, start the clock. When you take a tool to be repaired on your way to the grocery store to get some food, make sure the clock is running, I think. Actually, I’m not really sure. Are you working while you are driving toward the grocery store or only as you are heading to the tool repair shop a quarter mile further away? Let me get the rule book and see. If I text you after you’ve clocked out for today because something came up and the plan for tomorrow needs to change, do you clock back in while you read and respond to my text? Give your life to Christ. Answer the cries for help that you hear all around you. Do it sacrificially. Oh, and keep track of your time while you do it.
Don’t get me wrong folks. I believe people should be treated fairly. I believe they should earn enough money to take care of themselves and their family. I believe in time to work and time to rest. I know that mission work isn’t for everyone. Sometimes mission work is hard. Sometimes it requires incredible sacrifice. Sometimes even the most committed mission worker gets tired and needs a break. But guess what? I wouldn’t change it.
An elderly man used to carry his middle aged son in and out of his house everytime they left the home because his boy was disabled and they couldn’t afford a wheelchair ramp. An elderly lady used to sleep with buckets on her bed whenever it rained because her roof leaked right onto her bed everytime it rained. A woman suffering from cancer didn’t have running hot water in her home for six months because her hot water tank had stopped working. A young family was living with their coats on, their oven door open, and a couple of space heaters for weeks in the winter before my mission learned of their plight and sent someone to replace their furnace. And what about the husband, wife, and teenage boy whose only food was a head of lettuce and two apples when we entered their home? Or the lady with diabetes whose insurance changed and without our help couldn’t get to her dialysis appointments anymore? The list goes on and on. 3200 needy households served in 26 years.
Giving yourself sacrificially to a mission might be difficult but it is nothing compared to the suffering experienced everyday by so many people we help.
There have been many changes throughout the years that have affected our mission. Workers compensation adjustments, health insurance changes and significant price increases, licensing requirements, new taxes, so on and so forth. Many of these have been expensive changes. They have required us to spend donated dollars that otherwise could have been used to help the needy. None, though, in my estimation, have affected the mission like these new FLSA laws. These affect the ethos of the mission. These take away the opportunity for our mission workers to give of themselves sacrificially without seeking reward or compensation. These teach new staff members to think of their time, their needs, their desires above the needs of hurting households crying out for help, above the needs of the mission, above the call of Christ.
I don’t know what to do about the new FLSA laws. I don’t know how to keep track of my hours and I certainly don’t know how to teach a young person to give their whole heart, soul, mind and strength to the Lord and His work. But I will continue to try.
– Julie Wettach, Mission Worker