After more than five years of intense part-time studies, I finally submitted my PhD thesis in biblical studies and am waiting for the outcome of the examination. Many friends congratulated me for the milestone, for regardless of the result, the writing of a thesis is no small task on its own. But to be honest I am not as excited as my friends, for the reality is that it is not easy for a biblical scholar to find permanent work in Victoria. The completion of my thesis is no guarantee for a secure financial future.
God has given me the opportunity to teach in several theological colleges this semester. I am now a sessional lecturer in one college, and a tutor at two other colleges. This means that I am involved in teaching and assisting students in three different subjects. But since it is the first time I teach and tutor these subjects, I find myself spending a lot of time preparing for the lectures and tutorials. In fact, I am basically working at full-time capacity at the moment. The problem is that I will only be earning just over four thousand dollars this semester, making it very hard for the family financially. Naturally, I am concerned about this, and so I did not hesitate to take up a cleaning job for a small office when an opportunity came up. The job is quite simple. I just have to vacuum the floor and clean the toilets and the kitchen every fortnight. When a friend heard about this, she remarked, “You are the most qualified cleaner!”
To be honest, I do not enjoy the job. But it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with it. Three things come to mind as I reflect on it. First, I am very fortunate that I can do this job as an independent worker, rather than as an employee of a cleaning company. This means that my pay is quite reasonable. In fact, an overseas student from South Asia recently told me that he was earning $10 per hour for a company for a job that involved lots of menial tasks. He is exploited because of his desperate financial needs. Unlike him, I have a fair wage. Indeed I should have no complaint because my situation is better than a lot of people in other parts of the world. A close relative of mine earns only $5 per hour in East Asia, even though the cost of living in her city is comparable to that of Melbourne. I have much to thank God for.
Second, there is a perception out there that biblical scholars do not know what the real world is like. This may be true for some (but not all) scholars, for the heavy academic workload and working in comfortable air-conditioned offices can be an obstacle to keeping in touch with ordinary people outside the lecture theatres. Therefore, working as a cleaner is not a bad thing for me. I have the opportunity to share, in some small ways, the lives of those who do not have the same opportunities as others. In fact, I spent my childhood and teenage years working long hours in a factory in East Asia. I didn’t enjoy it, but it was necessary because we did not have much money. I knew how it felt, and so I know, in some measure, what it means to be poor in the non-Western world. Experiences of hardship draw us closer to God. Suffering allows us to learn to rely on God’s power and faithfulness.
Third, many years ago my wife and I felt that I should quit my career in IT and study at a Bible College. Since then I have worked in different Christian ministries, completed two theological degrees and am working on the third one. We always believe that everything we do is part of our vocation to be followers of Jesus. Jesus has called his disciples to follow him wholeheartedly. The Christian life involves cross-bearing, and indeed Paul had to work as a part-time artisan to earn a living while fulfilling his role as an apostle to the Gentiles. None of what I have to do is outside of God’s purposes, and, like Paul, I should learn to be content in all situations.
Having said all that, I have to be honest that I do not have the noble character that the apostle Paul had. Nor can I say that I don’t feel somewhat shameful that I have to be a cleaner (even though the above suggests that I should not feel that way). I am learning to rejoice in all circumstances. I need to rely on God that he will provide for my family. I need to trust in our faithful God more than I do now. The so-called “most qualified cleaner” still has much to learn.