Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Audits and Examinations

When I was a child there were many things I wanted to be upon growing up. I dreamt of being a pilot [basically every child’s dream] or being an electronics engineer. I really marvelled at the wiring of our old Sanyo radio and thought that one day I could understand how all those wires worked to give us the sound I could hear. Not once would I sit down and try to join pieces of wire trying to make something useful but it was all boyish curiosity. Perhaps this love of Physics is what led my form two self to ‘invent’ a homemade weapon – a rudimentary gun for Science Congress Physics Theory (Talks) in 1996. Needless to say my ‘project’ did not go beyond the zonals (local school grouping) as it involved ingredients such as milk and matchsticks! I however carried on my love affair with Physics and really enjoyed deducing formulas for this and that. At form four, my project for Science Congress was an optical disc [CD] which surprisingly went up to national level. I am still surprised that I did not end up in anything close.

But I also loved the ministry. I quite admired our local vicar who drove a small Datsun to our home to lobby my father on PCC issues. He seemed very smart all the time and had such a sense of composure about him. I liked it that he ended his visit with us being rounded up to listen to a short a sermon and then he would pray for us. Or maybe it was the girls – those ‘senior’ youth girls all looked amazing. They wore high heels and went for ‘missions’. They sang deeply moving ‘hymn-spirituals’ that gave me goose bumps and really got everyone into that pensive mood where people ‘get saved’. Whatever it was, church circles were admirable to me. 

But there were ‘people’ that I did not want to become. A doctor was among those I was certain I could not be. The ‘doctor’ who modelled this was actually an assistant at our local health centre. We shall call her Wacera. She was a no nonsense lady who made your visit to the GoK facility a horrifying experience. Wacera was of more than average height, spoke loudly in a deep baritone voice and had a stern face to go with it. She wore gumboots and a blue dress and had no time for young boys who were scared of jabs. Perhaps it was the way she announced the next patient or the way she handled young mothers who had missed a visit or two, but she scared the wit out of me every time. I later learnt she was not actually a nurse as such but an assistant in the facility to help with cleaning, dressing and ‘boiling syringes’. She however ruled the place with airs of a doctor and to me she symbolised what doctors were and I knew I could not be one. 

The other person I could not become was an auditor the reason for that is clear – they did not exist in my childhood. I had never heard of such a strange profession name until after high school at least. I had heard of editors since I loved looking through the Daily Nation but auditors? What on earth did they do? I still don’t know their exact work but I have an intelligent guess. In high school there was such pressure for us to take accounting after Form four as that would assure us of jobs but I think I am more of a contrarian thinker, the more the people did it and the pressure piled, the more I grew cold towards the field. At Uni however, I decided to have a go at CPS in order to be a professional manager one day. After all I was doing business studies and that involved quite a bit of accounting. My experience was however not particularly great with the double entry concept or the endless graphs in Economics 101. Case law was not as easy to remember as I had imagined. All I remember is that I did the examination for CPS 1 in 2003. Quite possibly I passed but I don’t know – the examination helped to clarify that this was not for me. I might one day go for the results at KASNEB towers, though they might not know what I am talking about. What was my student number again?

As the years have gone by, I have come to appreciate the value of those two professions. Although I could not become a doctor or an auditor the two are crucial to the health of a person or organisation. After all, in own field of teaching – I was bound to be an examiner, making sure that my students understand their math and business studies. They did not love it (who does btw?) but it was crucial for their progress in school. They laboured to remember the concepts and did all they can to pass the mark and it was most rewarding when they did. I guess that is how life is – full of examinations and audits. Left to ourselves, we would easily drift off the standards but when we know there is an examination or audit, we pull up our socks.
So, national examinations start this week. Our boys have theirs too. At the office, we have an audit going on from today. I now look at auditors and doctors as helpers not as killjoys who jumped at every opportunity to ruin my day. I know they both ask uncomfortable questions and demand to see ‘things’ we’d rather they did not. Doctors examinations can be particularly intrusive (especially as we get older) but that is what it takes to keep us healthy and strong. Back in the day I could not see how a jab on the backside could be good for me but now I know they mean well and in the end it serves a good purpose to be examined and given a report. 

I submit to us that even our discipleship needs audit from time to time. It may be self-evaluation, peer examination of sorts or perhaps one done by those a little ahead of us in the walk with the Lord. We all need it for our spiritual health. Our apprenticeship also needs to be checked from time to time to see whether we are walking on the straight and narrow path of the ideals and practices that we profess. Our lifestyle needs audit and so does our leadership practices, our management style, our accounts and just about everything really.  We all need someone else to have a little look into our inner selves. 

But we must not be scared of audits, examinations and assessments of whatever nature. They make us not break us.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Unworthy Servants or Treasured Possessions?

I have been thinking about the oft quoted words from Luke 17 that Jesus told his disciples to say after an act of obedience.
“Will any one of you who has a servant[a] ploughing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly,[b] and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants;[c] we have only done what was our duty.’” [Luke 17:7-10]

This passage is quite strong when we read it with modern eyes. It gives insight into the status of a slave [the best rendering of the Greek Δούλος, (Doúlos) which most translations render as servant] in the first century Palestine. He is without much honour or recognition, he is not one to be invited to the table to ‘recline’ [interesting how they did not sit at tables like today but rather reclined] in a meal. His place was at work – to prepare a meal, to dress up properly and serve the master. Jesus then goes on to ask a rhetorical question, almost suggesting that a slave is not to be thanked. He is to serve without waiting to be asked or expecting to be thanked – it is a hard life and that is all his status as a slave entitles him to.

We get revolted when we think about such a treatment of workers. First it is important to note the Lord is not endorsing (neither is he condemning) the treatment of slaves at the time but rather using a well understood analogy to make a point. He then goes on to tell his disciples how their perception of themselves should be  - unworthy servants who only have a duty to do.  Does the Lord really mean that his workers are unprofitable? Does he really want them to perceive themselves as worthless? At one level, one might think the Lord is using self-deprecation as an expression of humility [quite common in certain cultures to debase oneself in order to show the worth of/respect to another] but it is also helpful to note that Jesus is addressing the heart here. As I reflected on the word ‘say’ in verse 10, I wondered who the saying is to be directed to and I came to the conclusion it is to ‘self’ which shows us this words are to be addressed to self. What the Lord is doing is really to rebuke the disciples. They think they need greater faith to do dazzling works [reading the whole passage in context] but the Lord reminds them they need to be like servants in their attitude.

It is interesting to notice that the Lord is not speaking from the masters point of view. Although he initially calls the listeners to identify with the master in the opening line, the punch line (lesson) is drawn from identifying with the slave in terms of attitude. Elsewhere and later on, Jesus [the ultimate master] will dine with his servants and they will recline at the table with him [22:14]. Afterwards, he will serve them as the servant in a perfect demonstration of servant leadership [John 13:33 ff].

It is striking how this contrasts speak volumes to us. It is Os Guinness, that famous writer on discernment  who said that contrast is the mother of clarity. We get clearer in our understanding when we look at things in contrast.  We are in the Lord’s vineyard working for him and we are indeed to perceive ourselves as slaves with a duty to do. In contrast, we are also treasured possessions in the Lords hands. The reward due to us is certain and it is glorious. The Lord is faithful and our labour in him is not in vain.

So, I do not think it is an either/or situation but rather a both/and argument. We are unworthy servants and treasured possessions (in jars of clay) at the same time.

Monday, 1 August 2016


During my graduation from AIU early last month, a very dear person to me recently gave me a wrist watch. There are not many people who fancy wrist watches anymore largely  because of alternative means of knowing what time it is. Interestingly, like all things fashion watches have made a comeback and are apparently now a must have accessory [alongside a belt, leather shoes and a wallet as we were told in a recent MTC]. 

But I am sure Rhodah had more than an accessory in mind. They say [I wonder who ‘they’ are?] that in gift giving, it is the thought that matters. She must have thought about the symbolism of the watch before gifting it to me. Instead of asking her, I have been thinking about it and drawing quite some lessons. 

1.       Time is important. We are defined by our attitude towards God, Others, Money, Time and Self. I needed a constant reminder that time is important and it is all we’ve got in life actually. I come from a background that views time as a variable dynamic and not a static reality. I can easily think of events as fluid things that roll on rather than time-bound happenings that have a definite start and stop.

2.       Time is Life. Basically, this is to say that life is demarcated in units of time with a clear start at birth and a definite stop at death. Someone said that we live every day in denial of the reality of death but Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that we carry death with us all day long. As a clock ticks away every second, a portion of our life is gone. Forever. Never to be lived through again. For good. This is a scary lesson – but I hope the point is not lost that we are momentary beings – only here for a season and soon we are gone. We have to make the most of now.

3.       Relationships are important. Perhaps that might come across as a stretch of my watch analogy but give me a chance to elucidate [I have always wanted to use that word but never got a chance]. In parenting, we are told that love is a four letter word spelled as t.i.m.e. That can seem mostly true for children but I suggest we spend time with whomever we love in any shade or expression of it. When we mismanage time we risk ruining relationships – and nothing makes us more human and dare I say, like God, than our capacity for relationships. Relationships take time. That can sound as if relationships consume time or they just take long to thrive but either way, the fodder of any relationship is time together – be it in prayer, watching a movie, taking a walk, studying or doing anything else of value.

4.       Time is money. Those old words may sound a bit overly capitalistic and as if money is everything. But I suppose the idea behind the words is to communicate the value or preciousness of time. I guess the words come from an understanding that if any money is to be made, it must take time and that perhaps we should view time more or less in the same way as we view money; precious, limited, important and to be handled wisely and carefully.

So here we are in the month of August. Another cycle is coming to an end – what seemed to be so far out sight for you is now at hand. You have come to the end of your apprenticeship in iServe Africa and next week we meet to take stock. Another team will be coming on board and to them maybe August 2017 seems way too far but trust me it won’t be long. Every time the clock ticks, a moment is gone and soon the year will be over. The big question then remains – what have you done/will you do with the time in your hands?