Jesus Sustains UsBlog / Produced by The High Calling
When Cheryl Smith created a business employing previously-incarcerated women, she discovered a new definition for the word sustainability. "My employees have endured more than I can imagine, but they’re also incredibly resilient," she writes for our Sustainable Work theme.
A couple of months ago I started a small business. I registered the entity as an LLC and applied for my Federal Employer Identification Number. I worked on business and marketing plans, created my website, opened accounts on social media and at the bank, designed business cards, and began telling the business story to anyone who would listen. During months of planning and the launch that followed, the word “sustainability” never occurred to me.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not reckless when it comes to caring for the earth. Our family recycles. We’ve taught our kids not to litter, and we use rain barrels to help water the garden. But there’s always room for improvement.
The same is true in my cleaning business. We use natural products for window cleaning. In the next few weeks, we’ll clean dozens of windows with only castile soap and water and, if necessary, a little vinegar and water mixture. We’ll use microfiber cloths and newspaper fetched from community recycling bins. Occasionally, we’ll use paper towels, though, and we also routinely use a few name-brand cleaners with long lists of chemicals.
I’m by no means an expert on sustainability at work, but I am broadening my perception of what sustainability means.
According to SustainAbility.com, “among the many ways that sustainability has been defined, the simplest and most fundamental is: ‘the ability to sustain’ or, put another way, ‘the capacity to endure.’”
The Capacity to Endure
When I think of the capacity to endure, I picture the faces of my employees. You see, I started Oikos Services specifically to employ a few women I know who’ve previously been incarcerated. They’ve endured more than I can imagine, but they’re also incredibly resilient.
Linda gave her testimony recently at an Aglow outreach meeting: “I started using drugs when I was thirteen because my uncle hated drugs, and I figured if I was using, he would stop coming in my room every night … But it didn’t stop him.”
Years later, she finally told her mother, who immediately made sure the uncle was out of the picture. However, Linda continued using drugs and eventually fell into the kind of homelessness that leads to eating out of garbage cans (on at least two separate occasions).
God reached into the depths of Linda’s despair through Rindy, a meek woman who led worship in the county jail on Sunday afternoons.
Nancy’s and Robin’s stories are different from Linda’s story, but no less heartbreaking. Like Linda, they’ve discovered the hope of Jesus—from that same meek woman.
A Remedy for the Poor
All three women and countless others like them are ready to make positive changes in their lives. They simply need people who are willing to take a risk: to hire them, help with housing, and love them.
In her book Christ Kitchen: Loving Women Out of Poverty, Jan Martinez suggests that “God’s remedy for the poor is the same as his remedy for our lack of concern for the poor: personal relationships—with him, with each other, with the suffering.”
Martinez explains that mentoring is the means “by which relationships are formed and transformation takes place. Though the term doesn’t appear in Scripture, the Greek term meno, meaning enduring relationship, does … mentoring finds its source in meno, which occurs 118 times in the New Testament and describes the type of relationship Jesus had with his disciples.”
Interesting. Meno can also be translated "abide," "endure," or "remain"—which all sound a lot like sustainability.
He Sustains Us
Yesterday morning, I made the rounds to pick up all three employees. As we drove towards our first job, Robin pulled out Jesus Calling and turned to the page for that day. Author Sarah Young reminded us that our time with Jesus is an absolute necessity. We confessed to Jesus and to one another that we are all desperate to connect with Him. To abide.
As I provide opportunities for them to earn a decent wage, as these women work to create a different future for themselves, as we develop relationships with each other and our clients, Jesus sustains us.
I pulled into the concrete driveway, put the car in park, and rolled down the windows so the cool morning air could greet us upon our return. I pulled the broom and purple vacuum out of the trunk while Linda, Nancy, and Robin gathered their black and red plastic baskets filled with cleaning supplies.
Then, I turned the silver knob on the red front door with the stained glass windows, and we crossed the threshold.