Vocation Focus: Learn to Love Your JobBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Andi and Al Tauber won’t ever be famous. And they may never be rich.
But they live a life of surprising extravagance, filled with music and friendship, grace and purpose.
The Taubers, who perform as the acoustic duo, “Andi and I,” moved to Chicago in the mid-90s to pursue a career in music.
Their mix of pop song covers, such as the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” and Stevie Wonders' “I Wish,” along with soulful and clever original tunes soon won them a loyal following in coffeehouses, bars and church basements.
Al worked as a building manager and did maintenance work to pay the bills—a gig that later inspired a crowd favorite called “Duct Tape My Heart.” Andi took a day job in an office.
On the weekends, they played gigs and helped lead the worship band at their church, a multi-ethnic urban congregation on Chicago’s north side.
Then about 10 years ago, Andi got a call from their friend John Green. John’s wife, Carolyn, was also a musician, and he ran a small nonprofit called Emmaus Ministries.
At the time, things weren’t going well at Andi’s old job. John was looking to hire a new staff member and wondered if Andi was interested.
At first, it was just another day job.
“It was just taking this opportunity,” Andi said. “It definitely wasn't a calling or a directive from God that this was what I needed to do.”
Most of the work was pretty standard—sending out emails, going to committee meetings, updating the website.
But once a week, she and Al would take a turn doing outreach for Emmaus.
Basically, Shut Up and Listen
The nonprofit Emmaus helps men caught in what’s known as “survival prostitution”—which is as awful as it sounds. It’s when a man sells his body for sex in order to avoid having to sleep in the streets. If they don't turn tricks, they don’t eat.
Most of the prostitution takes place late in the evening. So at about 10:30 pm on outreach nights, Andi and Al bundle up and head out to nearby Boystown, which is a center of prostitution.
They walk up and down the streets on the lookout for guys they know. Then they find a bench, sit down, and wait to see what happens next.
Most of the guys they work with have been through the wringer: some were abused or grew up in broken homes. Others struggle with addiction and have become alienated from friends and family. They're survivors—but almost everyone they meet wants something from them.
So Andi and Al and other volunteers from Emmaus don’t push an agenda.
“Outreach is the only time in our lives where we basically shut up and listen,” said Andi. “Our role is just to be there—to slow down and be present. To listen to what the guys are saying and to listen to what God might be saying in those situations.”
Sometimes they’ll buy the guys a cup of coffee or something to eat. A few times they ended up singing with guys.
If a guy is interested, they’ll hand out information about Emmaus’s ministry center—a drop center where guys can go in the morning to get a shower or wash their clothes or sit down at the long table in the basement for a family-style meal.
The center has support groups and counselors who can help guys make a road map for getting off the streets.
What Emmaus wants most is for the guys to know that they matter to God. And that they are worth more than the money they receive from the johns they meet.
It’s slow and difficult, but sometimes joyful, work. The staff and volunteers at Emmaus push the darkness back from the streets and from the guys’ lives a little bit at a time.
Bring Your Passions to Your Current Job
For Andi and Al, what started out as a day job eventually became a calling.
In the February 2014 edition of Fast Company, Sebastian Klein argues that the secret to contentment at work isn’t finding a job that fits your passions. Instead, he suggests bringing your passions to whatever work you do.
“Don’t do what you love,” Klein writes. “Learn to love what you do.”
Andi and Al did that. Still, their passion for music remained. At one point, they decided to quit their day jobs in order to tour full time.
But they hated the thought of leaving Emmaus behind.
John Green, Andi’s boss at the time, had a better idea: why not play gigs on behalf of Emmaus?
At first, Andi and Al were reluctant.
“I thought it was a terrible idea,” he said.
Doing gigs for Emmaus sounded too much like a bait and switch. They loved the ministry and some of their experiences at Emmaus had made their way into Al’s lyrics.
But they couldn’t see how it would work.
But John persisted, and Al began to see how his songwriting could help tell the stories of the men Emmaus serves.
“The more that we thought about the narrative bent to my songwriting and how that might work in telling stories,” he said, “the more it sounded like something interesting as an artistic challenge—as was well as something that would be valuable for the guys and for Emmaus.”
That conversation eventually led to a project called “Stories from the Street”—an hour-long spoken word and musical performance piece based on interviews with guys from Emmaus.
“We use the guys’ own words to tell their stories,” said Al.
Stories from the Street
Instead of leaving Emmaus to pursue their passion for music, Andi and Al brought that passion to their work. In recent years they’ve traveled the country performing “Stories from the Street” at Christian colleges and churches.
They hope to launch the latest version of the project later this fall. It’s been in the works for about a year and is called “Coming Home.”
The stories in this latest project are mostly about death and grief, said Al. The title was inspired by a quote from one of the guys at Emmaus who passed away.
His last words were, “Jesus I am ready. Take me home.”
“It’s actually a really beautiful piece,” said Al. “We tell little vignettes about all the guys who have died in the 20 years that Emmaus has been doing this work. There’s something very hopeful about that. We've heard people tell us afterwards how it’s nice that someone knew these guys. It’s nice that they are remembered.”
More than that, said Al, the piece is a reminder of the common thread of humanity between the audience and the guys at Emmaus.
Most people can’t ever imagine what surviving prostitution would be like or the pain and suffering involved in selling your body.
But everyone knows what it’s like to grieve or to lose someone you love. It's a point of connection between the guys at Emmaus and the college kids or church members that Andi and Al perform for.
So far, the music business hasn't worked out the way that Andi and Al hoped for. They don’t perform as many “Andi and I” gigs as they would like.
Their responsibilities at Emmaus, both “Stories from the Street” and the mundane tasks needed to keep a nonprofit going, take up much of their time.
But their passion for music has given them a calling and much more. Music has filled their lives with friendships—with other musicians and the fans that come to their gigs.
Know Your Responsibility
Then there’s the sheer joy of making music, whether it is during a jam session in the living room or during a gig.
“Music has been something that has enriched our lives far beyond the idea that I am going to get up and do something on stage and people are going to applaud for it and think I am cool or good or whatever,” said Andi.
That passion and gratitude for the gift of music and their sense of calling keeps them going, even when things get discouraging.
Life at Emmaus has many blessings. There are the friendship with the guys and signs of hope when someone leaves the streets. But many of the guys Emmaus works with have lived hard, and they don't always make it. Sometimes they relapse into drugs or do something stupid and end up in jail. Or guys disappear or get lost in the darkness of the streets.
Having a sense of calling sustains the Taubers in those times.
“I feel like there is something about being where you feel like God wants you to be that takes a lot of the pressure off of what is happening around you,” said Al. “That’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is to show up and pay attention. And when I actually do that, I see some really beautiful stuff happen. I really do feel like I have been changed by hanging out with and getting to know these guys. And changed for the better.”
Bob Smietana is a veteran journalist and former religion writer for The Tennessean. His stories have appeared in national publications like USAToday, Sojourners, Christianity Today, and On Faith. He is senior writer for Facts and Trends magazine and president of the Religion Newswriters Association. He lives with his wife and three kids just south of Nashville.
The constant noise of the digital age requires us to work that much harder to remain focused on our individual passions and the good work to which God has called us. God wants us to feel passionate about our work because what we do reflects the person we are called to serve—Jesus. Our series, Vocation Focus, will inspire you with stories, Bible reflections, and practical tips. Click now to read more about Vocation Focus.
Featured image and images in article by Bob Smietana. Used with Permission.