Columnists > Soul Food

Papa Trees

Thanksgiving for God's care in a business we didn't want

Issue: "Digital Revolution," Nov. 27, 1999

In 1983 my husband Tripp started taking care of trees to tide us over between jobs on the San Francisco Bay. As more and more tree work came in, and as it became clear that his long-dreamed-of maritime career was just not going to happen, I remember my husband balking, grumbling, but finally submitting to something that seemed almost preordained.

He remembers that moment of acceptance clearly. Absorbed in self-pity as he wrestled with an unruly hedge and with God, he demanded the reason why he wasn't on the sea. "Am I supposed to be stuck in these trees the rest of my life?"

He says the answer came instantly-a feeling of peace. The next day a customer called him "Mr. Trees," thus christening his company. The next week he summoned every ounce of courage and hired his first full-time employee. The next month he took a deep breath and started paying for insurance and payroll taxes. He studied for and obtained his certification and contractor's license. The next year he offered fully paid benefits to his employees.

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Tripp really didn't have to do these things. At the time, most "tree surgeons" in our neck of the woods drove around in pickups carrying a chainsaw and very little overhead. No one felt obligated to promise their employees anything. But, Tripp says, when God convicted him about his future, He also convicted him about how He wanted things done.

It wasn't easy initially. Extra overhead meant higher rates. Tripp had to overcome the very real fear that even though he was doing the right thing, his business would fail because what mattered to customers was not the right thing but the right price.

In the beginning, before we had so many children, I worked with my husband, scheduling his appointments and keeping his books. I saw how much he had to draw on his faith each time he took the next step with his business. And so I've seen that God can use the things of this world-a simple tree-care company-to refine the faith of those He loves.

Take the area of personnel. Fifteen years ago, our first employees had names like Ernie, Michael, John. In those early years, we encountered problems from habitual absenteeism to heroin addiction. We thought we'd never find productive, stable, and caring employees.

We also faced the problem of equal opportunity as more and more Hispanics moved into northern California and applied for jobs with our company. Hiring them meant dealing with our customers' prejudice. Regardless of training or skill, if the skins were brown, customers assumed they were dayworkers-which made our rates suspect.

Tripp faced this problem like any other. He just kept doing the right thing. Where does the Christian businessman get the courage to risk doing the right thing? From the true CEO of any Christian company-God. After all-as Tripp knows all too well because it was never his plan to have a tree company-the business plan was never really ours.

We've always been dependent on God for our company's day-to-day operation. We pray not to miss payroll and so far we never have. We pray that He will bring us the right employees and keep them safe from harm.

Fifteen years ago we would never have imagined the staff we have today-mostly Hispanic and Tonganese, with names like Armando, Hidalgo, Jacobo, Artemio, Paco, Higinio, and-my personal favorite-Jesus. They're the best! Hardworking, honest, and full of purpose. Many-either as Roman Catholics or evangelicals-worship God with the same enthusiasm we do. They are loyal to my husband and call him "Papa Trees."

And we call our boss Abba Father. As we've depended on Him to help us handle the risks and responsibilities of running a Christian business, we've come to know and trust Him better too. It's just the right thing.

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