Columnists > Voices

Parachute packers

Without them there are no safe and happy landings

Issue: "The fewer and the proud," April 23, 2005

My dad was a metalworker when World War II began, working alongside his father making boilers for submarines. Because he was in a crucial industry, he was excused from the draft and could have sat out the war in Boston.

Instead, he enlisted to fight Hitler, and spent the last years of the war in England and then on the European continent, packing parachutes. Despite his admirable voluntarism, I remember as a child wishing, as children do, that he had been on the front lines like soldiers in the television show Combat, or like fliers in Twelve O'Clock High.

"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (1 Corinthians 13:11). When I became a man and learned more about how God places and uses various people, I started appreciating parachute packers.

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Most jobs in our society are parachute-packing jobs, and few packers-whether they're executives or interns-become famous. Most of us know the names of some movie stars, but can we name a producer? We probably used soap this morning, but how many of us know the names of workers at Procter & Gamble?

Parachute packers who are Christians have a variety of attitudes toward Monday-through-Friday work. Some are at what I'd call level one, worshipping God on Sunday and packing the rest of the week to pay the mortgage. Others are at level two, seeing work as a way to pay the bills but also to earn money that they contribute to support pastors and missionaries, paratroopers seen as the real Christian fighters.

Those donations are good, but there's more to work than that. Level-three parachute packers see the relevance of biblical commandments to job activities and try to constrain the sinful tendencies we all have. That's also good, but not enough. Sure, a person who doesn't steal (which includes making shoddy stuff), doesn't lie, and doesn't think murderous thoughts about some co-workers and adulterous thoughts about others is way above average-yet what about coveting?

It's better to be on level four, where parachute packers see the workplace as God's gift of a venue for communicating the gospel to others and then-since talk is cheap-show what difference a Christian understanding makes. For example, it's easy to practice liberalitas, which meant in ancient Rome helping those of equal or higher status so they in turn would proffer help. Biblical Christians over the centuries, though, have emphasized caritas, helping those lower in rank who could not return the favor.

Level-four Christian parachute packers earn money and show self-restraint, but they also give themselves away. Level-four executives sacrifice themselves to make sure they'll be able to keep payroll checks flowing. Level-four mail carriers, such as one I was recently blessed to have, joyfully drop off lots of envelopes and book packages-in my case, it helped that she's a WORLD subscriber.

A level-four view of the workplace begins with the realization that it, like everything in life, is an arena. That's because parachute packers are not anonymous, even if no one recognizes their work. They work in front of spectators, the angelic hosts, and before one very special spectator, God Himself, who always provides opportunities to learn. (When things go right, we can thank Him. When things go wrong, we can recognize our own limitations and compare that with Christ's limitlessness.)

Much more could be said, but let me conclude with two personal notes. First, I appreciate and relish the kind letters many of you send to the small band of WORLD editorial folks I wrote about three weeks ago. But without the people in WORLD's business office there would be no plane to jump out of and no parachutes carefully packed. So please remember to pray for and thank them.

Second, because I saw his detail-orientation in other ways later on, I'm sure my dad packed parachutes carefully, which means that some people in their 80s, and even more among their children born after the war, are alive today because of his conscientious work. Most of us do not do life-or-death parachute packing, but it's good to remember that in our own lives something we do or say, perhaps even to a stranger, may become a parachute for someone in need-or a millstone around his neck.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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