The Sabbath commandment is six-sevenths a work commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” That adds religious implications to Monday’s secular holiday, Labor Day. Many people without belief in God toil away and have no confidence that their work under the sun has meaning other than as a way to pay the bills. Christians, though, know (or should know) that God-glorifying work of all kinds has eternal significance.
That doesn’t mean work is always pleasant: Since the Fall, we have to earn our bread with sweat and sometimes tears. Work, though, is good: Pre-Fall, God gave Adam the intellectual and physical labor of naming animals and tending the garden, and schools should help students find a calling that exercises their brains and their bodies. Schools that fail in that mission, or television commercials that tell us to live for weekends and strive for early retirement, do a disservice to individuals and the entire nation.
At the same time, stories that help people grasp the joy of work are a service—and that’s what we’re hoping to provide from today through Labor Day as we publish six brief pieces on people working hard and enjoying their labor. Some are Christians and some not, because through God’s common grace people of many faiths can enjoy meeting challenges. Three of the stories come from Rob Holmes, who lives with his family in Chad. Three others come from World Journalism Institute students who wrote and rewrote them during this year’s Asheville course. —Marvin Olasky
YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon—Go, come, collect—it’s a simple business formula. Capitalizing on his name, Go Kam Abisi goes and comes more than a dozen hours a day, literally running his business on the streets of Yaoundé, Cameroon. An egg-yolk yellow taxi, obviously pre-owned, is his sole business asset. It hardly stands out from the tangle of similar vehicles along Mbalmayo Road at the busy Mvan roundabout. But it was a bargain at 1.3 million Central African francs, or $2,500.
Go Kam traveled a long road before taking the driver’s seat. Leaving school at 16, he trained as a mechanic and four years later landed a job at Hevecam, a 100,000-acre rubber plantation near the coastal town of Kribi. The mechanic’s job fell apart after he arrived, so he tapped rubber trees along with 6,000 other men. Each day, he visited 210 trees to collect 160 liters of liquid latex. His monthly salary came to $80.
Like many American twenty-somethings, at 29 he decided on a new venture: He moved to Yaoundé, the capital city, and learned to drive. Lessons and licenses set him back $400, then a friend hired him for a driving job. He tapped the accelerator 14 hours a day, earning $100 a month.
“Working for others was not enough money,” he said. “I was thinking of what I would do when my kids were big, and I was struggling to have my own taxi. If not, they couldn’t go to school.” But after two years in the business, he borrowed money from friends to buy a taxi and through sheer determination paid off the loan in just over a year.
Accidents are the biggest business risk, but for more than 13 years he has been safe. This is no small feat in a hilly city whose traffic and pedestrians ebb and flow amorphously in a near-constant crush. Car theft is the more worrisome danger, especially in lonely areas of city sprawl like the airport road. Parts of town are no-go zones: “I have to protect the car and myself. Thieves took me one day in Melen. They were accomplices. The first man asked me to get out and put his box in the trunk, and when I got out they robbed me—$55 and my phone.”
What really drives him is home life: Go Kam and his wife Gladys are building two homes—one in the Mendong area of the city and another to retire to in his upcountry home village, Babanki. After years of saving and building, they will complete the village house soon. Besides owning a taxi and homes, he is proud to be raising six children. “I have a car, a tool to use, so there is always food for us,” he said. And just as he dreamed on the rubber plantation, his kids are in school. Now 43, he averages about $300 each month after all expenses, paperwork and repairs.
He parks the taxi from 2-3 PM each day, and also on Sunday, so he can be with his family and go to church. It was in Yaoundé that Go Kam became a Christian—in the Apostolic Church of Cameroon—and gave up drinking and cigarettes. His business and faith connect: “God worked in my life and then I was a different person—able to manage a business.”