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Praying for Mr. Fire Part 1

You probably wouldn’t like Mr. Fire if you met him.  That’s not his real name, but that’s what his name means in English.  Many times I’ve thought, how appropriate.  He gets angry easily, he yells a lot.  He is really firey.

I think everyone in our company is scared of him.  I used to be.  But I saw God open so many doors for me to have this job, that I decided the yelling and stress around me were actually my ministry opportunity!  I just didn’t know what might mean.

You see, I’ve wanted to be a tentmaker ever since I entered MENA’s Waldensian Student program.  When I finished my electrical engineering degree, I decided to send out my CV and see where God led.  To my complete surprise, against all the odds, I got a job–an isolated laboratory job where I worked in a room by myself all day.  I didn’t feel like I was making an impact on anybody; I would go all day without seeing a single person and longer without talking to anyone.  I prayed, “Lord, I didn’t come here just to sit in this silent room; give me people to witness to!

How could I complain, then, if He gave me Mr. Fire?   But God had to move things along a little in order to make it possible.

A little disappointed with my lab job, I felt impressed to circulate my CV again.  This time I sent it to everybody, everywhere, even outside my field, and in other cities.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, to find myself standing in the office of the scowling, preoccupied manager of a rug import company. He was serious, straight to the point. The company needed an export manager.  I realized it was real good pay, wouldn’t require us to move, and seemed to offer lots of people contact.  I could imagine a real tentmaking mission!

Trying to exude confidence, I answered all Mr. Fire’s questions as professionally as possible.  But I had to tell him I didn’t have experience in export management.  And I knew he must notice I could bare converse in the language, much less write memos and negotiate business.  And then–I had to explain I kept Saturday as my worship day and would not work from sundown to sundown.  I didn’t think he heard any of what I said.  But he did mumble, “We don’t deal with anything about religion here.” With little explanation about the job and a warning about working hard, he hired me.

Pressure and fear, though–that was the job. I learned on my first day that everyone’s goal in the company was to not irritate Mr. Fire. Delays, mistakes, or misunderstandings made him furious.  He added to the pressure by pitting workers against each other, bullying workers, and yelling whenever anything went wrong and sometimes when nothing was wrong.

It wasn’t hard to notice that some of the girls around me seemed to get yelled at more than others.  I’d often find Leyla in the restroom in tears. I didn’t always know what to say to her, but I tried to remind her how hardworking and dedicated she was.  I would try to help her when things got overwhelming. I could see her working more carefully. But Mr. Fire would still yell, at her more than others.  I wondered if he was trying to crush her.

Of course I worked very hard not to get yelled at myself.  But when the manager yells, others yell too, and sometimes I wondered if I should yell too just to be heard; it seemed to be part of the company culture, the only way to get things done.  Then one day, one of my colleagues quietly asked, “Why don’t you yell?”  I also noticed I would meet my colleagues’ surprise whenever I said “Thank you” for anything. I was still worried about being heard without yelling, still struggling to get things done without speaking the language well.  But somehow things were happening and I realized working hard was my witness. Saying thank-you was my testimony.  Not yelling was my best outreach.

One day Mr. Fire seemed pleased at the number of orders I’d processed that week—though he certainly didn’t say so outright.  I took the relatively positive moment and offhandedly suggested that he might get better work out of Leyla too if he spoke kindly to her.  Like usual, he didn’t even seem to hear what I had said. A few days later she came to me grinning.  For the first time in the three years she’d been working in the company, Mr. Fire had complimented her work.

I started getting to know the other workers around me.  We started encouraging each other on hard days; the yelling didn’t seem so personal then. I began doing better at my job and at the language.  I praised God that we were getting great business results.  Mr. Fire seemed to trust me more.

In his usual style, though, one day he instructed me that I would be going to the annual  weekend trade show as a representative of the company.  It was an honor to any worker and he knew it.  It was a problem for me and I was sure I couldn’t do it.

“I can’t work from sundown to sundown on Saturday, Mr. Fire.”  He acted like he didn’t hear me.  “You will represent us.”  “I must have the Sabbath off.”  “We are not going to deal with religion here.”  “But I will not go if…”  “Talk to your priest, I don’t want to discuss it.”  “This is my conviction, not my priest’s permission.” 

I wondered if he was going to start yelling. I could tell he didn’t know what to say. His face froze, then darkened.  For a moment I thought I might lose my job.

I’d always imagined that my witness for the Sabbath would be to explain why I kept it, what it means to me, to answer probing questions and inspire my curious audience.  Mr. Fire would have none of such nonsense.  He brushed off anything I tried to say.  He was planning on me attending the trade show.

Then one day, as I pushed back cautiously at one more of his trade show suggestions, he suddenly stopped short, as if he’d finally heard something.  His voice had an edge to it.  “So what do you do on Sabbath?”  I was so shocked I couldn’t answer.  When I regrouped my thoughts I said something about worship. Time with God. Bible study. Encouraging others. I could tell I was referring to things completely foreign to him.

But it was the beginning of our ongoing conversations.  They are all short.  They are always interrupted by a phone call, an appointment, or a meaningless distraction. But I can count on an opportunity at the most surprising times. I pray to be prepared for each one.  Just like I prayed as the trade show approached.

But that’s for the next chapter in the story that God is writing.  And I’m praying for Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and more.  Watch for “Mr. Fire, Part 2.” –LO