The Dilemma Of House Help On The Mission Field

Frequently missionaries get to the field and have a dilemma about using hired help with childcare, cooking, or housekeeping around their home. Statistically the West uses house helpers less than in the rest of the world. In the West domestic help is often seen as a luxury available only to the upper classes.

Domestic helpers are more common in the rest of the world. Employing domestic help doesn’t come with the same stigma in other cultures as it does in the West. There are many good reasons missionaries should consider hiring domestic help.

Providing a Good Job
In the developing world, it is common to see families who have very little income, yet still are able to afford domestic help. Since unskilled laborers in most countries earn a legal minimum wage of $2 – $20 a day, it is financially feasible for even poor families to hire help.

Around the world domestic helpers suffer a disproportionate amount of financial and physical abuse at the hands of their employers. Often national laborers prefer working for westerners because they are treated fairly. Employing domestic help on the mission field can provide a national with a safe working environment and a steady income.

Hiring domestic workers in countries with depressed economies and high unemployment can help a worker provide for her family. Many poor and uneducated workers rely on manual labor jobs to provide for their families. In Latin America, as an example, over 10% of all employees work as domestic workers. Poor families and the local economy count on the existence of domestic labor.

In some cultures, hiring domestic help is a way of helping an oppressed class of people. In many cultures those who do domestic work come from a subjugated ethnicity, gender, or religion. In the Middle East, domestic work accounts for almost 1/3rd of all jobs held by women.

Many missionaries struggle with the idea of using house help on the mission field because of the fear they may be perceived as lazy or living too lavishly. Because we struggle with God’s grace, many evangelicals (missionaries too) operate falsely under the assumption a missionary must suffer on the mission field in order to be truly serving Christ.

Since our works-oriented hearts erroneously feel the more a missionary suffers the more he is truly serving, often we view hiring domestic help as somehow less righteous. Because missionary service is perceived as hard, a missionary who is suffering less is too often perceived as a lesser class of missionary. Therefore, it can be perceived that hiring house help is a sign of a missionary who just can’t handle the ministry. This is an unfortunate and dangerous mentality.

Time and Money
Living in another culture can be confusing and add lots of stress. Sometimes, the most frustrating thing about missions is the perceived lack of efficiency in non-western cultures. Simple activities like paying bills or buying groceries in a culture which is not your own can take what seems to be an unnecessary amount of time.

Having a domestic worker in your home who can help relieve some of your burden and help train a missionary how to live daily life more efficiently can be a great blessing. Relieving your household stress and freeing up your time is not only good for your family’s mental health, but it is also being a good steward of your resources. If a national worker can make a few meals, watch the kids, or do the laundry, that gives the missionary more time to spend discipling or training people in their new culture.

Language and Culture
Daily interaction with house help who are from your new culture will create opportunities to practice your new language and to learn about cultural differences. Since domestic employees come from your new culture, they can introduce you to other nationals or traditions you may not know. Having a worker in your home can help teach you intricacies of the culture which may take you years to discover on your own. Topics like food, music, and politics become open to a missionary when they have a domestic helper who also serves as a cultural tutor.

A missionary can learn much from a domestic helper who is willing to give cooking lessons and take him out on shopping excursions. These are cultural experiences which cannot be duplicated in a book or gutting it out on your own.

Other missionaries and supporters need to be careful when passing judgement on a missionary who chooses to hire house help. The status we place on hired help in the West is not consistent with the reality in the rest of the world. In addition, hiring national workers to help around your house can be a quick and efficient way of acquiring new language and cultural skills which will benefit the rest of your ministry. Providing an income for an otherwise unskilled laborer is a great way of benefiting the people you serve.

Having house help is a valid option for missionaries. It can open many avenues which may otherwise be inaccessible to a missionary. Prayerfully consider if hiring domestic help is something which can free you up for ministry and teach you about the culture while providing a needed income for a national.

One thought on “The Dilemma Of House Help On The Mission Field”

  1. This is something I learned on a trip to Indonesia. The missionary family I was with had two “servants” – one of which actually lived with them.

    I remember them (the western missionaries) telling me also that it helped the community actually accept them much more than if they didn’t hire “servants”.

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