It’s funny – the memories that stay lodged in my mind. The impromptu summer afternoon trip to the ice cream shop with grandma ranks right up there with Thanksgiving dinner. The meaningful 30-minute conversation with my friend on the west coast who accidentally pocket dialed me at 2 AM my time was more fun than the call I got on my birthday. Sometimes it’s a simple compliment from the heart of a stranger whom you never see again but never forget, just because of the way they made you feel that one time you met. I’ve heard it said, and I’m sure you have too, that what we remember most about people is how they made us feel. I believe this is especially true about our leaders.
Studying this week’s Sabbath School lesson about leaders, I found myself reminiscing not only about leaders in the church, but also leaders in the secular work place. And why not? After all, while we discuss the theory of the gospel in Sabbath School class, the workplace is where we exercise the gospel. While I have been a full-time Bible Worker most of my career, there have been times I also had to pick up a secular side job to support myself and my ministry. I believe my example in the workplace is so crucial that, when I arrived at my secular job I prayed the same prayer I pray before taking the pulpit to preach Sabbath morning. I would say it’s even more crucial because behind the pulpit I am just talking for maybe 30 minutes, but at work I am demonstrating the gospel for several hours.
One job I had several years ago, when I was a Bible Worker and lay pastor in Texas, was being a part-time supervisor at UPS. And it’s there that I had three simple encounters with my own supervisors that years later I have not forgotten, and this week’s lesson brought them to mind once again.
I supervised the people loading the brown delivery trucks. When a worker could not show up and I could not find a replacement, I sometimes had to load a few trucks myself. When this would happen, I would always go to the break room to get my favorite cold drink and some chips, set them in the back of the truck so I could enjoy them as I was going in and out of the trucks. Early one morning the packages were already stacking up in an area before I realized the worker was not there. I had no time to find someone or even alert my own supervisor as to what was going on, much less go to the break room for my ritual. I had to jump in there right away and get to work. About thirty minutes later, my own supervisor came by with my favorite drink and chips and placed them in the back of the truck for me. A very simple gesture, but it meant a lot because it showed she knew me, and even though it was not necessary for my work, she wanted me to be happy.
Drinks and chips are not the only things I had in the back of the trucks. I often placed my cell phone in the back of the trucks. One morning after the trucks had all left to run all over town, I realized my phone was still in the back of one of them. I told the daytime supervisor who called the driver to see where I could meet him to retrieve my phone, which I did. Later in the day my cell phone rang. It was the daytime supervisor making sure I got my phone okay. Wow! I thought. Those daytime supervisors are so busy that I wondered how did he even remember me? And why would he remember? My phone wasn’t his problem or responsibility. It meant a lot to me that in such as busy time-crunched place like UPS, a full-time supervisor for another shift, with plenty of responsibilities and problems of his own, took the time to make sure I found my phone.
Before I became a part-time supervisor in the loading area, I was a sorter. One morning while sorting away I turned to the belt behind me and my eye caught the zip code of a package right as it went by. I instantly realized that zip code did not belong on that belt. Another sorter miss-sorted it. I quickly grabbed it and placed it on the correct belt as I kept up sorting my own packages. My supervisor walked by and patted me on the back telling me he saw what I just did. He commended my eagle eye. A couple years later, I became a part-time supervisor in the loading area. At the end of one of my shifts I failed to realize that a next-day air package was still left on the belt. The next day the manager over the entire building was very upset with me. I probably would have been in hot water had it not been for my former supervisor years ago when I was a sorter. He took it upon himself to go to the building manager and tell him how he thought I was one of the best workers he ever had. When the building manager later talked to me, he told me my old supervisor told him about the package I caught on the wrong belt and how I corrected it, even though in my position I was not expected to. The building manager told me I was not going to be in any trouble.
Again UPS is a hard-nosed job and it amazed me that a former supervisor took the time and effort to stand up for me even though he had nothing to gain one way or the other if anything happened to me or not. In these stories I recall each leader showed true character even though they were outside of church and in a place where it is a struggle for even the best of church members to show good character. Each experience may have been small within itself, but I will never forget them. I also try to be what I admire in each of these leaders.