“I work for the Federal Department of Veteran’s Affairs. My official title is an NCCN analyst, which is National Client Contact Network. What I do, is basically talk on the phone with veterans all day.”
Steve’s day starts quite early as he joins the throngs of others who commute on the Skytrain into downtown Vancouver.
“I get into work about 8:15, log in at about 8:30, and the phone starts ringing. I’m basically the guy at the other end of an 800 number. There’s me and about 100 of my colleagues across the country who answer these calls from Veterans who have questions.”
There are other offices around the country that deal with other programs designed to help veterans, but Steve and his colleagues deal with much of the procedures and protocols around their disability benefits.
“It’s like insurance. We’re administering health benefits. We’re making sure that certain doctor bills get paid. But for each individual client it all has to do with eligibility and there is a complex system for what governs their eligibility for certain benefits.”
Since Steve works with a lot of sensitive information and his time is quite structured at work, we decided it would be best to meet up at his house. We sat down beside the fire on a clear and chilly evening to talk about his faith and his work.
Steve’s journey to his current job was not a straightforward one. In fact, you could say he fell into this particular job.
“I was working customer service at a large consumer electronics store and not really enjoying it. Then one day someone said to me, “Hey there’s this website with all these postings on government jobs and anyone can apply to them.” So, I went to the site and applied. Then they called me and said, “We’ve got your application and we’d like you to come and take a test.” I passed the test, and they said, “Okay, we’d like you to come for an interview.” At that point I would have taken any government department, I wasn’t aiming for Veterans Affairs, but I said, “It’s got to be better than what I am doing.””
There is a bit of an apologetic tone to Steve’s voice as he shares this story, as if this isn’t the way we ‘should’ discover our vocations. There seems to be this underlying assumption that fulfilling a vocation means knowing early on what career we are supposed to do, and then working in that career for the rest of our lives.
It reminds me of a friend in college who firmly believed that God has a “Plan A” for everyone, and if we make a mistake and deviate from that plan, then we will never experience God’s best for us. The best we can ever hope for is a sort of “Plan B”, which is never as good as “Plan A” was.
Clearly, this is not true.
You don’t have to look very hard through the scriptures to see that often people bumbled along trying to do what they thought was best, making “mistakes” along the way, only to look back on their lives and see God’s work through it all. Does God sometimes make it clear to us early on what exactly he wants us to do? Sure. Does he sometimes show us only the next step on the road, and lead us through a bunch of different twists and turns? Often he does. Neither path is right or wrong, they are just different.
Steve shrugs as he continues.
“I took a job eventually, because I needed a job. But it’s no less God glorifying if you look back on something and say, “Now I’m doing it for this reason.” Rather than doing something like preparing for the ministry, or preparing to be a doctor, or something like that. I think that, in the end they can all be just as fulfilling. It’s just you come at it from a different perspective.”
God’s work in Steve’s life has come into clearer focus as he looks back on his life. Even though he stumbled into this job, he finds that it is a place where he can really live out the call to serve others.
“Public service is starting to be viewed as more of an old-fashioned type of vocation. But it’s the service aspect of it that’s the reason I really enjoy it. Serving people. … It’s about taking care of people. It’s about service. It’s about the elderly. It’s about helping people who can’t help themselves.”
This desire to serve really permeates his whole work place.
“The people I work with in the office. We have all different kinds of political affiliations, and belief systems, and backgrounds, but we are all on the same page about how we feel about veterans; about how we all want to serve veterans in our own ways.”
While Steve isn’t directly providing care for individuals, he is expressing the compassionate heart of God to people who are often suffering in different ways.
“It’s compassionate work because a lot of the people I work with are suffering in a lot of ways. Some of them are just old and frail and have difficulty doing the things they need to do. Some of them are young, but are in physical pain because of the injuries they’ve sustained through their service. Some of them have operational stress injuries, like post-traumatic stress disorder and things like that. And I help guide them towards different therapeutic things that they need. …I think of myself as helping to take care of a part of the created order, who are people.”
This care is what drives Steve to do his job well, particularly when the routine of his work tempts him to discount those who call in.
“It’s easy to slip into a pattern of one call after another. You know, I get in in the morning and there’s sixty or seventy people waiting on hold for me, and I gotta deal with each one of these calls. You’re sort of picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down. It’s easy to lapse into this numbness where you think of these people as items to be processed. But I try to remind myself these are human beings. They are people made in the image of God, just like I am, and they need care.”
As we discussed the different ways that God’s image is revealed in Steve’s work, it became obvious that Steve wasn’t just showing compassion.
“At any given time, a client may call me up and say, “I want this.” or “I’ve got this problem.” And sometimes they’re having difficulties and they want to know who they can turn to for help. A lot of them are in pain, or have psychological problems, so I’m kind of there to guide them towards what they are eligible for and what they need.”
There are many different ways our work exhibits a part of God for the world, and often there are a number of ways that God shows up in our work. In her book Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman outlines six different categories of God’s work that we can participate in. Here is the list, with a few examples:
- creative work (artists, designers, architects, etc.)
- providential work (entrepreneurs, janitors, bankers, etc.)
- justice work (lawyers, paralegals, managers, supervisors, etc.)
- compassionate work (nurses, social workers, EMTs, etc.)
- revelatory work (scientists, journalists, educators, etc.)
- redemptive work (pastors, authors, counsellors, etc.)
As I was listen to the way Steve talked about his work, I began to notice that much of what he did was relieve the confusion of those who were calling in and point them in the right direction. He is doing what Any Sherman would call ‘revelatory work’. Sure, he isn’t working as a scientist or an educator, but he is shedding light on situations for those who often felt left in the dark.
“Clients call me up all the time because they are in the dark about a lot of things. They say, “I applied for this condition, I want entitlement for this condition, but I don’t know where that application stands. I don’t know how long it’s going to be. I don’t know who’s making a decision.” And I have to ease them through that and say, “Well okay, this is the kind of timeframe we’re talking about. This is how long it usually takes to make a decision. We have an enormous backlog of applications, which is why it is taking so long to get a decision, so you can expect to wait maybe this much longer.” This gives them some clarity, and a lot of them, even though I haven’t always given them good news, they still feel a bit better.”
This clarity provides the veterans with reassurance, even though the news they receive may or may not be what they would consider good news. While Steve is not working as a scientist to reveal the secrets of the universe, nor as a counsellor helping others examine the source of current problems in their lives, his work is no less revealing for those who are understandably confused and hurting.
God works the same way in our lives. He cares enough about each of us to reveal the things that we need to help trust him more. It may not be everything, and sometimes what God reveals isn’t even good news, but we can be reassured that God is in control and he is working on our behalf.
It is obvious that Steve has grown to love his job, and the clients that he works with. He enjoys interacting with them and often encourages them to call him as often as they like. The programs put in place by the government is one way God shows his care for these veterans and as Steve helps guide them through the maze of applications, procedures, and protocols he is revealing to them some of God’s care for them.