November 10, 2010

Discipline by Design

I was at my wit’s end. Tanya,* an on-again, off-again employee at the newspaper where I work, seemed to take a vacation every month. Under Russian law workers are entitled to 25 vacation days per year. But eight months into 2010, my calendar said Tanya had already taken 32 days.
“Before you leave today,” I said after greeting her, “please make a list of all the vacation days you’ve taken this year.”
2010 1536 page27Tanya’s conduct required action. Her pay had to be docked. She had to be reprimanded. A strong-willed woman, Tanya would not take kindly to either. As I thought, a voice seemed to ask what was more important: meting out justice and alienating Tanya, or showing mercy and perhaps pointing her to Jesus.
Clearly, salvation was more important. But what should I say? Praying for wisdom that evening and the next morning, I composed several scenarios about what to say. But only as I traveled to work did I settle on a plan.
A short time later Tanya sat across from me in my office, her lips painted a defiant bright pink. She rarely wore much makeup; her defenses were up.
“Tanya,” I said, “I have to apologize to you.”
She looked startled.
“Since I offered you a job as financial coordinator two years ago, I’ve never asked whether you like it; nor have I given you a clear list of my expectations. I’m sorry,” I said. “Do you like your job?”
Tanya slowly nodded her head.
“I’m glad to hear that,” I said. “You do some things really well.”
Tanya sat up straight in her chair.
“Our finances were in complete disarray when you started, and you’ve brought order,” I said. “Also, you prepare the financial documents on time every month. A third thing I really like is that you go the extra mile when foreigners need cash.”
Under Russian law, foreign employees can’t take cash advances on their salaries, but just a few weeks earlier Tanya had withdrawn a new foreign employee’s salary against her own, while the employee waited to open a local bank account.
Tanya was all smiles. “Thank you for noticing my good qualities,” she said, her words spilling out. “I also have some bad qualities—specifically taking too many vacation days. I know this is a problem. I could promise to stop, but I don’t know if I could keep my promise.”
I was stunned. I hadn’t even mentioned the vacation problem. “What do you suggest?” I asked.
Tanya thought for a moment. “I think you should cut me back to part-time,” she said. “I could still perform all my duties, and you wouldn’t have to worry about my vacation days.”
It was a brilliant solution I hadn’t even considered. As Tanya left my office, she smiled happily. “Thank you for finding a good solution,” she said. “I’m glad we have such a good relationship.”
Later that day, a surprise visitor dropped into the newsroom: my former boss, an American named John, whom I hadn’t seen in a decade. As we spoke, John asked how much longer I planned to stay in Moscow. I prayed and replied, “Until God calls me to move elsewhere.”
After gazing steadily at me for a moment, John said, “How will you know if God calls you?”
At home that night I rejoiced about the chance to share Jesus with both John and Tanya. I wondered how John was digesting the idea of me being a Christian. Then it hit me: At that very moment John might have been asking Tanya what she thought of me as a Christian. You see, Tanya had spent that weeklong vacation visiting her sister and brother-in-law—who happened to be John.
James certainly had it right when he wrote: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
*Names have been changed.
Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published November 11, 2010.