March 5, 2019

An Accidental Witness

When you have to speak unapologetically.

Marvene Thorpe-Baptiste

I’m sorry, but I won’t be coming in to use the computer on Saturday,” I responded quietly, or so I thought. Suddenly it seemed as though the entire room went quiet and all eyes were looking at me questioningly. Oh, dear! What have I done? Lord, help me to find the right words, I breathed.

“Why?” asked my subcontractor as he looked at me in disbelief. He and, it appeared, everyone else awaited my answer.

We were working at the city’s record office in the late 1990s, back when the computer system was just coming into its own. All the records were being computerized, which meant that we, the abstractors, were forced to jostle with John Q. Public to retrieve pertinent information in order to complete our reports.

At the time most of the computers were unusable for more than a week, which led to long lines of individuals, including the public, having to wait to use the two computers that worked. This prevented individuals from completing purchases of property or obtaining their refinance/loan money. The anxiety level was high, everyone was backed up, and complaints of lost revenue (the inability to record legal documents, deeds, loan documents, etc.) were made to the director of the record office.

The director, in consultation with the mayor, decided to open the office on Saturdays to accomodate the title companies only. This was huge! It had never been done before.

That’s why my response seemed incredible to those listening in the room. My subcontractor knew that we were behind in our workload and thought that I should take advantage of this grand opportunity.

A coworker broke the silence by saying, “Wow! That’s neat!”

To answer his question (and that of everyone else), I gently explained that Saturday was my Sabbath—the day on which I worshipped—and that I preferred to keep the day holy, attend church, and commune with God rather than come in to work.

“But surely God knows your predicament and would understand if just this once you came to work instead,” he said.

“Yes, He knows,” I replied. “But it’s my choice to honor Him and observe the Sabbath commitment I’ve made.” I was painfully self-conscious as I explained my religious beliefs to him (and the ears of others), because the room was deadly silent.

Another coworker broke the silence by saying, “Wow! That’s neat!” and proceeded to talk about an article he’d just read in which a rabbi extolled the virtues of Sabbath rest while pointing out that this was the origin of the phrase “taking a sabbatical.” His interruption gave me a chance to breathe and graciously answer the ensuing questions from other coworkers, some of whom were not quite as familiar with Sabbathkeeping and Adventism.

While speaking, however, I was mentally imploring God to help me catch up with my workload, because happy clients were the ones who kept me in business. By God’s grace I did catch up during the ensuing weeks and was thankful for the strength to be a witness without having to compromise.

Marvene Thorpe-Baptiste is editorial assessment coordinator for Adventist Review.