Why I Need House Help

I was talking to someone about how I need house help. She replied by saying, “Well, ‘need’ house help?” I have to admit that while I did clamp my mouth shut, nod as if to admit my pitiful inability to manage a home, and walk away, inside I was screaming. NEED? NEED? You have house help too; yours just doesn’t have a soul. If you have a dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, dryer, or even a mop, you have house help. If you have a store where you can buy fresh food and cleaning supplies in the same place, you have house help. If you can use a crock pot and don’t have to bleach your food, you have house help.

Zavinga and Suzanne, MAF Missionary

Zavinga and Suzanne

As I continued to argue in my head (since I’m much too cowardly to do it in person), my eyes were opened to many other ways I NEED my helper, not just “need.” Everyone here hires someone. It’s how you share resources and community. She helps me fit in by “letting” me employ her. She is my source of local information. The only news here comes via radio, with lots of static and in rapid-fire Swahili or French, which is impossible for me to follow. Some days she’s the only friend I see. (Maybe it seems like I’m paying her to be my friend, and frankly, I’m okay with that.) She teaches me vital life skills (like manioc flour and wheat flour are NOT the same thing). She keeps me in good standing with my neighbors by finding out who had a death in the family so that I can send sugar to them. She loves my children fiercely, as if she was also their mother (and often brags about “our kids”). And she challenges me to love and trust Jesus just by the way she faithfully lives out each day. Do I “need” her? Yes. Do I NEED her? Yes. So maybe I’ll just calm down and be thankful that she is in my life.


  • Megan says:

    As a missionary who just returned from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, I completely understand and I am so proud of you for writing this blog. Some things are difficult to say and you said it in a way that helps people relate. I feel strongly that God has placed this woman in your life for so many reasons. Thank you for sharing!

  • Tammi says:

    Well said once again Suzanne! Sure miss you all 🙂

  • Karlene Stehling says:

    Great blog, Suzanne. You said it well.

  • Joy says:

    Amen, sister! You said it so well!!

  • Karina says:

    Thank you for your boldness and thoughtfulness in writing this. We just arrived in Madagascar in January with MAF and so this was my first experiencing hiring “house-help”. I have had a lovely time with her so far. Having her in my house is definitely a link to the local community for us stay-at-home homeschooling moms who are bit more tied to our homes because of little ones in our care. I feel the same about our gardeners. Yes, sure we could do our own gardening, but in having them working here we are supporting their livelihood with quality jobs they can feel proud of, and again, we are building relationships with the local community.
    Barbers in Mada
    There’s Grace For That

  • Hannah says:

    I take so much for granted! Thank you for this post. I’m sure it is mutually beneficial for you and her! I must say, I’d trade in my soul-less help for such a precious friend as you have been blessed with 🙂

    (Found you through Joy Forney)

  • Nicole says:

    This is wonderful! I’m a missionary wife of 11 years in India…could totally relate! Thank you!

  • amber says:

    I am a farm wife in central Kansas and understand your comments….After I was paralyzed temporarily after my first daughter’s birth things piled up and I was overwhelemd by her colic…I finally found a cleaning lady…I looked forward to her visits as they were usually the only visitor I had all week….I was helping her and she having a daughter my age shared wisdom and history of the this area I transplanted too….I hired another cleaning lady after the birth of my second daughter and experienced the same thing..I was able to pour love into this lady as she became a regular visitor in our home..I now see the beauty that having house help can be….on so many levels. Even more so when you have no relationships in you community…great post.

  • Rachel says:

    A friend of mine just returned from a sabbatical in Zambia where she had hired help for the first time in her life. She loved it! It was a huge help to her in caring for her family of 5 children in a strange land.
    It seems like “help” would be wonderful for any family with children, taking so much pressure off the momma so she can concentrate on the things of eternal importance instead of dishes.
    Even Elisabeth Elliot’s family had hired help way back in the early 1900’s, as did many people here in the US.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Jan Ryder says:

    Suzanne, I’m so glad you have a good friend and partner in ministry in your house helper. I tell Caro all the time that her service to Tim and I makes possible the things I do at church, the many visitors we are able to host, and people we counsel and pray with. I could wash our clothes by hand (although not nearly as well as Caro does) wash dishes and clean the house, but then I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I know God has called me here to do. And I also know her family has a good steady income, for which we are all grateful.

  • Brian says:

    Joey has a wonderful mate! Thanks for your open and honest (and accurate) sharing!

  • bets says:

    I don’t even know you but I have to say that thank you so very much for being real and for sharing what life is like, it’s refreshingly honest and perfect. I’m so very glad that God provides for you while you serve so far from the comforts of State-Side living. Blessings.
    -betsy ekle

  • Amy M says:

    Good for you, Girl!

  • Lynette says:

    God bless you, Suzanne. I have worked for 28 years in Papua New Guinea as a missionary and have also faced misunderstanding on the part of ladies in my home country because I have a PNG lady help me in my home one day a week [It used to be two when our boys were still with us but they are now long since grown and have their own families.] One of my sisters-in-law was particularly censorious because I had “ a full-time maid” whereas she has to do everything herself.
    How I thank God for my precious Dominika who is,as you have found with Zavinga, not only my helper but also my very special friend and soulmate! I was privileged to teach her from the Scriptures and she put her trust in the finished work of the Lord Jesus on her behalf and so became my sister. I wish I could put her smiling face on here so you could see her. When the boys were still with us, I was teaching high school mathematics and English classes in our missionary school for the children of our missionaries. I tried on a couple of occasions to manage without employing a helper but everything unraveled around me. Whereas with Julie, who was my helper and friend in those days, I was able to minister well in all the areas I needed to because Julie ministered to me and my family through washing clothes, cleaning the house, baking and gardening. Other missionary wives who have another ministry in addition to that which the Lord has given them of caring for their husband and children can relate but it IS hard for ladies in our home countries to even begin to understand.

    • Lynette says:

      I obviously don’t know how to use the HTML tag for bold properly. I am sorry. I meant to only have “full-time maid” in bold, not everything from there onwards 🙁

  • Kathryn says:

    Living in Uganda, you have given me new insight on how to see my house help. We live rural, and like you, only have radio for news, so she keeps me up on what is going on.

  • Jo Ann says:

    It is so true that we who live in the western world can’t possibly understand how much more complicated running a household would be in the rest of the world, especially for those unfamiliar with the culture. My missionary in-laws also had “help” and they also prized the relationship with their “help” which provided much than practical assistance. Having said that, I have to question whether it is really true that, “Everyone here hires someone.” Does your “help” hire help? It may seem like a minor semantical point, but I don’t think it is. To the helpers, who must do everything themselves while also working for someone else, missionaries may seem rich and privileged. I don’t say that to discourage you from working with helpers, but to encourage you to reflect on their experience, which is likely very different from your own.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Jo Ann. When I say “everyone here hires someone”, I am not speaking only of missionaries or humanitarian groups. I mean the nationals as well. Yes, my house help does hire helpers. She hires people to help in her fields because she is at work. The culture here is not nearly as individualistic as our Western culture. For her, she is not expected to “do everything [herself] while also working for someone else”. She has family members, older children, and neighbors who help her. Some are hired, some contribute because that’s the right thing to do. The more privileged may hire many people, the less, fewer. I appreciate the reminder to reflect on her experience which, as you say, is very different from mine. Her relationships with her helpers will not be the same. She won’t pay the same as I do. She isn’t expected to (by me or by the ones she hires). It is seen as selfish and greedy to hoard resources by not hiring. Of course we missionaries seem rich and privileged. And it would be selfish and greedy to do the work yourself, and thus be hoarding our resources by not hiring. The same is true for my helper, who lives under the same cultural expectations.

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