Keeping a retirement community of some 400 residents running requires a large staff. These are the people around us everyday, who clean our rooms, cook and serve our meals, fix our broken faucets, and tend to us when we get too old to take care of ourselves. In time they become familiar to us. We learn their names and they learn ours. Some become friends.
Some of the stated values of this particular retirement community are integrity, compassion, dignity, and service. The community tries (maybe not always with perfect success) to live out these values in board decisions, administrative policies, resident activities, and employment practices. Fair wages, adequate on-the-job training, and a recognition of the dignity of each person—these are the goal.
Most of us residents are grateful for the staff that work here. I especially enjoy the opportunity to interact with the Hispanic workers; they remind me of my home in Bolivia. And it’s refreshing to have so many young people—high school and college students—serving us meals in the dining room. (I did the same thing in this same dining room when I was in college. I loved how the residents treated me.)
According to the last report, this community employs 246 staff persons, many part-time. Most of them seem happy to be working here (they all need to work somewhere); others seem burdened. But they all have private lives. They all have stories.
Some of the ways residents express their appreciation is through a scholarship fund and bi-annual bonuses in the form of gift cards, furnished entirely by resident offerings. Perhaps even more important, is when residents respond personally to different ones, learning, not only their names, but also what we can of their unique stories. This can be a challenge as they’re all on a schedule, with timed breaks. But little by little, it’s possible.
Let me tell you John’s story. I first ran across John as he was vacuuming the carpet in our hall. I greeted him and he responded with such a warm smile, it touched me and after that I made it a point to chat with him whenever our paths crossed. Once he commented on a hanging of shells on my door, asking me where it was from. I told him it was from the island of Ponape in the South Pacific. He smiled and told me he recognized it because that’s near his homeland, the island of Yap.
Yap? Intrigued, we invited John up to our room one day after work. We had lots of question, and what we learned amazed and delighted us.
Yap is a cluster of islands about 800 miles east of the Philippines surrounded by barrier reefs, part of the Federated States of Micronesia. Beautiful beaches climb inland to forested mountains. It has a year-round temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Population on the main island runs between 11,000-12,000 people. It’s small but it sounds like a paradise.
The religion is a form of imported Catholicism mixed with animism and ancestorworship. People are proud of their customs and language, and struggle to maintain their way of life while facing the modern world. Hard to do.
John comes from this culture, but he is not just a random member. He is royalty. His step-father was chief or king of the island, a position handed down in the royal family. As such, John was in line to become chief.
When he was in high school, a Korean student shared the Christian gospel with John and gave him a Bible. He had always been curious about that figure up on the cross and wondered if there were more to life. After much reflection and prayer, John decided to become a follower of Jesus. This did not go over well with the family who disowned him for a time.
John moved to Guam and met his wife Donna in a church. They had their first two children in Guam, then decided to migrate to the Northwest corner of the United States where both John and Donna had family. They eventually made their way to Newberg, Oregon where, after several jobs, John found himself on the maintenance staff of George Fox University. He worked there for 19 years, while raising his family of now four children. Oregon became home.
When George Fox began cutting staff positions, John decided to move over to Friendsview, again finding a position on the maintenance staff, where he continues working today.
I wrote this poem about John:
The Prince of Yap
The man who vacuums
the carpets in the hall
is really the Prince of Yap.
His late father was the King of Yap
and he was next in line
to succeed to the throne.
But he didn’t want to be king.
He envisioned another life,
dreamed of open borders,
less ocean, more scope.
So he migrated to America.
One of his relatives is now king.
He’s happy to be here,
vacuuming rugs, secretly knowing
he still is, will always be,
the Prince of Yap.
I suspect that other members of the staff are also secret royalty, probably not in the same sense John is, but royalty nonetheless. All people of great value with wonderful stories to tell.