At Work

George Washington Carver’s Amazing View of Work

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Grandma smiled at Zach and Maggie. “So, here’s the letter to my grandparents when they were missionaries in the Congo. I’ll read it for you.” She began slowly and thoughtfully. “It is dated August 13, 1931.”

My Dearest Mr. Johnston,

Your address was misplaced or you would have heard from me before now. I gave your clays the practical test especially. One of them, the real white, is a good type of kaolin and could be used in many forms of industrial arts. The darker one is a mixture of kaolin and common clay. Would make splendid jugs and the courser types of ceramic ware.

The very light gray is an excellent type of china clay—fires very pretty and works well on the wheel. These clays all have a varying commercial value. They would all make fancy bricks and tile. If your country is anything like ours, finding a market for them will be your hardest job. 

With kindest regards to Mrs. Johnston.

Yours very sincerely, 

Gram paused and looked at Zach and Mags. “Now, try to read the letter’s signature.” 

They squinted, grimaced, and shook their heads in the negative. But then, Zach tried again, and suddenly, his eyes widened. Not only could he read the old cursive, but crucial pieces of high school history were flooding back.

G.W. Carver.” Zach started to smile, and his smile spread wider and wider. “No way. As in George Washington Carver, the famous professor and peanut guy?”

Gram was grinning from ear to ear. “Yes, that’s right. The letter is from him.” Zach and Mags’ mouths dropped open in shock and disbelief. Zach reached carefully for the two pages of brittle letterhead. He cradled them carefully and stared in amazement at the piece of history he was holding in his palms.

Carver’s Work in ‘God’s Little Workshop’

“Yes, it’s certainly for real,” Gram replied. “Now how much do you know about him, beyond calling him the peanut guy?”

“I guess not much, really,” Zach confessed. “I do remember that he discovered tons of uses for the peanut.”

“That’s right,” Gram responded, “Actually, his role at Tuskegee Institute involved teaching, writing, and researching. He came up with over 300 products from the peanut, and 118 from the sweet potato. But here’s the best part, and it’s very seldom reported in mainstream history books. He claimed to accomplish all of this because he worked with God in his laboratory. He affectionately called it ‘God’s Little Workshop.’ George Carver sincerely believed that he was working with God in all that he did. One time in a speech he said, ‘God is going to reveal to us things he never revealed before if we put our hands in his.’” 

“So, I’m wondering,” Mags jumped in with an excited question, “Do you think he was thinking that way, I’m working with God, on the day he tested the clay samples your grandfather sent from Congo?”

“Oh, most definitely,” Gram answered with confidence. “That’s the kind of worker he was. His letters and speeches reveal it. Carver was one of those unique people who really lived his whole life in an extremely integrated way. Other quotes from his life show that he was very missional, working to serve others for God’s glory. Just a minute.”

Moments later, Gram returned from her living room bookshelf and was paging through a thick Carver biography. Zach was pouring fresh hot water over three new tea bags. The story was just getting going. More tea was necessary.

Carver’s Life as God’s Coworker

“Here, take a listen to this,” Gram invited. “In a letter to Reverend Ward, Carver asked him: ‘Pray for me please that everything said and done will be to his glory.’ In another letter, this one to Robert Johnson, Carver reflects his personal satisfaction: ‘Living for others is really the Christ life after all. Oh, the satisfaction, happiness and joy one gets out of it.’ And when he was age 63, Carver reflected his missional purpose: ‘Man, who needed a purpose, a mission, to keep him alive, had one. He could be… God’s coworker… My purpose alone must be God’s purpose… as I worked on projects which fulfilled a real human need, forces were working through me which amazed me.’

“Wow,” Zach exclaimed. 

“So, my Grandpa and Grandma Johnston had apparently met Carver on one of their furloughs,” Gram explained. “Grandpa was curious about the clay samples, and we’re pretty sure he was considering a use for such clay, possibly as a business start-up there in the Congo. I have never seen my grandfather’s original letter that was sent to Carver, so I’m not sure what he described as his intentions for Carver running tests on the clay. But based on Carver’s explanation in his reply letter, I’ve always conjectured that they were contemplating starting a business of making bricks or some brand of pottery works. Such business work would have gone hand-in-hand with their mission work, helping lift so many families to a stronger place economically. Would have been very redemptive!”

Zach was shaking his head. “I think this concept of real business, for God’s mission and glory, to bless others and advance the kingdom story—well, I just think it’s an amazing concept.” 

“Yes, indeed it is,” Gram affirmed. “And obviously, it’s not a new concept with our current century. Back in the first century, the Apostle Paul and his coworkers, Priscilla and Aquila, were tentmakers. Numerous missional endeavors have been grounded in serious business endeavors. It certainly seems, based on this letter, that my grandparents had espoused such thinking for the Congo. I’d imagine they fully anticipated that proceeds could bless local workers and their families, while also further funding new church sites across the region. Sad thing is, no one really knows for sure what Grandpa and Grandma did or did not do as a result of Carver’s letter.”

“That’s okay, Gram,” Zach consoled her, “I’m just loving such a connection from the family story. And I really dig the fact that from Carver’s letter, we can pick up on their potential thinking toward business as mission.”

Editor’s Note: These insights about G.W. Carver are adapted from John Pletcher’s book about faith at work. Henry’s Glory: A Story for Discovering Lasting Significance in Your Daily Work is available from Amazon and other favorite booksellers.

Photo by Liam Truong on Unsplash
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