Reprinted from the June/July 2000 issue of Reality magazine, New Zealand's Christian bimonthly, with permission. "Reality" is available by subscription from

In November 1999, after two decades of missionary work in Bangladesh, the author and her family returned to New Zealand.

Six months ago [my husband and I] finished our former job. It was a highly polished finish with multiple farewell functions, tears, prayers, and eulogies. For us, a good ending to twenty years with the same organization. We left with a feeling of being loved, valued, and appreciated. Six months down the unemployment road, those feelings have eroded almost down to bedrock.

We used to be busy all the time. Consulting colleagues, called on to give advice. Making plans and actioning plans. Thinking ahead to large future strategies, as well as coping with minor daily chores and a variety of not-so-minor crises. Always interacting with people, always challenged, always taken out of ourselves.

Our colleagues were also our friends, our employees were also our fellow church members, our home was also our workplace, our hospitality was also our job. We were useful, we were tired, we were stressed, we were fulfilled, we were employed.

Now we contrive our routines to fill our days with what feels like an artificial busyness. We do what you're supposed to do.

We've been to the employment agencies. We scan the paper and the Internet for job opportunities. We call up for job descriptions, study them, choose the possible ones. We fill in the application form, sculpt our CV to the scope of the job, craft the letter to go with it, mail it off with prayer and hope and anxiety.

Sometimes there is no reply at all. Sometimes a polite regret that the position has been filled. Three times, an interview, then the wait with heightened hope, and the disappointing letdown.

We didn't want to do it, but after a fruitless month we decided we'd better apply for the benefits we can claim. That felt like a big lump to swallow. We've never even been entitled to family support before now. Venturing into this world of WINZ [Work and Income New Zealand] and IRD [Inland Revenue Department] feels like trying to push our way up a hillside covered with thick gorse. We collect pamphlets and booklets and forms and try to puzzle them out. We put off applying because we keep thinking that next week we'll have a job.

We discover that different schemes cancel each other out. If we apply for family support we should get it, but if we receive an unemployment benefit it seems we don't get it any more, so we debate about whether it's worth applying. We had to declare our income for 1997-98 in order to get one allowance. But we had to declare our income for 98-99 to obtain community cards. The gratuity we received from our former employer means we've had too much money in the past twenty-six weeks to receive the unemployment benefit for another ten weeks.

Along with confusion and frustration, we feel guilty and embarrassed about asking for anything at all.

We wanted help, so we went to the IRD office. Sorry, they said, we don't talk to customers face to face. Please call this number. Dial, wait on hold, press this digit if you want this service, finally get to talk to a faceless voice and get our questions answered.

We take a form into WINZ. The large, impeccably groomed lady at the desk is friendly and helpful, but is a slightly menacing presence--like a strict school principal. She checks our form and says we've filled it in correctly but we can't just hand it over to her. Please put it in an envelope and mail it back to us.

We feel confused, cross, and out of control. We feel the system hates us. We look around at the others in the office. A Nigerian woman swathed head to foot in flowing gown, a man with his leg in plaster. Tired people, ordinary people, out-of-work people. Like us. We don't want to be counted here.

We're assigned a case officer, a cheerful, friendly young man who is positive and encouraging. "You're eminently employable. I'll make an appointment to meet you again in a month but I don't expect to see you back here." Grudgingly grateful for his encouragement, I feel irrationally resentful of his cheerfulness.

We try to keep things in perspective by counting our blessings. We have somewhere to live, we have each other, we have friends, we have family. People write or telephone with encouraging messages. It's good to feel that they care. But inwardly nagging is the feeling that we don't just want love, we don't just want support, we want to be doing something. We started out with great faith in our gifts and skills. Each rejection puts another hairline crack in our self-confidence. Maybe we're not so competent after all. Maybe all these people who turn us down are perfectly correct in their conclusion that we're not worth employing.