Jesus Follower | Word Stringer | Avocado Eater

Adjusting the Scales of Honesty

 

“Hey, boys—throw this blanket on top of the sacks. And make sure you get the corners.”

I cringed in opposition. Did he just involve our children in a hidden importation? I turned my head to the west and spaced out while he drove.

Lest you feel the urge to judge, think about this: if you were taking a twenty-dollar item across the border, would you be willing to pull over and pay a six-hundred-dollar fee for it? Behold, one of my most humbling posts ever.

Thoughts of a corrupt government, two years of paying 16% taxes, border agents who charge whatever they’re feeling like that day, and insane importation fees made us feel like children at a closed ice cream store. This is so not fair!

When we started this B.A.M. (Business As Mission) we thought our compelling testimony would be a business that thrived despite the Mexican government and its antics. Our plan was to pay every single tax and fee no matter how ridiculous. So with the help of a lawyer, we did.

People loved the idea of our new business, it grew enough to buy more product and we were able to hire a few employees. But when my husband, Doug, started asking me what I thought about renting an 18-wheeler, buying a silo and expanding into other states in Mexico, I knew we were sitting on the brink of major crossroads. It was time to jump in or get out.

Kinda rough to read Proverbs 16:8 and not feel a tug:

“Better to have little, with godliness, than to be rich and dishonest.” (NLT)

Doug told some local friends and business owners of our dilemma and they gave him their best piece of advice: “You’re keeping two books, right?”

“Two books?”

“Yeah—the credit card sales get reported to the government, and the cash sales… don’t.”

“Umm, Carrie and I don’t really feel comfortable with that.”

“Then you’re never going to make it down here. Everyone has two books. We do have a friend of a friend who can help you out at the border though.”

They went on to explain details that revolved around “This is not a big deal,” but Doug felt otherwise.

Slightly tempting to collaborate with Guido or Cousin Vinny for a minuscule tip here and there, but…

“Greed brings grief to the whole family, but those who hate bribes will live.” ~ Proverbs 15:27 (NLT)

{In the same way I ask you not to judge us, we are moving forward without judging our friends down here. We have the option to leave–they don’t. Finding ways to save their family businesses for future generations is a tough task. We applaud their efforts, respect their grit and give grace in the midst of rampant government graft.}

Cross-Cultural Comparisons

How would these “no big deal in Mexico” examples translate to something in the States? Here are a few real-life scenarios and their real-life justifications:

 

Not reporting the $83.75 from your garage sale on your taxes.

Please. As if the government cares about $83.75.

 

Movie theater hopping.

They’re already playing the movie. It’s not like it costs them any more to have me in there.  

 

Speeding.

I have to. I would cause an accident if I went the speed limit. (Plus, it’s rude to be late.) 

 

Telling the dude in the Disneyland booth that your small three year-old is actually two.

Come on—it’s not like she takes up that much space.

 

Calling in sick when you’re fit as a fiddle.

Because 183 teacher work days are about three too many. 

 

Stuffing six humans and a dog into a four-person, no-dogs-allowed hotel room.

Do you really think I’m going to pay for two rooms when we all fit in one?

 

Rolling a stop sign.

They’re kind of like grown-up yields, right?

 

Using a friend’s address in the States so you, the missionary, can prove residency and qualify for contests, insurance, charter schools and homeschooling money.

I’m still an American, ya know. I should be entitled to everything you have. 

 

Lying about your weight on your driver’s license.

Ohh… I thought they meant my goal weight. 

 

Will any of these actions send you in the opposite direction of the pearly gates? I don’t think so. But what I do think is that satan loves slippery slopes. He probably invented them. Just the right pitch, a little dish soap and bam—we’re all slip slidin’ away.

And of course our kids and pre-Christians are watching and learning from every sideways, crooked or super subtle decision we make. Comforting, right?

 

We’re Not Alone

According to Forbes online, “Feds recently paid $600,000 to learn why people cheat on their taxes.”

It’s not just the common adult falling prey to the temptation though.

“In 10 years, the IRS caught 1,580 of its employees willfully violating tax law. A 1998 law specifically directs the head of the IRS he must fire them. Even so, the IRS fired only 39% of employees found to be willful tax cheats. Rather than firing them, in 61% of the cases, the willful cheaters were given counseling, reprimands or suspensions.”

We can’t fire our children for lying, and we can’t fire ourselves for fudging. But for those of us who have kids or teens, are we addressing white lies with a light hand slap or a heavy heart? When they have the option to cheat just a tad, do we turn our heads or confront in love?

So here we are—packing up our home, business and pride and returning to the States in six weeks. Some days my husband feels like he’s leaving Baja with his convictions and head held high. Other days he feels like he’s returning to the States with his tail between his legs and a big fat “FAIL” on his forehead.

Taking on the Mexican Government was not an option. Keeping two books was not an option. Rocking on the front patio with clenched fists and a bit of drool was not an option either.

For the past year, friends and family have asked us why we’re leaving Baja.

We thought you loved it down there!

We thought your business was doing well!

We thought you were going to stay forever!

We do. It was. We were.

We originally envisioned our testimony being a result of paying all the taxes and fees and watching God grow our business. Locals would be shocked, they’d ask how we did it, and we’d point them to Him. Opportunities for ministry would explode and we’d be fulfilling our calling. Boom.

Now maybe our reason for leaving is because of integrity. We don’t see any blessing in becoming successful with sketchy ways of getting there.

Don’t bother assuming this was an easy decision though. We move forward with peace, knowing we’re making the right choice, but let’s be honest–sometimes integrity bites.

 

 

4 More Reasons to Love Honest Scales

I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.”  ~1 Chronicles 29:17 (NIV)

“The Lord demands accurate scales and balances; He sets the standards for fairness.”  ~Proverbs 16:11 (NLT)

“For we are concerned about what is right not only before the Lord but also before men.”  ~2 Corinthians 8:21 (NET)

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.”  ~Proverbs 10:9 (NIV)

 

What about you? Has God ever brought conviction that made you get out instead of jumping in?

 

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16 Responses to Adjusting the Scales of Honesty

    • You are such an encourager, Jane. Thank you. Sure am glad we met last year and reunited this year. What would we do without Mount Hermon? 🙂

  1. Wow, Carrie. What a tough moment of temptation for you and your family! I think some of Satan’s strongest attacks are those he cloaks under a disguise of the end justifying the means–even using ministry for God as that end. Praise the Lord that He led you and your husband to see this deception for what it was and to resist the devil and flee temptation! This is a wonderful and very real testimony to our struggles as Christians and the trials that often come with doing the right thing. Rest assured, your reward will be great in heaven!

    • Yes–satan certainly attacks with purpose, doesn’t he? (No capital letter for the evil one.) Thank you for your encouragement!

    • Thanks, Bonnie. Your generous words would make any writer sigh with satisfaction that God would allow them to be a voice. May God be praised indeed.

  2. Making changes in life are rarely simple and aren’t always pretty. I honor you and Doug for the commitments that you continue to live by. I have a Christian brother in Tijuana that I have done some business with and know quite well how capricious Mexican border ‘taxes’ are. (What was NAFTA for???). Giving to Caesar what is ‘Caesar’s’ can be an infuriating dilemma for any business person. I certainly don’t have the answers, but it appears you do. All the best and welcome home. I hope we get a chance to meet up soon.

    • Thank you, Dana. Good to know there are others who understand what’s going on down here. I have a feeling NAFTA stands for 5 words that don’t really mean what we thought they did. Ha ha. Yes–we’d love to see you and Diane soon!

  3. I have to agree whole heartedly with what Stacey said: “When God asks us to walk away its always because he has something better.” This is our experience, too. Even though circumstances were different, obedience is so important in our relationship with him. And this decision to keep your integrity was also one of obedience to what God has asked of you as a follower of Jesus. You guys are walking into a season that will be better than the last…can you even imagine that?! Love you friend, hope to see you stateside soon!

    • Thanks for your encouragement, amiga. Yep–you’re right. That’s exactly what we’re teaching our boys, too: God blesses obedience. Now about seeing you soon….

  4. I understand, completly! We have lived in Venezuela and in Kazakhstan where bribes were a way of life. (We weren’t there for anything as noble as mission work). In Kazakhstan I, , more than once, sat in the car praying, while my husband stood on the side walk explaining to the police that they could arrest him if they wanted but he wasn’t paying a BRIBE! (Thank God they never did arrest him! He had done nothing wrong!)

    • Oh, wow. Thanks for sharing, Glenna. Scary stuff. My husband has had a couple run-ins like that and he always asks them to take him to the police station to pay instead of paying what they ask on the side of the road. They never seem to want to go to the trouble. 🙂

  5. Thanks Carrie, I totally appreciate this post and your last one on gossip. I have struggled with being on the receiving end of gossip for quite some time. My husband used to say, “all you have is your reputation.” But that Just isn’t true, to be correct, all we have is our integrity. Everyone else holds our reputation. And unfortunately, people think gossip isn’t so bad… but it sure can have incredibly difficult consequences on the victims. Just like little lies, gossip has a destructive side that many times is subtle for the perpetrator but is still damaging their soul as well as the one being talked about.

    And being a person of integrity can be mighty hard. Doing the right thing can be painful for a season, but a soul salve long term. You never have to look back and regret or pay the ongoing price of covering up/justifying/or telling more lies! A clean conscience is an easy friend to live with!

    Bravo for doing the hard thing, and congrats on our writings and awards!

    • You’re welcome, Dawn, but thank YOU! Your words are full of wisdom and I appreciate you taking the time to share. You’re right about painful seasons but long-term soul salves. Whew. Rough but so worth it. Thanks for your kindness and encouragement!

  6. Carrie, this is such a fantastic post. I love your transparency. My husband was in the mortgage biz for 27 years. We made the same type of choices. We watched others make millions, literally, while we struggled. Dean knew exactly how to make lots and lots of money, but believed it was unethical, although easily justifiable. 5 years ago he walked away from the industry with no plan and only faith. He felt like it was eating away at him, he could not do it another day. It has been a wild ride. Such an excercise in faith and trust. My kids have watched the whole thing. I believe every single time God asks us to walk away it is always because he has something better. I am praying for you & your family. I am excited to see what is next for you my friend. Grace and peace ❤

    • Thank you, Stacey. I appreciate your words and applaud Dean for his choices. What my parents did spoke much louder than what they said, so I’m hoping this will be a good life lesson for our kids too. Thanks for your encouragement, and for praying for us. I’m excited to see what’s next too!

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