I became a civil engineer because my father was a civil engineer, and my favourite subject was chemistry — inorganic chemistry. Even among engineering branches, I would have preferred electrical engineering to civil engineering. And when I entered the profession — this was after my M.Tech from IIT Madras, I will come back to that in a moment because that’s part of my journey — but I want to tell you that I came to Christ in 1962. When most of you were not born and your parents were also probably not born. So I’m an ancient figure, but some people think I’m 90 years old. Not quite!
God created humans in order to work with Him for human flourishing.
I want to tell you that I’m a pre-Independence child, born four years before Independence. And so, as I grew up in a Christian home — nominal Christian home, my mother came to know the Lord first, then my sisters, then myself, and then my father. But I came to Christ as a college student. So my particular passion has been to engage students and then professionals. I was quite upset in being a civil engineer because I get irritated when Christian doctors would say Jesus is the Great Physician, Christian teachers would say He is the Master Teacher. And I was wondering what God and civil engineering have to do with each other till I started teaching myself some of the biblical languages, and I came across an interesting word. The writer talks about Abraham looking for a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God, and the Greek word for builder probably today would be architect, and maker is a civil engineer. In fact, the Greek word actually means public worker – PWD. Can you beat that? So when I came across that, I thought it is not too bad to be a civil engineer after all, so you can be a civil engineer in government.I am grateful to God for the good bosses I had, and now even for the bad bosses I had, because sometimes you learn more from bad bosses. - L.T. Jeyachandran Click To Tweet
I want to say two things about my undergraduate engineering. I finished my B.E. when I graduated in 1963, and I got a good rank — I was second in the university. Those days Madras University had only six colleges. Now Madras state has 600 colleges, but those were days when we were not so prosperous. I was taken by my father to the CSI Bishop, Bishop Samuel Subramanian, a very godly man. And I told him, as a newly born-again Christian, “Oh, it is not I, but the Lord.” You know what he said? That he said in ’63 — and I’m remembering it after 60 years — he said, “It is Lord and you.” That probably was a turning point in my life because God created humans in order to work with Him for human flourishing. The reason why I accepted Joshua’s invitation to be a part of Lead Talks was because this is all about human flourishing at different levels — as teachers, as architects, as those who work in NGOs, but even as builders. So I want to tell you how my faith affected my being a Christian. So what I have been learning since — which means I have not stopped learning — and then a word of conclusion. I want to tell you, in government, to be assured of a purpose in life is very difficult because it can be highly demotivating. I found that my government service experience was not always encouraging. But I am grateful to God for the good bosses I had, and now even for the bad bosses I had, because sometimes you learn more from bad bosses.
The first level of assurance of a purpose in God comes from your confidence that you are in the will of God. If you are in the will of God, that is your biggest assurance of your purpose.
It can be completely demotivating because there is no way in which you can see the end result as you are transferred from place to place, and it can be very destabilising. But sometimes I asked for transfers. I must tell you this, that when I was in Delhi, a Superintending Engineer, nobody wanted to go to the Northeast. In the Northeast at that time, our organisation had only one post in Shillong. We were looking after all the seven states, and I’ve been to Chandel a couple of times. We have a satellite station which I built in Chandel, which is bordering Myanmar. You can get a Tamil newspaper in Chandel, only thing it will come two days later, but that’s an interesting place. But I want to tell you that in working for the government, one of the things I discovered is that you have to contribute your little bit in order to achieve something which will be completed beyond your lifetime. Now that is not a very high level of motivation. So ultimately, I had to determine my purpose, first of all, between Christian work and marketplace work. That was my first struggle. I joined my first posting in Bombay as an Assistant Executive Engineer on the 4th of June 1965, and I was desperate to get into a seminary. Union Biblical Seminary, now in Pune, was, those days, in Yavatmal in Maharashtra, and in 1967, I missed the deadline for the last date of application by just a few days, and I was heartbroken because I thought God would not want me to be a Civil Engineer. But God had other plans, and I worked there for 28 years. What I want to share with you is what I have learned from those 28 years.
I had four role models from the Old Testament: Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah. Because these three men and one woman came to positions of authority in non-Jewish Empires.
The first level of assurance of a purpose in God comes from your confidence that you are in the will of God. If you are in the will of God, that is your biggest assurance of your purpose. Otherwise, from within work itself, you may not get enough motivation. But one of the things I discovered is that relating to people, because I am now part of a WhatsApp group of all my ex-colleagues, and from what some of them now write to me about what happened maybe 40 years ago is so encouraging, because they are able to get something which I did with reference to them in terms of their work, in terms of their family, in terms of their encouragement, and that has been a great motivating factor, but from within work itself, I found it very difficult. Except that there were some projects, for example, nobody wanted to go to Shillong, and therefore I offered myself to go to Shillong as a Superintending Engineer, looking after all the seven states. And we went to Guwahati by train, and when we were going up the hill to Shillong, I bought the latest edition of India Today. India Today those days was a fortnightly, and on the cover page, there was a picture of a milestone in Assam in Duliajan near the oil factory — ‘Indian Dogs, Get Out of Assam’. Our daughter was born in 1980; she was eight, and she read it and said, “Why are we here?” Then I don’t think I answered her satisfactorily, but I believe God took me there for a very important purpose, to expose me to a whole different group of people, and particularly those who are so different from each other that, till the recent flurry of activities in the Northeast, that region was totally neglected. One of the reasons why our Army did so badly in 1962 against China was there was no infrastructure. Now you have four bridges across the Brahmaputra, we have three railway bridges, that is something amazing, but I thought let me go and do something, and we did some very good work.You have to invest your excellence to maintain your integrity, invest your competence to maintain your integrity.- L.T Jeyachandran Click To Tweet
Those days there was no direct dialling between the states and Delhi, and I remember the buildings we designed were cheap buildings, in fact, they were not fireproof, but I got it approved by the Post and Telegraphs Board in Delhi. I said, even if it gets destroyed, I can construct it in no time, no point wasting too much money in putting up a permanent building, and now Northeast is connected with the rest of the country, now it is so good, and I keep going to Northeast because it’s a very beautiful part of the country. In fact, my colleague Mr. Santosh Kumar Agarwal once spoke to me from Delhi. I was in Shillong; he said, “Are you happy, LT?” I said, “I’m very happy.” He said, “How can anyone be happy in Shillong?” I said, “Because it is farthest from Delhi and nearest to God.” 2,000 kilometres from Delhi and 2,000 metres above sea level is a good place to be happy, and so that is how I was, and it was from there that we moved to Calcutta. I felt that my main understanding of how God moved me was because I didn’t ask for a transfer to Calcutta, but it was very convenient for our children to continue the same system of education — ICSE from Shillong to Calcutta. In Calcutta, I came across friends like Binu and others, but I want to tell you that after six years as Superintending Engineer, I was to be promoted as Chief Engineer, and normally no central government officer stays in a place for so long, but at that time our Minister was Rajesh Pilot, father of Sachin Pilot from Rajasthan. He wrote on the file, “There is nobody who can manage unions of Calcutta better than LT, so let him continue as Chief Engineer.” So, I stayed on for two more years in Calcutta, and my poor Bengali colleague was sent to Madras. He was waiting for my voluntary retirement to come back to Calcutta. So, that is a part of my story.
I do not sympathise with Christians who say, “Because I’m a Christian, I was transferred to a useless job.” I immediately ask that person, “Are you good at your work?” Because I think that combination is so badly needed.
I’m using the word competence instead of the word excellence. I had four role models from the Old Testament: Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah. Because these three men and one woman came to positions of authority in non-Jewish Empires. What I discovered was you have to invest your excellence to maintain your integrity, invest your competence to maintain your integrity. In Daniel chapter 6 verse 4, it says, “Daniel was neither corrupt nor negligent”. Yes, that’s Daniel 6:4. Neither corrupt nor negligent means he was honest and competent. I think that is what made him so much so that at certain points when my bosses asked me to do something wrong, I could tell them, “Sir, I can’t do that because it is wrong”, and they would not press me to do that because I was good at my work. So, that is why I came up with the slogan. It’s now become quite famous even in some other parts of the world: ‘Invest your competence to maintain your integrity’. I remember after taking voluntary retirement, we were in Singapore for some time, and I was in Melbourne, Australia, and I was speaking in a church. During the Q&A, I’m not sure what I spoke on, one young white Australian lady stood up and said, “I am working as an editor in the newspaper, one of the editorial staff, and I am being asked to do an article which approves of homosexual behavior. What do you think I should do?” I said, “I don’t think I am competent to answer your question, but I can ask you, are you good at your work as an editorial staff?” She said, “I am very good.” “Then I think you should tell your boss that if you push me to do something which I don’t approve of, then I would leave your paper and join another paper.” So, invest your competence to maintain your integrity. Somehow, during my younger days when I grew up in Tamil Nadu, for example, all that we were taught about Christian behaviour was to keep our hands clean. You don’t take bribes. We were never taught about excellence or competence in our work. But as I look at the Bible, as I look at some of these characters, I believe they combine the two. So, your investment is actually in your place of work. You invest your competence to maintain your integrity. That’s why I do not sympathise with Christians who say, “Because I’m a Christian, I was transferred to a useless job.” I immediately ask that person, “Are you good at your work?” Because I think that combination is so badly needed.My passion for many years has been that the people in whom I have invested should be greater than I am. That is probably the greatest reward for us for having spent this life in the present creation. L.T. Jeyachandran Click To Tweet
But I want to tell you that creativity comes out of thinking outside the box. In more recent times, I have been impressed with the fact that our Christian theology begins with Genesis 3, the fall, and ends with the Lake of Fire in Revelation 20, which means we have left out the first two and the last two chapters of the Bible. Once you leave out these four chapters, your understanding of the Christian faith is disconnected from reality. That is why we think of salvation as something (like) escaping from this created world, which is a good world created by God. I am nowadays part of what is called the Theology of Work Project. To become a role model, Paul could say, “Be followers of me, even as I follow Christ.” Paul doesn’t say, “Don’t look at me, look at Christ,” and then transmit what you have learned. Paul said that many years ago. Paul, in two places in 1 Corinthians, says, “What I have received from the Lord, I am also passing down to you.” That means he never kept something as a kind of trade secret. He always shared what he had received from God. But to me, the greatest is John 14:12, where Jesus says, “That he who believes in Me, greater works than these shall he do.” My passion for many years has been that the people in whom I have invested should be greater than I am. That is probably the greatest reward for us for having spent this life in the present creation.