Don’t Sign Away Your Life

library-la-trobe-study-students-159775Indentured servitude was a system in the early 1800s where people would sign a contract to work free for a certain number of years in exchange for something, historically transportation to America or some other great dream held out as the powerful incentive. Once people were “employed” it would be almost impossible to work off the debt and become free. People would basically sign away their lives and become voluntary slaves for an extended period of time. As ridiculous as this sounds today, the exact same thing is happening to people all around us. You, or someone you know, might be in this exact situation and not even realize it yet.

Currently, a considerable portion of young adults in America are willingly placing themselves into a form of indentured servitude. They see a goal and believe the only way they can attain this goal is to sign away large chunks of their future in the hopes that it will be worth it. Student loans are today’s version of indentured servitude. The cost of a degree is quickly tipping to the point where it is almost impossible to justify the debt load required.

Recently, I took part in a round table discussion on missions at a large California Christian university. Many of the standard questions came up, but one student asked a question that shut down the discussion. There was no great answer to his question, just a dark gloom in the room as if someone shared that they had stage four cancer. “I feel called, and want to be in the missions field, but how do I do that with huge student loan debt?”

Think this question through; this young man is attending a major Christian university to learn ministry, and how to be an effective missionary.  When he graduates he will be so far in debt that he will be unlikely to use his degree for decades, he might never make it to the missions field because of the debt. He unintentionally entered into indentured servitude. His life is no longer his own. He has become an indentured servant to his student debt load.

The young man discussed above is not unusual; he is the norm. Over the last few years, I’ve seen many passionate people who feel called to missions “put it off” until their student loans are paid down. Much of the time, by the time they’re debt free decades later, life has moved on and they never take that step. The other frustrating situation is people who can defer their loans and go into missions, only needing to return to the US for the sole purpose of paying off their loans. Either way, their loans dictate their futures; their lives are not their own.

If you’re in the position of having massive student debt hanging over you, it can be a weight that hangs over everything you do. I have no great answers for you, talk to someone brighter than me. (They’re not hard to find.)

If you are a young adult, and you don’t have any student debt yet, please continue reading. I want to share a little secret that your parents and others might not want you to know. You don’t have to go to college. (Parents, school counselors, and loan providers are now hyperventilating after reading that last sentence.)

The typical teen in the US will take the same boring yet dangerous path that all their friends are taking. Graduate from high-school, head to college, accumulate HUGE student debt studying something they’re not passionate about, get married too soon (to someone else with student debt), eventually buy a house, and spend the rest of their lives working to pay off loans. They will be indentured servants to a bank, for decades. Today, some retirees have yet to pay off their student loans. One of the few debts that can NOT be wiped clean through bankruptcy is a student loan. Modern-day indentured servitude does exist. It might be time to look at a new model.

“But, but, but, I HAVE to go to college.” If you’re going to medical school, law school, or studying something that needs very specific training, yes, you have to go to college. If you feel called into missions, or have passions in other areas, you might have other options. There might be options that don’t lead you down the path of enormous student loan debt. Trade schools, apprenticeship programs, short-term mission organizations, etc. are all good options.

A gap year after high-school, when used wisely, can be an outstanding chance to explore your passions and learn more about the world than you will in four years locked on a campus somewhere. Go volunteer with an organization in Ghana serving aids orphans, drive a bus for an orphanage in Mexico, answer the phone for a free clinic in some inner-city area in the US. Take some time to explore the world and find your passions.

If, after a year or so, you still feel you HAVE to go to college, please do it with great care to avoid as much debt as possible.

You can accumulate huge student debt, or you can accumulate experiences, stories, and the joy of touching other’s lives. What you decide to accumulate when you’re young will be with you for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.

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