Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Washing and Polishing

Recently my team spent the day at one of Victory Outreach's branch churches, VOC North. We will be spending one day a week in that community attempting to build relationships with the people there, to introduce them to Jesus, and to meet some of their physical and emotional needs. We spent the morning doing door-to-door ministry. In America, door-to-door ministry has a very negative connotation, but in Africa it is not only extremely effective, it is also a lot of fun. You meet some pretty amazing people and you hear stories that would almost be impossible to imagine if it weren't for the reality that lives behind the eyes of the person recounting their history to you.

One such story I heard on our first visit to the area was told to me by a young woman, 20 years old, named Judice. She was never able to finish the Ugandan equivalent to high school because her father was killed by the LRA rebels. Her family was living in an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp in 2004. They lived in the camp for 3-4 years, and if you know anything about the conditions in an IDP camp, you know how difficult that must have been for her family constantly depending on the generosity of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), often not having enough food to eat even one meal everyday, living in extremely close quarters, constant outbreaks of disease and sickness due to unsanitary living conditions, etc. And to compound the horrible conditions of the camp, there was a constant fear that if you left the impossible situation of surving in the IDP camp, you risked an even more unimaginable fate at the hands of the LRA rebels. The reality of this fear was felt by Judice's family one day in 2004 when her father left the camp to gather food from their family home. He was captured and killed by the rebels along with three of their neighbors in such a gruesome way, I won't mention it here. I really felt a connection with Judice. She is a catholic woman who prays at the Cathedral here in Lira, and I'm hoping to continue getting to know her better.

I didn't originally intend for this post  to be about such a difficult topic, in fact, I wanted this to be an uplifting post drawn from the amazing afternoon I spent at VOC North. I'll get to that now, but I hope this gives you a feel for the way my days are spent here in Uganda. I meet many people and hear many stories like Judice's on a regular basis. I met and prayed with her in the morning, went to other homes, had lunch, and then experienced a wonderful afternoon with some amazing women. Everyday here is so full, it's hard for me to believe it all fits into one day. It is only by the grace of God that my team stays sane!

This all occured last Thursday on the day that just happened to be a national holiday. It was Women's Day in the country of Uganda. It is a day to honor women and celebrate their rights. Women's rights are much newer here than they are in America, and in my opinion, they are still struggling for many of the basic freedoms that American women take for granted. But on this day, our team leader, Brittany, (who loves polishing nails) decided that offering to wash women's feet and polishing their toenails would be her ministry of choice to show the women, many of them widows, that someone out there cared for them. Mary and I decided to join her in the afternoon.

Before we knew it, many women had shown up to have their toenails polished. Let me put this into some perspective for you. We were sitting on the dirt floor on a ripped plastic tarp in the middle of a mud-brick and cement building covered by a tin roof with square holes in the walls for windows and air circulation (remember, no a/c). We were surrounded by women and children who speak a language we don't speak, many of the women were widows, all of them were impoverished and had likely never experienced a kindness of the level we were about to provide them with. Many of the women, in fact, were amazed when we told them that we were going to wash their feet. African feet. Feet that have rarely seen so much as a flip-flop made from re-used rubber from tires. Feet that, barefoot, had walked more miles and ran from more horrors than I could ever dream of. Some of the women had had their nails polished before but none of them had ever had someone else wash their feet and massage them with lotion - add to that the fact that all of this was being done by mzungus. We're close to royalty around here, and the norm when a mzungu visits is to offer them the last of your food and the only chair you own because they being foreign and white deserve the chair while you sit on the floor. (Happens all the time...) Needless to say, this was one of my favorite ministries we've done! Happy Women's Day!

All of this got me to thinking about what it means to put someone else above you. To truly serve like Jesus served (remember He washed a few feet in His days on earth, too...John 13:5-20) Jesus washes us clean from our sins and then takes time through our relationship with Him to polish us to look more like Him. He says in John 13:15-16 "for I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him." Jesus is constantly polishing me and my team in our time here in Uganda. I just pray that you  take the time to examine the ways in your own life that you could allow him to polish you as well. Consider for a moment that may mean you will wash a few feet.

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