Eastern Rwanda bakes in unrelenting sunshine sprouting red dust that seeps into ears, hands, hair, and most profoundly feet. Dirt roads meander together among banana tree plantations and even a quick 5-minute jaunt to fill your jerry can of water will bring you to face the impermeable red dust. Once, I found myself on the Tanzanian border carrying a yellow basin of water on my head. Neighbors pointed and laughed – the umuzungu had stooped to a chore relegated typically for villagers.
We’re the same, I was determined to prove, and so I trudged on up the hill.
Upon return to a friends’ home, I set the water down, breathed heavily, and sat on a broken tree stump to rest. Glancing at the rural mountains ahead of me, I hardly noticed little Donatha bringing over a blue basin of clean water to my feet. I smiled, acknowledging that yes, my feet were filthy and in need of cleansing.
Divine came alongside with a royal blue bar of soap. I reached for it, assuming I’d clean my own feet, but she refused and pulled back.
“Divine!” I protested.
She shook her head as she started making suds below with her hands in the water.
“I will wash your feet.”
I think I rolled my eyes and demonstrated that look of sassy-ness that I give when I’m feeling stubborn. She lifted my foot and I was ashamed. Chipped nail polish, mud, and cracks of dryness abounded. She would see it all.
She started scrubbing and singing a hymn from church. In a matter of minutes, I felt my heart soften.
She was not doing this because she thought I was incapable. She was not doing this from a place of subservience. She was doing this because she was my friend. Love initiated this action – nothing else.
Exposed and humbled, I drifted back to how Jesus cleansed the feet of his disciples and how after he, as our Lord and Teacher, commands us to do this for our brothers and sisters. Not from a place of being the master, but instead service to the master.
In this spirit of humility and honesty, we cleanse each other because each of us needs it to. That’s a little something called discipleship.
Perhaps this is a sliver of what real community looks like.
I recalled this memory as I found myself crunching through 3-feet deep snow deep in the mountains this weekend. I was alone, it was silent, and I could actually think. I had successfully escaped the hum-drum of noise and I tried remembering the last time I had felt that way. Outside of weekend mountain trips, it really hasn’t been like that since lugging water up that mountain, in the rural of rural villages, when even the goats are few and far between. For the first time in weeks in these cold winter mountains, my mind was mostly free from the clutter of the day-to-day obligations, responsibilities, joys, fears, and questions.
I was alone, but not really.
Community still exists between the trees and between the silences because we aren’t ever alone.
Whether it involves the washing of your feet – literally – or cleansing your mind to be free of the chains we bind ourselves to – take it. Both are learning opportunities in how to embrace the process of acceptance, and let’s be real, we could all use a little of that.