When Jo-Ann and I were forced out of Ethiopia 38 years ago, we did not leave behind properly trained church leaders – and that always grieved us. But here at the end of our career, the Lord has allowed us to return and pour our lives into the lives of 47 students, who will be the backbone of the Gurage Church in the future. Today we focus on producing leaders for the Church, giving assignments calculated to make them look deep within – it’s about loving the Lord with all our hearts, a clean conscience, putting the kingdom of God first, and living a life that will be an example to others.
An audible gasp
We brought along a towel, soap, a basin and some water to a recent chapel service. I then read John 13 about how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, and told the students I would like to wash their feet. A “holy hush” filled the hall.
The Gurage culture is an honour society. There are differences in verb tense when you speak to someone older or considered to be more important than you. When you enter a room, there is always a seat reserved for the eldest or most important. The younger always serve the older ones. Honour is highly scripted and well-defined.
So when the students were told that their teacher wanted to wash their feet, the whole class reacted with disbelief. I could not wash the feet of all 26, so I picked three representatives of the class. The first was our eldest student, a seasoned evangelist whose feet have taken the gospel hundreds of miles. As I washed, I told the class that they were beautiful feet, because they had already carried the gospel.
The second young man had tough and calloused feet, hardened with a lot of barefoot travel. He was considered the lowest in the class, known for barely passing tests and asking very elementary questions. Some of the pupils laugh at some of the things he says. I always take him seriously, believing that God will make him great.
When I called the third person, a single young woman, to come up and have her feet washed, students started to weep. When she started the course she had health problems. But these improved and she grew into a confident young woman. Nevertheless, her fellow students were shocked when she was chosen. In Gurage culture, no man would ever wash the foot of a woman – women wash men’s feet. When I shared that her feet too will carry the gospel, there was an audible gasp, and then the sound of weeping. We had hit a deep and sensitive cultural and spiritual nerve.
The class then spent time meditating on Jesus, and a pastor closed in prayer. He wept as he prayed, asking God to give the students humility in service, and thanking the Lord for his example.
We rejoice that even though only about one percent of all Gurages know Jesus at this time, there is potential for a great harvest in the future.