It’s the dry season (la saison sèche) across the Sahel, an area of West Africa that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean through the middle of the continent, just south of the great Sahara Desert. There hasn’t been rain here for months—and won’t be for many more. The streets are dry and dusty, plants have withered and turned brown (from lack of rain and because they are coated with dust), and the harmattan (a hot, dry wind) looms above and beside us, covering the entire area with a fine red dust.
We are in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, learning to speak French and about the West African culture and traditions. We’re also learning how people cope with la saison sèche. When we walk, we often see people using teakettles filled with water to wash their feet. It isn’t any wonder. Even the shortest walk these days dirties the feet. Closed shoes and socks help some, but getting the fine dust out of socks is a laundering nightmare. Most of us just continue to wear sandals.
After we returned from a short trip to the supermarket, I realized my feet were dark red and in need of cleaning. As I ran cool water over them, I was struck by how horrible they looked. The bottoms barely come clean even with a brush, my heels are cracked and ugly, and my toenails may never recover from this time in the dust. And then I remembered. I remembered that Jesus lived in a dry, dusty place. I remembered Bible stories about how people offered basins of water when someone visited. I remembered how Jesus knelt before his disciples and washed their feet. What an act of servitude. What an act of kindness. What an act of humility. What an act of love.
No one washes my feet here in Ouagadougou. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to touch them in the condition they are in now. But if they did, I’m certain that it would feel so good and that I would see it as an act of kindness and love. Jesus kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet is an act I now understand as one of sacrifice. Foot-washing in a ritual sense in our churches hasn’t been overwhelmingly received as a sacred act. But it is. It’s an act of servanthood, sacrifice and humility. Walking the streets of Ouagadougou in la saison sèche reminded me once more that Jesus, servant and savior, would wash even my dirty, dry, cracked, ugly feet. And I would let him.
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