“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” -John 13: 14-17
One morning during our recent medical mission in Peru, I was inspired to meditate on this scripture passage where Jesus’ act of washing of feet is an example of and a call to humble service.
When meditating on this passage, I see Christ washing the feet of his disciples with love, care, and regard for the dignity of the person. It is with this same attitude that I desire to serve those whom God places in my path.
Also feeling the call to serve were the 20 students from Benedictine College and medical professionals from the States who made it possible for us to give medical attention to hundreds of people from seven different towns during the first week of March.
The evening our crew arrived, we emptied a dozen suitcases full of medical supplies and medications, and organized them in preparation for the week. The exhausted travelers hit the bunks for a night of sleep before the full day’s work that awaited us.
The days of the medical mission were long. The weather was 90 degrees and humid with no convenience of A/C. Each day we served at least 150 people, listening to their ailments, translating those into English for the doctors and nurses, translating questions and answers back and forth, giving wellness recommendations and a prescription, leading them to the prayer station and pharmacy, then calling the next person into the room.
The first day I was feverishly looking up words in my Spanish dictionary app. My previous Spanish experience hadn’t provided me with all the vocabulary I needed for this experience. But by day three I had a new confidence in my medical vocabulary and could focus on the person in front of me with greater ease.
Some ailments were easy to diagnose and heal. People were grateful for our attention and ability to help them receive care that they otherwise couldn’t afford. We were able to treat infections and parasites, give vitamins to children, care for wounds, and impart advice to help conditions improve. These are the cases that make us grateful to be doing what we’re doing.
Other situations were more difficult. On the third day we had a clinic in our own town of Pucacaca. One lady came in with her elderly cousin, an 88-year-old frail woman who struggled to walk. The sweet elderly woman must have had her hair colored for the occasion, as she still had the remnants of dye on the skin around her hairline. She had a pleasant demeanor and may have been blissfully unaware of what was going on around her.
The younger woman, who was the caregiver of the older one, was concerned about her cousin’s swollen feet. The swelling had begun within the past couple of weeks. Dr. Chris listened to the patient’s heart, took off his stethoscope, and said to me in English, “Her heart is failing.” There was nothing more we could do for her, and the doctor recommended that I talk to the cousin about having the priest visit to give her the Last Rites.
I took the younger woman aside and explained to her that her cousin was dying. I sought to comfort her with words about the long and full life she had lived. It was difficult news for her to accept. I wouldn’t have been sure that she recognized the gravity of the situation had she not proceeded to talk about getting in contact with her cousin’s daughter in the capital city of Lima. She once again asked if there was anything we could do, and I had to answer again that we could not.
It is heartbreaking to have to deliver this type of news. My mom is a hospice nurse and deals with the reality of death on a daily basis, but this is not something I’d ever had to do before. I pray that I was able to do it with enough love and tact to have been a comfort to these women.
We prayed over the dying woman before sending the two cousins home. I continued to think about that encounter as the day went on. We were able to help many people heal, but we were also sent to help some people prepare for a different kind of healing—that which can only be attained by passing from death into eternal life.
Throughout the week I was blessed by the service of all those whom the Lord brought to Peru for this trip. Some used their medical expertise to diagnose and heal, others translated from one language to another, some welcomed the people arriving and tirelessly played with the kids, others offered prayers for each family and individual before they left the clinic. Even in the midst of exhaustion, there was so much joy.
On the last day of the trip everyone is asked to pray about and then share what we are taking with us from the week. For me, being part of this trip has augmented my desire to pour myself out in service among the people of Peru, to wash the feet of those to whom I have been called to minister. I am taking with me a new zeal as I dive into the Lord’s work here.
After a week of intense service to those most in need, I am back home with my little community serving on a smaller scale. But this service is no less important. In fact, I know that my willingness to wash the feet of those closest to me is absolutely necessary if I want my service to those on the outside to bear any fruit, for charity begins at home.
Let us reflect on how we are living Christ’s example and call to imitate Him in washing the feet of others, beginning with those in our own families and extending to others whom God as placed in our path. In whatever vocation we find ourselves, we are called to love generously. Even when it hurts. Even when it doesn’t quite look like what we expected. For He says to us, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
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