I wrote this essay in December 2009 after I returned from a week of service at an all-boys’ orphanage in the Dominican Republic. My daughter and I are heading back to this same orphanage for Christmas 2010.
“We’re going to have a spa for the boys!” an exuberant program director announced.
What does that mean, exactly? Spa – as in manis and pedis? Seriously? You want us to wash their feet? With our hands? Have you seen their feet?
Christmas Eve 2009 was going to be as special for these boys as the impressive Orphanage Outreach team could make it. With a group of dedicated, albeit skeptical, volunteers – anything was possible. Okay. I admit. I was probably the only skeptic in the group. Everyone else seemed really jazzed about the idea of washing and manicuring the feet and hands of 24 orphaned boys in the middle of nowhere, Jaibon, Dominican Republic.
Setup was relatively smooth – rows of white plastic lawn chairs facing each other with plastic trashcans full of soapy water between them, nail clippers and lotion at the ready. On the opposite side of the pavilion – chairs on either side of three tables lined up end to end, adorned with basins of soapy water, nail clippers and, you guessed it – lotion.
The concept: the boys would join us in the pavilion and be ushered to the beginning of either the foot station or the hand station. There were four washing stations per appendage – standing by. As soon as their respective feet and/or hands were washed, they would move down the line to a waiting – and highly trained – pedicurist or manicurist, who would trim their nails. After the nails were cleaned and trimmed, the lotioners were geared up – bring on the feet and hands. Naturally, each boy would have both his feet and his hands done before moving to the waiting area, where back massages were being offered at no additional cost!
The question of the hour had to be answered: Where was I going to position myself for this spa experience? My choice. No pressure. No requirement. No expectation. Almost instinctively, I walked to the nearest chair with a trashcan of soapy water waiting for some dirty feet. Clean toothbrush (aka: toe brush) in hand, I contemplated my impulsive decision.
It only took the first little boy sitting across from me to get my answer – there was nothing impulsive in my decision at all, but rather inspiration. The moment I placed my hands in the water and touched the bottoms of his feet, my heart filled with such a rush of emotion I knew I would either laugh or cry. Laughter expressed itself freely then, but now – only tears.
Here I was – touching a child – someone else’s child, but mine in that moment. A child abandoned – not touched by his own mother, but so desperately in need of the love only touch can communicate.
A bit of dirt, some soapy water, but a mother’s heart, and I remembered: “Whosoever shall humble himself like one of these children, and receiveth me, ye shall receive in my name. And whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me only, but him that sent me, even the Father” (Mark 9:37).
After a particularly poignant experience in which Jesus washed the feet of his apostles, he taught, “If I then, your Lord Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him” (John 13:14-16).
Next? I have an available seat across from me.