Unceremonial Hand Washing: A Ugandan Moment

There are some experiences in life that bring tangible understanding to lofty ideas. I had plenty of those experiences in Uganda. On experience in particular taught me something about humility.

This is Charles -

Charles is connected to the missionary team through one of the churches they have established in Uganda. The missionary team uses Charles as a professional painter for various projects they may be connected with.

Charles was raised in typical Ugandan poverty. He is now married with 3 children of his own, including a set of twins. He is in his early-twenties and the eldest of 3 sons (that I know of from our conversations), and his parents are dead. He and his wife now are raising his younger brothers along with their own children. And regardless of their financial limitations, this is not at all a burden to them. Charles seems to consider it a privilege. It was my experience that Charles has a pervasively generous spirit, gracious, kind, and humble. His faith is unencumbered by the complications of worry or overly ambitious personal aspiration.

Well, I'm getting too philosophical too soon. I haven't even begun the story that I want to share.

On our days of working around the missionary compound. I was on the painting team. This put me in close contact with Charles. And I had the privilege of working closely with him. His english is fairly weak. But we managed to do more than communicate. We were able to connect. And we were able to build one another up in faith toward the fullness of Christ. I know that sounds just like a preacher talking. But I really felt the dynamic of our exchange was fundamentally spiritual and a direct expression of Ephesians 5.

Well after a full day of painting with oil based paint (and of adapting to a very different approach to applying paint than I am used to - which did not seem at all wise to me) it was time to clean up. I began to work at cleaning up my tools. Charles tried to stop me. I persisted and then began to clean up trash and other items. Charles again began to resist my assistance and I eventually realized that he was trying to communicate to me that he wanted things done a certain way and that I was not understanding how he wanted those things done. I acquiesced and went in to clean myself up.

I washed my hands and resigned myself to the idea that I would just have to wait for the oil-based paint on my skin to just be sloughed off in a week or so. I wasn't bothered by that at all. I was just so glad to have had a great day of work. I went inside to change my clothes for dinner, putting my shower on hold since there was not going to be time. When I came out of my room, Charles - still in his blue coveralls, was looking for me. He grabbed my wrists and guided me outside.

Everything was put away except for a can of diesel and a rag. Charles, still gripping my wrist squatted to the ground and pulled me along with him. He picked up the rag, wet it with diesel and began to silently clean the oil-based paint from by hands and fore arms. Slowly, caringly, generously, he found each splotch and scrubbed them away.

My initial instinct was to resist. My personal space was being invaded. My sensitivity to having another man hold onto my hand as he washed me up was raging. But I knew that to resist his offer of service would be a rejection and I adopted a receptive attitude. And I realized how humble he was to serve me this way. And I realized how proud I was. I realized it because although I was surrounded by only Ugandans and missionaries, I was practically embarrassed by my situation. Eventually I got that emotion under control and I could just appreciate Charles' gift of service.

I have been in foot-washing services on multiple occasions in my life. I have had my feet washed and I have washed feet all in the name of practicing humility and faith. Each of those experiences was challenging and moving. Each was led by God's Spirit and significant to my spiritual growth. But none was so significant as my hand-washing experience with Charles. It was not a planned event. It was a generous offer of service in a real life circumstance and God altered me much more significantly than my previous experiences.

Thank you Charles. While you washed away visible marks on my hands and arms, you imprinted indelible marks on my soul.


Debra D. August 8, 2009 at 8:15 PM  

Thank you Bruce for bringing this moment back to my memory and for bringing Charles back to my memory!! He is truly one of my fondest memories of Uganda!!
God bless him and his family!!

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