In 2011, I spent six months living in northern Haiti, teaching English in a Christian university as well as in smaller schools in the area. I had been in the country for about two months when this story happened.
I was walking in downtown Limbé, a city of about 100,000 people in the Nord province, when a young man came up to me telling me that he wanted to speak English with me. I was running a little late and was honestly pretty tired of complete strangers coming up and acting like close friends. I immediately started thinking of ways to get out of this encounter, the easiest being just walking away.
Not easily put off, the man continued after me, smiling and chatting away. He was still following me when I stepped off the curb… and my foot disappeared into ankle-deep mud. Out of surprise, I fell forward with my other foot… only to have that one sink in right next to the first. I was stunned and immediately felt the helplessness of my situation. I was alone in a strange country, miles away from where I was living and covered in mud.
The man who had been pursuing me instantly reached out and grabbed my arm, preventing me from falling flat on my face. He indicated for me to follow him, and not having much choice, I did, leaving a trail of thick mud behind me. He led me into a courtyard, calling instructions that I couldn’t understand to his younger brother. I was again utterly aware of my vulnerability, but once again decided that I had no choice but to trust this man. He sat me down on some steps while he walked off a little ways with a bucket. He returned soon with it full of water and began tugging at my shoelaces. We got my shoes off together right about the time that his younger brother arrived with a brush.
The man began cleaning my shoes… and then washing my feet.
For the second time that afternoon, I was stunned. Not even ten minutes before I had been too busy to look this man in the eye, and now he was serving me in the same way that Jesus demonstrated “the full extent of his love” to his disciples (John 13:1, NIV). Out of embarrassment, I tried to wave the man off, but he insisted on finishing the job well. As we were leaving the courtyard, I tried to offer the man some compensation for his kindness. He laughed and told me not to worry about it.
“Besides,” he said, “if we had been in your country, I know that you would have done the same for me.”
If we had been in my country, would I have done the same? Would I have had the same compassion, care, and concern of this man to take care of a foreigner who had just been giving me the cold shoulder? Would I have opened my home to him and welcomed his presence? Would I have served him with humility, getting my floor, my hands, and my pride dirty in the process?
Chris Wilson is a recent graduate of Wheaton College and currently works for Wheaton’s Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program.
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