When the server becomes the served

Last Sunday, our worship at The First Mennonite Church included a sending blessing for a young woman going abroad with a service program of our larger Mennonite church.

Sometimes the one who sets out to serve others become the recipient of someone else’s service.

In the early 1970s, I went to Zaire, Africa (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) with the Teachers Abroad Program of Mennonite Central Committee.  My assignment was to teach school in a remote bush village.  I wanted to serve others in a developing country.

Once during the Christmas holidays, the server became the served.

Two students invited me to walk with them across the forest to their village, a distance of about 30 miles.  Our overnight stop along the way, they said, would be at the home of the pastor of a small church deep in the Zairean bush.

For the trek I had purchased a pair of locally-made shoes.  Though  inexpensive, that purchase turned out to be costly.  About two hours into the walk, the shoes began to pinch.  The deeper we went into the forest, the more my feet hurt.  And we had barely begun our trek.

At dusk, we reached the pastor’s small, mud-and-thatch house.  My blistered feet were screaming.

Though I was too proud to admit it, the pastor seemed to know I was in pain.  With few words, he brought me a chair and a basin of water for my feet.  He also soon produced a huge pot of steaming, sweet, milky tea.  I drank one cup of this delicious necter, then another, then another.  As the hot tea slowly coursed through my body, and the water soothed my blistered feet, my spirits lifted.  I felt revived.

That night, I was given the only bed in the house with sheets.  As we prepared to leave the next morning, my words of thanks to the pastor felt awkward and inadequate for his gracious, simple, life-giving hospitality–and for his service.

I’ve thought often of that pastor, whose name I have forgotten.  I still remember with gratitude his deed of service to the server.  Not only did he help me in my physical distress.  I also believe that through him I gained a glimpse of Jesus, who came as one who serves.

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