I washed the feet of a former child soldier today. They were scarred and scraped and dirty and beautiful. In every way. Beautiful because of the story they told. Not a story of hopelessness. Not a story of pity. They told the story of strength. They told the story of newness…
“What is your name?”
His feet were the worst I had seen. If they could tell his story…
“Paul. My name is Paul.” A huge smile covered his face when he brightened up – and a look of solemn intimidation when he didn’t.
When we wash the feet of the children, I always try to look into their eyes to ask them their names. They are more than just feet and faces. They are spirits and eyes and hearts and souls. They are children.
But they are not…. Children.
“Many of the child soldiers have never known how to be a child because they were taught to be an animal. I try to teach them how to play. They need to know how to play….” Helge said. Helge is one of the directors of the Dina Foundation who supports the care of thousands of war-affected children in Congo.
One of the boys said to him:
“You treat me like I am a child. I am not a child. I have cut off the head of a man. I have held his heart in my hands. I am not a child.’
But they are… Children.
Jennifer Allen, Adria Haley, and I implemented the workshop program with the boys at Bethsaida Center a few days ago. It was by far the most difficult workshop I have done. Translation was difficult, and transference was even harder. At times it felt as if they understood the message I was trying to give them. At other times, it felt like I was hitting my head against a wall. A volcanic wall to be exact.
….Paul. Of course your name is Paul. I smiled with him. Washing his feet. They were the largest of the 32 boys’ feet we had washed. They were the largest and they were, by far, the most scarred.
Before church we met with them and asked them what they remembered from our time with them. Thinking we would get blank looks. Thinking they got little. Thinking the older boys who seemed the most distant certainly would not answer, but they raised hand after hand. Well, actually, it was Paul who was eager to answer all of the questions. Eager. So Eager.
“God will not leave us.”
“The boy who was blind…..” (which is a story I tell them).
I went on to remind them that even though God may seem very far away during our suffering – it is actually then that he is the closest.
I told them that today was a day of renewal. Of washing away the old and allowing God to bring them newness from their pain. Adria read the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet. Jen prayed for them. And one by one we washed their feet. As I dried their feet, I prayed a prayer for each of them.
Then came Paul. Drying his feet, I knew that if his scars could tell stories or give me a vision of the past, I would be have to close my eyes. Yet his smile was eager.
“My name is Paul”
Of course it is……. A man whose past was persecuting others – but whose present became a testimony of God turning Evil into Good.
“You will be a great leader for your people. You are a great man of God and He will use you in great ways. Do you know that?”
I looked deeply into his eyes because I wanted him to know that. To KNOW that!
“Yes,” he said.
I said a prayer, and he was off with his new shoes. Smiling.
From this trip, my heart has been seared. Scarred, really. But I welcome them. I welcome every scar. From them I will be a voice for these wounded hearts – as will Jen, Adria, Britt, Jake, and Amanda. We have all been changed.
“Out of suffering has emerged the strongest of souls. Our Scars are a pathway to Peace…..”