A newborn baby cannot understand the words ‘I love you’, but it can respond to acts of care and love. Consider some of the ways we care for a baby. What does this show us about the ways we might care for ourselves and others?
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Washing feet was a common and necessary act of hospitality in a hot and dusty environment, and would normally be done by a servant.
There are paddy fields as far as the eye can see. We’re in the small village of Ma U Daw Kyusaung, about one hour’s drive from the town of Toungoo.
Volunteer health workers Naw Law La and Naw Bwe Hser are examining eight-year-old Joseph in his family’s traditional stilt-house. They saw Joseph three days’ previously but have made another visit because they were concerned about his chesty cough. Is it one of many cases of flu that came with the rains, or could it be pneumonia?
Naw Law La and Naw Bwe Hser are among 80 health volunteers who have been trained by the Diocese of Toungoo (supported by USPG) to take healthcare to rural villages. They both live locally, so they did not come far today, but other villages are a two-hour walk away.
The church provides the health workers with extensive training in basic skills – taking blood pressure, dressing wounds, immunisation, midwifery, the treatment of malaria, and so on. Where treatment cannot be given, a hospital referral is made.
But the volunteers offer something beyond medical treatment – they are showing the love of Christ. Naw Bwe Hser explains: ‘I think giving healthcare is one way of serving God. It is a part of mission. I think mission includes many things: preaching, teaching, healing and trying to grow the church.’
Joseph is lying on his woven bed-mat. His house is one of the smallest in the village, with just a single room. He is being watched by his grandmother when Naw Law La and Naw Bwe Hser examine him, his parents being at work. The health workers are pleased to find that Joseph’s cough has improved. They think he will make a quick recovery.
What is most striking about the health volunteers is the quality of care they offer. While they are happy to offer instruction, they greet people like friends, helping everyone regardless of faith or ethnicity.
The work of the volunteer health workers is in many ways sacrificial – they come from the same poor communities as those they serve. ‘We have so many challenges in our family life,’ says Naw Bwe Hser. ‘Our main challenge is not having enough money for our children’s education, for clothes and shelter. Even so, I am very happy living in this community. We are like a family.’
While loving service can involve ‘doing’, it is also relevant to look at the manner and attitude in which that service is offered.
Love cannot be forced. ‘Freely you have received; freely give’ (Matthew 10:8b, NIV).
Jesus our companion, you healed the sick,
And touched the untouchables
With the warmth of your welcoming love.
Open our eyes, and warm our hearts
That we may care for all who need you most.