As a writer, there are few experiences in life that leave me at a true loss for words. But that is the place I have found myself in since a day last December when an encounter with a beautiful Ethiopian girl touched my heart.
We were in Ethiopia to pick up our kids, but arrived a week early so that we could spend some time seeing the ministry of Hope for the Hopeless which was founded by an Ethiopian pastor in Phoenix.
Our first encounter was at their Drop In Center in the heart of Addis Ababa. Their staff rescues kids off the streets and brings them in, feeds and cares for them and then tries to either reunite them with their family, find foster homes for them or, as room allows, place them in their boys and girls home.
That first day as we entered the gates of their little compound our van was surrounded by about 14 kids, most of them were boys. We got lots of hugs and handshakes and smiles. Later as we sat in the director’s office he began to tell us the stories of some of the kids. He told us about Mary. She was found on the streets, having been beaten and raped by 4 boys. She hovered near death for several days before being healed and brought into Hope’s place. Fekadu cried as he told us about how Jesus changed her life.
An hour later we stood once again in the courtyard and listened as the children gathered and sang us a song. Though we could not understand the words, we could sense the pure joy in their hearts and knew they were speaking of our Jesus. Tears streamed down my face and I could not take my eyes off of Mary, her face lifted to the heavens, eyes closed, singing to her Savior with a beautiful smile on her face.
Two days later we found ourselves at the Drop In Center again. We did not plan to stay long – we were just picking up Fekadu before traveling to one of their other sites. I had brought with me a pair of black boots that one of the other adoptive moms at the guesthouse had given me. She was leaving that afternoon and as she was packing she decided that those shoes could be put to much better use by one of Hope’s kids.
Mary was the only child there that afternoon. The others were in school. (They have had trouble finding Mary’s school records and so she hadn’t been able to start school yet.)
I handed Fekadu the black ankle boots and told him I wasn’t sure who they would fit, maybe one of the older girls. I’ll never forget the look on Mary’s face as she rushed over to Fekadu and put out her hands. He laughed and told her she could try them on. As she zipped up the boots she had the biggest smile on her face and she was literally bursting with excitement. Done putting them on, she began to bounce up and down and spin around like a girl who had just put on a beautiful ball gown. It was obvious to us that the boots were a little too big for her, but she didn’t care.
Then she saw my shoes and rushed over to me, for I was wearing very similar black ankle boots. She stood next to me, her foot pressed up against mine and smiled at me. She pointed to her shoes, then pointed to mine and smiled from ear to ear.
I was half watching her and half talking to Fekadu as she found a small rag or piece of paper and got it wet underneath the water spigot. Then she kneeled in front of me and began to clean the dust of Addis off of my boots.
A million emotions swirled over me. I was taken aback at first. Part of me wanted to bend down and make her stop. It was unsettling to have this beautiful girl, who had been through so much in her short life, washing MY shoes. After all, WE were the ones who had come to Ethiopia to serve these kids, to love them, to help them see how much they were loved by Jesus.
But in one moment our trip became not about what I could do for these “needy” kids but what those beautiful, hope-filled kids could teach me about gratitude, contentment and a true servants heart. For this girl, who had nothing, gave everything she had out of a heart of love and joy.
I knew that to try and stop her would seem ungrateful, and so I let sweet Mary continue to wash my boots, tears streaming down my face the entire time. We left a few moments later, my heart forever touched by a simple act of a beautiful orphan named Mary.
(I am not the only one that has been forever changed by meeting Mary. Read about Tom Davis’ encounter and learn more about Mary’s story.)
John 13: 8-17
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”