A day or two into the experience, I realized I had almost overlooked the most fundamental role of all- that of an empathetic and active Christian. It's should be such an overarching and consuming part of any believer's life, but it's easy to be complacent in your faith when your surroundings never change. Upon entering a city where poverty runs so rampant it might as well exist in a third world country, I was at a complete loss of how to interact with it properly.
I've always heard the saying that goes something like "you can't understand a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes." In my opinion, understanding the situation of someone is essential before witnessing to them. I was anticipating having to wear the heels of the interns and journalists of the city, as well as the comfy walking shoes of the city residents; but had never considered what it would look like to wear the shoes of the impoverished.
In contemplating my own reaction and what actions I could take, I looked into how others apply this concept. Some people like Harvard grad John Frame, take this thought quite seriously and devote portions of their life to living among the homeless population. On a less permanent but much larger scale, organizations like 30 hour famine, work in the same way to educate high school students about the lives of poor, hungry people around the globe and give them a one day glimpse into their life.While learning and experiencing the lives of the needy is important, I feel a certain amount of action is then necessary. As Jesus' example shows, one of the most important parts of any strong ministry is humble service towards others. Sometimes we need to just get over our own feelings of adequacy and serve people at their basest of needs.
While we are not called to wash the feet of each person we wish to serve, we are called to minister to them in some fashion. To me, it seems that we can't understand someone until we've walked a mile in their shoes, but we also can't minister to them until we've done something as basic as cleanse their feet. Although the custom of feet washing has become almost obsolete in the western world some organizations have taken the feeling behind the idea and run with it. Caring for the feet of the needy could almost be considered their theme.
"So [Jesus] 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." John 13: 4-5
Soles 4 Souls and Toms Shoes both work in different ways, with average people, to distribute shoes globally to the people who need them. The Toms shoes program works on a "one to one" donation basis; they donate one pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair bought by someone else. They have also organized an event known as One Day Without Shoes, where people are encouraged to go barefoot to raise awareness of children dying because their feet are left unprotected from infection.
People are out there acting out Christ's example in modern day form. While there is still so much more to be done for people then just care for, cleanse, and cover their feet; we must not neglect that, even towards our Christian brethren. Our feet are what support us, carry us places, and enhance our ability to witness. Feet are so much more than sweaty, dirty pieces of our body, as Isaiah 52:7 says -
"How beautiful...are the feet of those who bring good news."For me personally as I'm going into the rest of this semester this thought will always be on my mind as I try to comprehend my unique role in the city we call our capitol.