December 2011 – An Encounter with Jose

I had never intended to wash his feet or anyone else’s feet. Remember, I didn’t even know that he was going to be there.

Have you ever had one of those situations, one where the moment you first encountered someone, they really rubbed you the wrong way?

Well I faced one of these situations many years ago with a pastor in Quito, Ecuador. I had been working cross culturally in Quito with pastors for almost five years and felt I was slowly improving my cultural intelligence skills. On this particular mission I had arrived a few days before the team I was going to work with. My goal was to meet with a number of pastors to begin the process of partnering Canadian churches with Ecuadorian churches. This was not new for me as I had been working at establishing such partnerships for the last few years. In most cases the experience had worked out quite well and I have been privy to some really cool partnership  ceremonies.

On this particular trip, I had followed my regular routine, I left my hotel (The Vega, now a brothel) on the corner of Chile and Flores and headed down Flores to a local American style breakfast spot. After some eggs and a café con leche, I headed over to the El Tejar church to meet with my pastor friends and a few new pastors who wanted to learn more about our partnership model. After an hour of tradition driven introductions amongst friends, the meeting was started. My partner in Latin America Ricardo Chicawasy shared with our new potential partners why I was in Quito and the type of work I was involved in. Ricardo explained that I was there primarily to broker deals and marry Canadian churches with Ecuadorian churches.

Pastors in India

After Ricardo finished his speech he sat down and the new pastors were given an opportunity to stand up and ask questions. One pastor stood up, his name was Jose. He looked me in the eye and said, “I am not interested in your partnerships just give me money. I don’t need or want anything from you.” He went on for quite a while about his financial needs being more important than any other reason for which I had come. This wasn’t a new experience for me.   Often when I was working to partner churches the first request was generally for money. My response was always the same; I deal in creating relationships not money. My Latin American friends, who knew me well, knew this was the response that was waiting for their comrade.

As I shared my patent reply with pastor Jose he became quite hot tempered and indignant and demanded that he wanted and needed money more than relationship. I have to admit that I was more than taken aback; I wanted to wring his neck. He could care less about what I did and what I had to offer. I could see the redness in the face of my associates as they realized there friend has crossed the line of “the appropriate cultural ask” and he was on his way to offending me.

I don’t remember how we maneuvered to close that meeting but what I do remember is my next encounter with Jose.

My teammates had arrived from Canada that afternoon and were driven to their hotel to get settled in. That evening we met in an upper room in the hotel. There were the church pastors from Quito, their new partner churches from Ontario, Canada, myself, Ricardo, oh and yes to my surprise Jose had joined us. I admit, I didn’t invite him and I wasn’t very happy to see him. From the look in his face I think the feeling was mutual.

The ceremony began and took on its familiar manner. We would begin with the passing of each countries flag; both partners would then have an opportunity to introduce themselves and their church. It would end with a signing of a three-year contract and multiple pictures being taken. Unbeknownst to all in attendance I was adding a new dimension to this year’s signings. That afternoon I had purchased a basin, some oil and some inexpensive towels. Well to make a long story short I had each of our Canadian partners wash the feet of their new Ecuadorian partner. This was a highly emotional and intense moment.   But at the end, when it was all over there was still one pastor whose feet had still not been washed… a pastor who had no partner church and had watched the whole event in amazement.

I looked at Jose and Jose looked at me.  Without realizing it, and I could see the horror in his face, I motioned him to the foot-washing chair. As I removed his worn torn shoes from his sockless feet the years of a hard and challenging life were immediately exposed. Pastor Jose broke out into guttural sobs, he begged me not to wash his feet. He kept grabbing at me, not to kneel and wash…if I remember right, and you could ask Jose, I think he cried for over half-an-hour.

I have never asked Jose why he cried so much or why the look of horror as I had begun to wash his feet. What I do remember is that afterwards we embraced and what began was an intimate friendship that still exists today.


Something in that unpremeditated foot washing ceremony changed the heart of the foot washee and the foot washer, both transformed.  Now some might say, not only did my adversary not deserve to have his feet washed, he’s the one who should have been doing the washing.(including a pedicure for how he had acted) I am not sure…I had never intended to wash his feet or anyone else’s feet, remember I didn’t even know that he was going to be there. But I did feel compelled to offer an olive branch, to overlook an offence and offer friendship.

The greatest leader ever known to mankind came over two thousand years ago and gave us his gift of friendship that we did not deserve. He offered his own olive branch; He offered not only to wash our feet but also our whole being. He told us that in doing these things for us that we would enjoy a renewed friendship with him for eternity. This month we celebrate Christ’s birth, and man’s greatest friend.

Merry Christmas! May each of us in this new year, take a risk, extend an olive branch, maybe even wash the feet of the undeserving and in a special way make a new friend or amend a friendship that has been broken.

What a gift… friendship!
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