Last November I had the privilege of visiting projects that gifts to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal help make possible in Malawi. In the village of Kambuzi I saw integrated and sustainable development at its best: animal projects (chickens, pigs, goats), seed banks, and a bore-hole wells. After the end-of-visit speeches, the visitors (three of us from the ELCA and six from the Evangelical Lutheran Church Malawi) were invited into a one-room home. Lunch is ready: a steaming bowl of cornmeal along with a chicken-based sauce.
We begin with hand washing. As a bowl is held under our hands, a cup of water is poured over them. We are quiet as ELCM staff members begin to move around the room washing hands. This ritual strikes us as holy, sacred. We think of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I expect to remember this experience every year I attend a Maundy Thursday service.
Later we learn that hand washing is traditionally done by a woman, on her knees. As she washes hands, she is supposed to keep her head lower than the head of any man or guest in the room. When ELCM staff people, both men and women, took their turn washing hands, they demonstrated an unexpected, even radical, act of servant leadership. Thinking back on it, a favorite hymn keeps coming to mind: “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship 659).