I taste it on my lips after a long car ride. I feel it in the pores of my skin at the end of the day. I resign that no matter how much I scrub, my feet with never be free of it. I brush it from my children’s hair at night and from my husband’s boots in the morning.
It is the dust of this place where we live, where we serve. It is the dust of the mission field.
It is surprising to find, when you think about it, how often Jesus talked about dust in the gospels. All those stories about washing feet? At their core, they are about dust. Thus the need to wash feet. And then there is this, his instruction to his disciples as he sends them out to the mission field:
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” Matthew 10:14
If you have ever met a missionary, there is one thing you might have noticed: our dirty flip-flop wearing feet. I always say the scripture should have read, “Blessed (and dirty) are the feet that bring the Good News.”
You see we live and work and walk in places where roads are made of dirt, dirt that turns to mud in rain. We go out to meet God’s people in tucked away corners of the world where floors are made of red clay or gray dirt or covered in desert sand. We live in homes where open doors and open windows leave everything covered in a thin layer of outside. We are dusty people.
And this, really, is only appropriate, because Jesus’ words above to His disciples about shaking the dust off their feet in the place they are not accepted imply an assumption: while you live and work and try to bring the Good News to a place, you will get dirty with its dust. And if you are in fact accepted and welcomed by the people of that place, the assumption further implies that you will wear the dust of that place for a long time. It will cling to you. Become part of who you are. So much so that it is not easily washed away or shaken off in the face of hardship, sacrifice, disappointment, or fear.
The dirt of your end of the earth sticks and clings and blends with who you are, seeps in through your pores and begins to pulse through your veins. For me, it is that dust that propels my legs to climb the next mountainous uphill to reach my brothers and sisters in a faraway village when I think I cannot walk another step. It is that dust that sends me day after day to the clothesline and the rice cooker and the bean pot rather than packing for the nearest city and the best artisan burger and hottest shower I can find. It is that dust that makes my hands reach for the hands of the poor and the sick and the lonely, to stroke their heads and kiss their faces before I begin to waver in hesitancy. This place, it has become part of me. My heart beats with bits of its earth, I’m sure. My soul sings in its tongue. Its people have opened their doors and their hearts and their homes to me and to the God I have come to serve. And so its dust has clung to my feet.
That kind of clinging, it transforms a person. It makes us part of a place as the place becomes part of us. It gives us the strength to keep living this utterly dependent, overwhelming beautiful life: seeking, serving and sharing Him. It allows us to leave a place without leaving it behind, to become advocates for the people there we love, to encourage others to go to that end of the earth, to be changed forever by wearing the dust of a place that now runs through our very core.
There are certainly times for shaking off dust, as Jesus says, but very often for us missionaries, the implied opposite is true, we become dirty with the love of a place of its people and wear its dust as a part of us forever.
What are some ways you wear the dust of the place(s) you live/have lived? How has the culture of that place(s) clung to you and changed you? What color is the dust you wear?
Colleen Mitchell, missionary in Costa Rica
blog: Blessed Are The Feet work: www.saintbryce.org and Mercy Covers initiative
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