Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner?

You’d rather eat and be served, right?

I was in Ethiopia in August 1992.

I was there as Tearfund’s Manager for East African Affairs to represent them at a major Christian Conference, which was being held in the auditorium of Addis Ababa University; a major teaching centre for communism in the recent past!

The country was just recovering from seventeen years of what was known as ‘the red terror’ when an estimated 500,000 died under the communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Thousands more were imprisoned and tortured. But the communist regime in Ethiopia was to go the way of so many other communist regimes back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Mengistu had lost the support of Russia and the civil war was going against him, so in 1991 he fled to Zimbabwe.  It is not surprising then, that his departure was greeted with great joy by the people, and no more so than by the Christian Church, as many believers and Church leaders had been gravely persecuted during that time.

So why am I telling you all this? Just because today the memories of it came flooding back when I met with my friend this morning to read a section of John’s gospel together. We were reading the gracious story that John tells, of how the Lord Jesus gets up from the table after the meal, puts on an apron and starts to wash the disciples’ feet.

You see, at the conference I attended, Ethiopian Pastor Alemu spoke from this very same passage. The auditorium was packed, everyone’s eyes were fixed on him as he addressed the audience. As he came to the end of his talk he went through the names of the twelve disciples – Jesus washed Peter’s feet, James’ feet, John’s feet, Matthew’s feet, … and then he concluded by saying, and Jesus washed J-u-d-a-s the betrayer’s feet. He then asked all those gathered, who would wash Mengistu’s feet? When he had finished he asked all those who would like to become involved in ‘feet washing ministry’ to stand, and the whole auditorium it seemed, stood as one person! I found that such a moving experience and the memory has stayed with me over the years!

The whole idea of Jesus the creator of all things bending to wash his disciples’ feet, is frankly amazing, absolutely extraordinary, and humbling, and has always inspired Christians to serve! And watching countless numbers of African brothers and sisters who had endured 17 years of ‘the red terror’ standing as they did when invited, I also found to be hugely challenging. But the Christian message has a very personal aspect to it, so when I think that Jesus came to wash me, not just my feet, but wash me from my guilt and sin, by his substitutionary death on the cross, I am often deeply moved in my heart and challenged with the words he spoke after this incident.  

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.  John 13.14-15

I can still hear pastor Alemu say ‘please stand all those who are willing to be involved in ‘feet washing ministry’. So shall we stand?


  • Ethiopia ranks no.28 amongst the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution
  • You can download an e-copy of my life story ‘Matthew’s Memoirs’ -Mechanical Engineering to World Mission– 184 pages for £2.99 at Blurb.co.uk: All money raised goes to charity https://www.blurb.co.uk/ebooks/114019-mxatthew-s-memoirs

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I'm am a married man, a father, grandfather and great grandfather who has been married to Muriel for 62 years. I have worked as an Engineer in the Sugar Business, and as a Manager in the Relief and Development sector. Firstly however, I'm a follower of Jesus Christ and this fact has shaped my life and work.

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