At the Chief's feet

A worker shares a story about becoming the fragrance of Christ as she and a team member wash the feet of a local village chief.

Madeleen Olwage

Mahahe is a lovely village at the banks of the Kavango River. Strong, tall Eucalyptus trees surround the small homes made of reed and stone. All around us are scenes of village life: young girls carrying containers of water on their heads, skinny dogs napping in the shade, chickens cackling, men whistling while they build a new house.

We were on our way to visit the chief of Mahahe. Because he is the leader of a village, I was expecting to meet a man of the military: strict, straight-to-the-point and proud. But when his son brought us to his father’s hut, I found myself in the company of a grandfather. He had the old, patient face of someone wise. He was soft-spoken and smiled often.

It has been six months since one of OM Namibia’s field workers, Linda, decided to live in the Mahahe community. She insists that it’s very important to build a good, trustworthy relationship with the chief. “I feel like a daughter to him,” she says fondly.

I could see why. He immediately accepted us, as if we were his own children. When we asked a little more about his past, he chatted enthusiastically about old miner days in South Africa. Since a missionary couple arrived in Mahahe three years ago, he has shown incredible favour towards their work. He is not a Christian, but they are grateful for his positive attitude.

It was on one of these visits that Linda noticed the chief’s tired feet. The heels were dry and hard from calluses. His toenails were yellow and bent. We realised that there was no longer a woman to take care of him as he became older. Linda gently asked him if she could take care of his feet. He nodded his head solemnly, and as if to affirm his answer, he looked down at his dirty feet.

Linda and I arrived with a bucket, salt, lotion and toenail clippers. We slowly cleaned his feet, scraping away the old dirt. He bravely showed me one of his fingers, the top completely missing from an accident many years ago. As I held his hand in mine, I thought about how much God loves this wrinkled hand.

I was putting lotion on his hands and feet when he asked about the sweet scent. The lotion had the aroma of a magnolia flower. “This is a very good madie,” he concluded. I stared at him. Madie is my name! “Madie” is the word for a fragranced cream or ointment in the local language.

In that moment, I felt God’s spirit encourage me. Sometimes we feel like we have nothing more to give in ministry except these small, unseen efforts. Sometime we just have to clean a chief’s feet and let God do the rest. When we work alongside Jesus—no matter where we go, or what we do—people will remember us by the sweet fragrance we leave behind. And that’s enough. 

Madeleen Olwage, from Namibia, has worked with OM for a few years, serving as a member of one of OM’s ships and then in South Asia. For the last year she has served with OM Namibia.


By OM International