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Of Feet, Cow Dabs, and Easter

By April 19, 2019 No Comments

Written by Mark Fulton

When I was a young boy, I would often play outside barefoot.  Certainly my mom discouraged me from doing this, but I was a normal kid who sometimes pushed the envelope of obedience.  In the pasture by our house where the cows grazed, I would run around and joust with imaginary creatures and generally have some fun. Occasionally, I would squish my feet in what we (and many others) called “cow dabs”.  Now you really don’t need to be brilliant to be able to define “cow dab” nor to realize that oozing this stuff through your toes is probably not a good thing. I can’t even imagine the micro biome of a cow dab and how many diseases I risked by dancing that barefoot squish.  Thank goodness my feet didn’t seem to mind, after the hose rinsed the bulk of the goo from them.

Feet go through some gross stuff! In addition to cow dabs, feet walk through all kinds of nasty things.  They are prone to fungi (i.e. Athlete’s foot), corns, bunions, hammertoes, diabetic microvascular issues, neuropathy, trauma, and so many things that only a podiatrist can truly appreciate. It was only in the past few years while serving in Haiti that I have been able to see even more things that occur with feet.  The staff of the emergency department at the small country hospital in Saintard, Haiti sees foot and ankle “issues” nearly every day. Machetes mercilessly mangle feet and remove portions of them.  Motorcycles burn them, run over them, and twist them in directions that I never knew possible.  Thorns can pierce inadequately covered feet, allowing the indigenous dirt and grime into an open wound, creating some incredible infections. In addition, cysts, tumors, and cancer all seem to have somewhat of a preponderance for the Haitian foot. 

A few years ago, I was made aware of a disease in Haiti that most often starts with a foot.  The locals call it “chik” and I initially had no idea what it was.  After seeing chunks of feet that were literally falling off, I knew that I needed more research. I asked our local doctors and some “smarter than I am” missionaries whom we know.  After doing an internet search and being able to define “chik” as something called Tungiasis, I discovered that the causative agent was a small insect.  The insect, which is like a small flea, lives in the dirt and enters the foot through any opening, then during its reproductive life cycle, ends up destroying the vasculature in the foot and the resulting necrotic toes eventually can just “fall off”.  It is horrific to see and worse to treat.  If, when attempting to remove the fleas surgically from the wounds the creature is ruptured, the eggs invade the wound even more, further complicating the possible recovery process.  It is ridiculous to treat, but that is a whole different blog!

So before you start believing I have an abnormal fascination with feet, let me get to my point.  I come from a church that celebrates Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter Sunday) each year with a ceremonial foot washing.  To symbolize and celebrate the humility of Jesus and to follow his example, we would take a pitcher of water, a basin, and a towel, and wash each other’s feet.  While meaningful at the time, it is even more so today.  With the frequent lack of adequate foot covering here in Haiti, the ever-present dust and grime, the necessity to walk for great distances, and the pathology found in Haiti, feet can sometimes be “not pretty”.  If I could extrapolate this back in time a couple thousand years ago, I wonder if the feet in Jesus’ time had some of these same issues?  How sturdy were their sandals?  Did they walk through thorns?  Did they experience infections?  Were there disease states such as “chik” or Athlete’s foot or other traumas?  I can’t begin to imagine that the God of the universe loves us so much that He sent His only son who humbled Himself to wash “those” feet.  Not only that, but He continued to humble Himself on the cross.  He did this for you and for me and for all of us.  I am certainly excited to serve this kind of God: a God who loves me in spite of my sins, my flaws, and my icky, “cow dab” squishing feet.

Happy Easter everyone!  He is risen!