LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The old Ghanaian woman stared in amazement as water gently trickled through her wrinkled, worn toes. Kneeling before her in the dust of the market, Perry Polnaszek pulled out a handkerchief and carefully wiped the woman’s feet.
As the dirt stained the clean white cloth, the Christian life came alive for the woman and the other Africans who watched. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student then turned to the Scriptures and told them how Christ had taken the soiling sins of the world upon himself.
“God opened their hearts,” said Polnaszek, a Thorp, Wis., native and student at the Louisville, Ky., seminary. “It just was a very easy and pure transition to the gospel.”
Polnaszek had not traveled to West Africa planning to wash feet as an entree to evangelism. He had originally purposed, with the help of the 12 other members of the mission team from the seminary, to demonstrate servant leadership specifically to the Ghanaian Christians.
But as the team evangelized in a rural area of south-central Ghana as part of a Jan. 3-14 mission trip, God impressed upon Polnaszek’s heart to use a simple act to illustrate the powerful gospel.
“Everywhere he went with that [the foot washing], it had a profound impact,” said Daniel Hatfield, Southern Seminary’s vice president for student services and leader of the mission trip. “It drew crowds. It taught. It communicated.”
Initially, Polnaszek felt uncomfortable confronting strangers with such an unusual illustration, and he also worried that the approach might appear gimmicky. But the apprehension quickly faded.
“Once they heard that Jesus himself did exactly the same things, it really became evident as to my intentions,” Polnaszek said, referring to John 13 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. Polnaszek read the passage before each washing.
Soon, several on the mission team and some of the Ghanaian Christians also began participating. In one memorable event, team member Lizette Beard washed the feet of the region’s “queen mother.”
With a role similar to that of the chief, the queen mother oversees the affairs and issues of the women in the area.
“The queen mother has a lot of authority and is very well-respected,” said Beard, a master of divinity student from Mountain Home, Ark., and missions coordinator for Southern Seminary. “The people were amazed. The honest truth is that Africans are amazed that [an American] would kneel down and wash their feet.
“After I washed her feet, I was able to stay kneeling and share not only my testimony, but also my father’s testimony of becoming a Christian at age 59. She was weeping.”
In that intimate and pure moment, God used Beard’s story to change a life.
“[The queen mother] shared back that she had [already] made the decision to follow Christ, but that my stories and my experience gave her so much more,” Beard recounted.
Whether performed by Polnaszek or others, each washing became a potent presentation of Christ’s cleansing power.
“I know that the power isn’t in the foot-washing, but it is in the gospel,” Polnaszek said. “What I’m looking to do is find ways of attracting [people to Christ] by the light of our good works.”
Servant evangelism like that which he modeled in Ghana is a passion for Polnaszek. For several years, he has headed up a ministry called Touched Twice Ministries.
Touched Twice sponsors clinics which help meet the urgent physical needs of inner-city residents. While ministering to material needs, clinic volunteers also touch the needy a second time with the love of Christ and the gospel.
“Whenever we … give our gifts and talents in Christ’s name as a platform for the gospel, the purity of that one-two punch has a dynamic, a power … that allows Scripture to hit the heart straighter,” Polnaszek said. “It makes me weep because of how little I have to give and how much God has given us.”
And through his experiences in Ghana, Polnaszek believes God may be broadening the reach of his ministry from Louisville and other major American cities to the mission fields of the world.
“Touched Twice is home missions at its current stage,” Polnaszek said. “To think that God might be calling our ministry to expand even further, I guess it’s natural to think of Acts 1:8.”
But the scope of his ministry is not the only thing to be changed. Polnaszek’s own spiritual walk was touched again as he ministered to the Ghanaians through the foot washing.
“It turned out to be God speaking to me directly through his people that he sent me to evangelize,” he said. “In this process I actually felt edified. There was a strange sense of God just ministering to me while I was doing this.
“I really felt like the presence of the Lord was right there. In that moment I was being healed and transformed as well as the gospel being preached.”
The Ghanaian leaders said they hope Polnaszek will return to Africa to teach the lay leaders foot washing and other forms of servant evangelism.
“I pray that this is just the beginning,” Polnaszek said, “and that God is going to be building up an army of evangelists that are going to be going out in … the spirit of servanthood, of thinking of others as better than themselves and of lifting people up to the glory of God.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SERVANT EVANGELISM.