Maggots ’R’ Us (a tale of Jesus-style leadership)
Do you have any idea what happens when (a) a generous donor provides our campus with 800 pounds of tuna – whole fish, (b) numerous staff spend three days gutting and cleaning them, before (c) throwing the entrails from the last batch into a lid-less garbage can, and (d) leaves said can outside in the hot desert sun over a weekend?
One of my “miscellaneous” duties in Tijuana is overseeing a cleaning crew during their daily campus chores. As fate would have it, the fish gutting took place in an area I’m responsible for.
Overwhelming rot assaulted me the following Monday morning, like a bucket of Irritable Bowel Syndrome thrown in my face. Even from a distance of forty or fifty yards, figuring out what had happened wasn’t rocket science.
Several Leadership Training School students (who make up the cleaning crew) had already arrived and were chattering – in English, Spanish and Portuguese – about the vile and choking miasma emanating from one of the garbage cans.
Against their advice, I approached the can. A strange, almost sizzling buzz sounded from within. I held my breath and dared to peek over the rim. The stench told me “fish guts,” but the visuals were something out of a deep-space horror flick – 45 squirming pounds of maggots. Fish bones protruded from the quivering mass here and there, but the predominant image was a sizzling, animated rot-fest.
Wary student eyes followed me as I gathered a handful of fresh garbage bags and retraced my steps to the can. My action provoked a variety of heart-felt comments:
“I just ate a breakfast burrito. Please don’t pick me.”
“Here’s an idea: whoever shows up last has to do it.”
I was thinking about John 13, when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet – a job none of the disciples wanted. So Jesus did it. And then explained how leadership works in the upside-down Kingdom.
As I struggled to tip Maggot-Palooza out of the can and into a fresh garbage bag, a solitary student appeared at my elbow, casually asking, “Need some help?”
Together, we poured the sizzling mass into a new garbage bag. Have I mentioned the stench? It intensified exponentially whenever we shifted our squirming bounty.
We double-bagged for safety’s sake. And triple-bagged that one as well. And then levered everything into a fourth bag. Finally, the two of us – exercising more caution than a bomb-disposal squad – carried la bolsa de la fatalidad (bag of doom) twenty yards and heaved it into a commercial dumpster.
No rips, ruptures, or spills – God is good, all the time.
I have no idea what the rest of the crew were thinking, beyond the obvious: “better you than me.” Each one was enrolled in the Leadership Training School, but when I’d approached the noxious can – extra garbage bags in hand – only one student exhibited true, Jesus-style servant leadership. The rest cowered at a safe distance and held their noses.
God had just handed me a classic What Would Jesus Do? teachable moment.
I thanked my helper and, gathering the rest of the crew, added an extra assignment to their course load that day:
Read and meditate on John 13:1-17. Oral reports due the following morning. Before chores.
The students scattered to their first classes, and I treated my helper to her favorite latte. I’m reasonably sure it’s what Jesus would’ve done.