Pacifist and combat veteran together at footwashing basin

Stories of Peace

By Mia Kivlighan, EMU 

Darin Busé, a United Methodist pastor, came to Eastern Mennonite Seminary with a distinct plan: in his studies, he would “seek healing so that I could learn to heal healers.”

The pain and wounds he sought to heal are deep and old and shared by many who have seen war: Darin is a combat veteran who enlisted in the U.S. Army three weeks before his 19th birthday. He worked as a psychological operations specialist in several major combat operations, including Honduras, Panama and in Iraq during the First Gulf War.

“I have confronted evil face to face,” Darin said while sharing his story during a seminary worship service in the fall of 2015. “I have smelled the pungent aroma of life being burned away. I have tasted the ultimate sacrifice that others have given to defend their country and their cause. In the midst of that, my innocence was shattered … my morality was destroyed and my spirit was devastated.”

Among his fellow seminarians and faculty, Darin has been frank about his life experiences and his relationship to and among violence. Eastern Mennonite Seminary, rooted in the traditionally pacifist Anabaptist faith, is open to all faiths.

Darin has learned and grown in his studies, his friendships and his reflections, enough that he can say the healing he came for is “well underway.”


“Love Essence” sculpture at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, created by Esther Augsburger.

Yet he still needed guidance for the second part: to heal the healers.

That discernment was blessed during a workshop during the January 2016 School for Leadership Training (SLT), when Pastor Paul Stutzman drew on the riches of his Church of the Brethren tradition to reflect on the Love Feast and footwashing rituals rooted in Jesus’ final supper with his disciples. To help participants understand some of the dynamics of the disciples, including Peter who first objected to having Jesus wash his feet, Paul asked participants to experience having their feet washed by persons in leadership roles.

Darin reflected, “That morning I wanted to respond as Peter did in John 13:1-17, ‘No, you shall never wash my feet.’ I’m not sure why I was at first so reluctant. Perhaps it was the fear of being vulnerable.” He went on, “Perhaps it was an acutely ingrained sense of authority and hierarchy: my station demanded that I be the one who served rather than being served. Or perhaps I was beginning to grasp that my time at seminary was coming to an end and the work of being a transformational leader was approaching. In any case, Christ was there and his presence was undeniable.”

The leader who knelt at Darin’s feet was the dean of the seminary, Michael King, who knew Darin’s story well.

“Unbidden came an image of washing off the sand of Iraq,” Michael remembers. “I shared this with Darin while completing the washing.”

It was a moving moment for both men.

Eventually, the seminary dean reached out to the combat veteran to share his feelings. “Can we share this moment of transformation with others?” Michael asked via email.

Humbled by the invitation, Darin replied, Yes. He shared more:

That evening, after I returned home from SLT, I confided in my wife and was moved to inconsolable tears at the profound presence of God in that moment. My spiritual walk thus far has taken me through many swamps and deserts, both literal and figurative. Over the years my feet had accumulated an immeasurable amount of road dust. Not until you said to me, “I felt as though I was washing away the desert sand of Iraq” did the transformational work God had been doing for me become fully real.

At one point in my military career, I gazed in the mirror and didn’t recognize the face looking back at me. I turned physically away at that moment and vowed never again to return to the life that had taken me so far from my Lord.

During a formational moment at EMS, we were asked to reflect back on when we felt farthest from God’s grace and to picture Christ there. I imagined Jesus standing behind me in that reflection. I imagined when I turned around Jesus wrapped me in his arms and held me. While relaying this to my classmates, it hit me that Christ was there all along, holding me and welcoming me back into relationship.

Your kindness, humility and servant leadership has offered one of the most pivotal moments in my life. That sacred and sacramental moment has caused me to stand up and strive to live out the calling God has placed before me. That day I heard Christ’s voice say to me, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

I had been at a loss as to how God was using that moment of footwashing to share healing. Through this e-mail asking whether we could tell our story together, I believe God answered that prayer.

Used with permission of Eastern Mennonite Seminary and The Mennonite where the story appeared earlier.