The other day I walked into a storage area and noticed a strange smell. Not horrible, just strange. At home last evening my wife made a comment about a strange smell. Not horrible, just strange, and not even strong enough that I could smell it.
We shower every day, we use deodorants and antiperspirants, and as if that weren’t enough we pour on perfumes and colognes. Most houses have at least one can of air-freshener, or one of those things that gets plugged into the wall and sends out a puff of freshness every few minutes. Our cars have air fresheners, we put baking soda in the refrigerator to absorb odors; even garbage bags are especially treated to mask odors. And don’t even get me started on pet odors.
We’ve dummied down our sense of smell to the point that even natural odors are too strong, and therefore offensive. And then there are places like Punya Basti which is described like this: Imagine living in a town where the air is full of stench, everything is covered in filth, violence is rampant, and there is no electricity or running water. Then the question is asked Now imagine choosing to live in this town in order to share the Gospel with the people there. Could you do it? Would you be able to stick it out?
We recently saw some slums in that same part of the world, and the stench was pretty disgusting. But we could escape it by traveling just a short distance, to an entirely different part of town, one that was probably, in part, designed to appeal to American tourists: no garbage, no smells, and the brief moments in slums and squalor were orchestrated to give us the sense that we had truly experienced that country. And I ask myself would I be willing to live in the stench and squalor? Would I stay there to be able to share the gospel? I want to say ‘yes’, but often the mind is willing but the flesh is weak…I just don’t know.
And so we go back to Punya Basti. The GFA pastor there was having trouble ministering to the women, so he asked for assistance from Sisters of Compassion. Women didn’t know how to clean cooking utensils and so there was a lot of illness. Personal hygiene was poor, so there was a lot of illness. Modesty was not high on anyone’s priority list, and in an area where alcohol abuse was rampant among the men, women were often put in compromising situations.
Prisha, one of the Sisters of Compassion agreed to come to Punya Basti, an area that she had heard about, because she was willing to serve. The area had such a poor reputation that the pastor offered to have her lodge in a neighboring town so she would be safer and have more comfortable accommodations. Prisha refused, knowing that if she were to have any ‘street cred’, she would need to be available, to be present, in the town. There were many challenges, but Prisha, and eventually 7 other Sisters became part of the village, but the transformation wasn’t that they became more like the villagers, but rather that the villagers became more like Christ. There are over 1,000 residents of this squalid village, “Filth and Fertile Ground”, and today the majority are Christians. The women are learning healthier habits, children are going to school, and the villagers see the missionaries as members of their families.
There is still lots of work to be done in Punya Basti, and places like it. Filth exists, but in the midst of that filth is plenty of fertile ground. Could you numb your senses? Would you even be willing to try? It makes a difference.