Saturday, February 2, 2013

What's That Smell?

On Thursday afternoon we were meeting with our Pre-teen girls at the Site.  One of the five students serving with us was sharing her testimony and I was translating. 
All of a sudden, the most horrible smell wafted in.  “Look!”  A couple of the girls pointed out the window to the field next door.  Men were dumping a sand colored substance on the ground around the banana plants growing there. 
It brought me back to my days in the pig plant in South Carolina and the one time I had to go into the Rendering Plant.  Rotting, leftover bits of pig (hair, offal, carcasses) ‘cooked down’ into a meal used in dog food and other products, including fertilizer.  For the rest of that day, everything I ate, including a plain, dry bagel, tasted like that smell!

I don’t know what was in the stuff the men of El Callejon were using, but given the number of chicken houses and chicken slaughter places in the area, I have some ideas.  All I know is, it was stinky with a Capital S!!
Yesterday when we returned to El Callejon, the fertilizer – and its pungent smell! – greeted us once again.  It was a sunny day, after many filled with rain and clouds, and the warmth intensified the smell.  

We did our best to ignore it, and were still able to have a really awesome final morning together, sharing and praying.  Every so often the wind would blow in just the right (or wrong!) direction, and we’d get a super dose of stink.  Whew!
Why would they pour that horrible substance on those banana plants?  All of us, even folks raised in cities, know the answer: Fertilizer helps plants grow stronger and be more fruitful.  The banana plants will bear more fruit, not in spite of that stinky stuff, but because of it.

It got me thinking.  We ask each student to share part of her testimony with us.  It’s a way to learn more about them, to hear how God is at work in their lives, and also a way for them to practice sharing their faith. 
As always seems to be the case, these beautiful young women with their smiles and eagerness to serve, have stories filled with pain.  There is beauty and growth, but God forms it out of brokenness.
I remember my old boss at the chicken plant.  (I worked in both pork and poultry!)  When everyone would scrunch up their nose at the awful smell coming from the Rendering Plant, he would say, “Do you know what that smell is?”  The responses would be words like, Gross! Disgusting! Sick! 

“No,” he would reply, "that’s the smell of money.”  He meant, of course, that we took the undesirable, seemingly useless waste, and turned it into products to sell for a profit.
Each one of us carries our own stinky stuff.  Some days, we can almost forget it, but then things heat up, or the wind blows, and it’s right back in our face, inescapably pungent and awful.  It’s easy to think of it as nothing but undesirable waste, not worth anything. 
But, like that fertilizer, so often we grow, not in spite of the stench, but because of it.  That’s certainly been true in my life. 
Our best and first example, of course, is Jesus Christ.  Our salvation and freedom from death did not come in spite of the gore of Calvary, but because of it.    

I believe the world is looking at Christ-followers to see how we live, how we respond, in the midst of the stink.  We need to be real in our struggle.  Not ignoring it or pretending there’s nothing in our lives that is downright awful.  But, we also need to let them see we have hope and confidence that God is at work in those very things. 
Will I ever get to the point where I can view (or smell!) the pungent rotting stuff of life and say, "Ah, that's the smell of growth in Christ!"?  I want to, but it's so hard! 
That's where we need to lean into the Holy Spirit.  Only through His redeeming work, can the stink of our lives be transformed into a fragrant offering.  
I pray that as you face your smelly stuff today, you, too, sense the presence of  the Holy Spirit in you.  That you will have our loving Father's assurance that He is at work, and that by remaining in Jesus, there will be fruit, much fruit, because of it.

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