Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What's That Smell?

Ahadi, the ten-year-old daughter of Mwamba, stood beside her father and pointed down the slope from where her village rested on the mountain. Her mouth and eyes were wide open with wonder. She pointed at an oddity she had never seen. Three men in strange clothes and stranger skin were climbing toward their village. Ahadi spoke to her father as would any child seeing something so completely out of the ordinary. The excitement, fear, and curiosity in her voice was met with a hush from her father as he observed and examined a sight equally unfamiliar to him.

Mwamba raised his right hand and spoke a quick command. At his command, drums began to sound, calling the people of the village to acknowledge the arrival of outsiders. Soon, Ahadi's finger was not the only one pointing, and her voice was joined by a hundred others.

"Look at their skin. It has no color," shouted Ahadi's friend, Ambata.

The village was alive with the same question: "Who are they?"

"Well, I think we've been spotted," said Thomas as he looked up the hill and saw hundreds of smiles and stares. The closer Thomas, Cliff, and Samuel got to the village, the harder it became to breathe. Not because of the altitude, but because of the odor. No matter how many villages they entered in these mountains, they could not get used to the pungent odor of diseased skin afflicted with sores and lesions. The disease was not from a physical origin. It was spiritual.

Thomas first read about this strange mountain in an old book he had received when a missionary friend of the family gave Thomas his personal library. Thomas assumed it was nothing more than folklore, myth, and superstition. After all, who ever heard of an entire mountain range where the sinfulness of the people who lived there manifested itself in lesions, sores, and cracked skin?

Thomas had tried for years to dismiss the notion, but it kept returning to his thoughts nearly every time he prayed. At night, his dreams were filled with visions of dark-skinned people tormented by an itching, stinking disease. They cried out for someone to help them in his dreams. Finally, Thomas shared this peculiar information with Samuel, a friend at church. Samuel instantly became intrigued. Before long, their research led them to a few possibilities of where this mountain might be. They agreed to make an adventure out of laying the myth of this mountain to rest.

Thomas and Samuel took two trips and hiked four different mountains, but found nothing. On their second trip, at a rundown Kenyan hotel, they met Cliff, a global strategist for a soft drink company who just happened to be the grandson of a missionary. Within a few hours, Thomas was sharing his strange story with this complete stranger, expecting Cliff to write him off as delusional. But to his surprise, Cliff had heard of this mountain from his grandfather.

Cliff recounted to Thomas and Samuel how his grandfather often spoke of a mountain inhabited by diseased people. All Cliff remembered from those conversations was his grandfather's description of the horrendous odor that kept any missionaries from entering the villages and how each village on the mountain was outlined with fallen trees. Cliff remembered the "fallen tree fence" because of the unusual description of the tree. Each tree was large, twenty feet long, stripped of its bark and limbs, and twisted by nature into the shape of a snake.

It didn't take long before all three men were firing up their laptops and ipads to scan the mountains on Thomas' list through online satellite images. "It shouldn't be that hard to locate snake-shaped fences around villages," said Cliff.

"It wasn't," answered Thomas with a wry smile. He had found the images of the snake-like fence. Thus, he had found the mountain. The three men parted ways, agreeing on a time to return and visit this odd place they named Mission Mountain. That was four months ago.

Now they were here. Climbing the mountain of the "Skinners" - a name Samuel had tagged them with because their skin revealed their sin. The three men had taken every measure they could to prepare themselves for the tremendous odor. Nothing worked. The odor penetrated masks, cologne-drenched nostrils, and cotton balls dipped in vaseline and rammed up their noses. The men fought through the horrific smell of the disease because they knew they had the cure and they believed they had been sent to deliver the Skinners from this disease.

Mwamba was the first to approach the three men. He couldn't help but stare at their skin. It was not just the fascination of seeing white people. It was the rare glimpse of a disease-free adult. Only the babies of these villages had clear skin. Nothing they tried prevented it from infecting them as they grew older. No cure or ritual or witch doctor had ever been successful at relieving the pain, let alone removing the disease.

As with the other villages on the mountain range, the three men were met with great curiosity and overwhelming friendliness that erupted into joy and excitement. The entire population of the village was ecstatic to see the men.

It all replayed itself the same way it had in the other villages, until Hadiya approached the three men with tears, rushed up to them and began sniffing and smelling their hands and arms. Hadiya was an elderly woman who looked well past 90 years of age, but may have been younger due to the damaging effects of the disease. The sniffing and smelling from Hadiya caught the men off guard. This hadn't happened before.

As Hadiya inhaled their scent, her eyes closed in peace, she fell to her knees and lifted her hands to the sky, and muttered words from her heart language through tears of joy and gratitude.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say she was thanking God," said Samuel. The men were stunned at this because nowhere had they found anyone among the villages who believed in a personal God or showed any understanding of the concept of prayer.

None of the three men spoke the heart language of this group of people, but Cliff knew Swahili. He asked the crowd gathered around them in Swahili what the woman was saying, hoping that someone among them knew the language.

Mwamba stepped forward with tears streaming down his face. "Hadiya say, 'Thank you, Spirit-Man. Thank you for sending these men. You showed them to me when I was a girl. Now they are here to give us Your words that will free us from our pain.'"

Cliff stood there in awe. The shocked look on his face caused Samuel to ask, "What? What is it? What did she say?" Through tears, Cliff interpreted her words to Samuel and Thomas. They were all stunned at the powerful work of God.

After several long minutes of trying to absorb this holy moment, Thomas was still confused by the sniffing incident. "Why did she smell our skin?"

The translation process through Cliff, Mwamba, and Hadiya gave the answer: "Because the Spirit-Man said I would know these men were from Him because they would have His sweet fragrance."

While Cliff and Thomas slowly sniffed their own hands and arms, the word "fragrance" struck a nerve with Samuel. He quickly opened his New Testament to 2nd Corinthians 2:14-15, and read these words:

"Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing."

Salvation came to that village that day, as it had to others previously and since. God gave an unusual sign on this unusual mountain range. Every person in every village who placed his or her faith in Jesus was instantly healed of the skin disease. The pungent odor was blown away by the wind of the Spirit and the people took on the fragrance of Christ.

I Smell you?
Perry Crisp