Many years ago, a pastor from our home church visited us in Spain. Later, we listened to a cassette tape of a report he gave about his trip. What did he remember? The pungent odor of sweaty bodies as our young people were flapping around, playing Ping Pong. What an impression!
One of the huge adjustments for us as we arrived on the field in 1984 was unpleasant smells. Fish, meat, urine, sweat, and tobacco assaulted our noses. You could hardly turn a corner without bumping into a “cloud” of some kind! (Thankfully, it’s better today.)
The missionary who goes abroad will never tell you what it’s like to be on a crowded bus of beachgoers with their armpits in the air and no deodorant. He’ll never tell you how he closes his nose off so he can ignore the smells and minister to the people. She’ll never share that she sometimes sniffs perfume on her wrist just to make it through a church service while surrounded by sweet but stinky bodies.
Bad breath? Garlic seeps through the pores—and the mouth. Onions are the least of our worries! Some people smell of wine strong enough to make you think you’re in a distillery . . . and everyone stands about a nose length from you and talks loudly! Poof!
What does it take to love people?
If we’re honest, it takes a lot of grace.
I can’t imagine what it was like for Jesus. Sinless, spotless, perfect, God—and everyone else was full of nasty sins. Jesus walked in dust and filth, He smelled some awful things, and yet, He loved people. He looked past their dirt and sweat and sins, and He loved their souls. Jesus touched lepers. He healed the woman with the issue of blood. He gave up sleep and food and went to the needy—and let them come to Him. The Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery didn’t deserve His compassion, but they experienced cleansing and freedom. Jesus loved perfectly.
He is love.
Every missionary woman must learn to love like Jesus: overlook the unpleasantness and care for souls. Notice needs and be compassionate. See people as they could be in Christ—new and whole and holy. Rejoice when a sinner is redeemed. Care for the unfortunate.
I don’t know why Jesus chose to use people as His hands, but He did. He uses the “weak things”—those of us who dab our wrists with perfume so we can enjoy being with others. He uses the pastor who’s allergic to minister to chain smokers. He uses redeemed sinners to build bridges to lost sinners.
A missionary was continually angry with the natives for messing up the nice things he had in his house. The natives' offenses ranged from setting wet glasses on hardwood furniture to throwing napkins on the floor. He would lecture, and he would complain. The natives didn’t respect his fine furnishings. . . . This missionary left the field.
When we first arrived in Spain, our co-worker wisely told us not to be too proud of our new car. He said, “Soon, kids will take rocks to it and scratch the paint. Soon, it will have dents in it because people don’t pay attention how they open their doors, and they’re not careful inside, either. Your car is a tool for ministry.” And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7b).
In some places in the world, the native houses are more like shelters than homes. Especially in years gone by, missionaries experienced all aspects of their life being in a fishbowl. The curious people peeked in at windows and doors day and night.
Do we truly love people?
Do we love them, even though we smell their garlic and B. O. and think they have strange customs? Do we love them enough to share life with them? Do we love them as Christ loves them?
Are we living examples of Jesus’ love?
Loving people is the result of loving God. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).
The next time you’re surrounded by a "cloud,"
remember to show Jesus’ love . . .
and make sure there’s a spot of perfume on your wrist.