The Aroma of Heaven

I’m almost certain that Thailand is caught in some kind of vortex of space and time. Even though it’s been just a little over one week here, enough has happened to fill a hundred weeks.
I’ve found that I’m in a place where I’m learning the different ways in which God speaks to people. I grew up with the idea that there was some kind of unspoken set formula or protocol that God uses to speak; as if the Creator himself has no room for creativity in the way in which he speaks to his own children.
A couple girls and I went prayer walking down Bangla Road on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for our second night of bar ministry. I’ll admit that I wasn’t particularly thrilled to go. For a girl who had never even been anywhere near a bar prior to this week, going down Bangla is out of my comfort zone in every possible way. The first night was especially hard. I knew walking into one of Thailand’s biggest red light districts would be difficult, but to see it with my own eyes changed everything. Sometimes I can’t decide what is more overwhelming: the fact that this place is real or that the collective apathy of humanity allows it. Encourages it.
It breaks my heart into more pieces than I could ever count to know that somewhere in the world you can buy extremely discounted tickets to a live sex show. That somewhere in the world, women with dead eyes dance on poles and go home with all different kinds of men—sometimes for days or weeks at a time—to make ends meet and provide for their two, three, four children. That somewhere in the world we pretend this is okay.
As the girls and I walked toward the street that afternoon, all the vendors and bar girls were just waking up, opening up shop, getting everything ready for the undoubtedly wild night ahead. As we turned the corner to get on the actual street, this overpowering stench came over me like a wave. It was quite literally the worst thing I have ever smelled in my entire life. And it wasn’t even just one horrible smell. It was all over the place, like the wicked stench of a thousand rotten things all blended into one.  It became harder to breathe as we continued down the street. At one point, it was so strong that I opened my mouth to catch some air and it burned down my throat. I thought that maybe this was a normal smell for some afternoons down Bangla so I didn’t say anything to the other girls while we were on the street. Once we were off the street, the smell completely disappeared. It didn’t even fade away; it was just gone.
Once we got back on the bus to go home, I asked one of the other girls casually if she had smelled that awful stench.
“What smell?” she asked. I asked the other girls. Nobody smelled anything remotely close the smell that had consumed the street for me. My first thought was that I was losing my mind. Which honestly might make sense. I think I left any last bit of normalcy I had back in the Frankfurt airport.
I talked to my leader about it a little bit later and realized that maybe God was trying to communicate something to me. Which, knowing how I work, makes perfect sense. People who know me know exactly how much I love when things smell good and how many awkward run-ins I’ve had with strangers by accidentally blurting out that they smell really good. (Whoops.)
If that stench was any indication of the spiritual climate of Bangla Road, then there is a clear stronghold there. But as my team and I walk down Bangla, praying and spending time with bar girls, we bring the intensely good aroma of heaven. And it doesn’t just cover the stench. It completely wipes it out and replaces it.
“Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.” -2 Corinthians 2:14-15
In a strange way, that awful smell was an answered prayer. I asked God to please show me his heart for the street, even if it would break mine. A dangerous prayer, I know. But he has so much that I know he wants to say to us about this road that is still his, these people that he loves so much. 

If only we would listen with every part of ourselves.

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