This is the second in a special series from guest blogger (and my wife!) Beth Banfill as she shares stories and Scripture application from our recent mission trip to Tanzania. I trust that you will be blessed and challenged! --Frank Banfill
Romans 6:23 "For the wages (or payment) for sin is death..."
I had no idea what it was. Maybe the smell of death. Sickness. Perhaps the smell of pure poverty. I wasn't sure. But this one thing I knew, the smell that surrounded me was one that I had never encountered before. These are the thoughts that ran through my head on Sunday afternoon in Bukabwa, as Katelyn, Gladys, and I approached a hut. Actually, a "compound" might be a better word for this area. Several small huts, one massive family, all working together to just exist.
Laying on a mat on the ground under a tree was Msololi Kiyonjo, surrounded by at least seven or eight adult family members and a half dozen or so children. Msololi was barely strong enough to lift her head and greet us. Only God knows for sure, but to Katelyn and I, this lady looked as if death's door was already knocking.
We walked over as Gladys introduced us - the "mzungus" (the Swahili name for a white person from America) - who had come to share with them about the most important decision we've ever made. We had a captive audience as we talked, with one sweet faced but filthy dirty girl jumping toward my arms trying to crawl into my lap. There was no breeze, and as the sun beat down, the smell from the girl and area was so strong that in between breaths of sharing about Jesus, my mind jumped to asking God for help to not become sick during our conversation. He answered that prayer, and miraculously, Msololi and her entire family made a decision to follow Christ that Sunday afternoon, June 10, 2012.
There was joy in Msololi's eyes. Peace. Peace that only God can give in such a troubling time. I prayed over her and her family before we left. I prayed for God to bless their home. I prayed for their newfound faith to grow deep. And of course, I asked God to heal Msololi, if it was His will. But in my heart of hearts, I just felt that death's doorstep was eminent. I prayed Revelation 21:4-5, how now that she has made a decision to accept Christ, in heaven she will have a new body and there will be no more pain or sorrow...or death.
As we left the area, the smell remained on my hands. Trying not to be a judgemental mzungu, I didn't want to say anything to Gladys or ask what the smell was. I just assumed it was death, and even after a half bottle of hand sanitizer, the smell lingered with me. Even today, my mind can bring back the odor. The memory. It wasn't until the next day, after passing through another area of the village that the exact same smell surrounded me. This time, since I wasn't talking about anyone in particular, I asked Gladys what it was. Her answer: cyanide.
Now I'm not a chemist, but I do know one thing - cyanide is poisonous. Gladys must have seen the scared look in my eyes, so she went on to explain more. One of the local plants in the area, cassava, contains cyanide. The villagers ferment the cassava, then lay it out for the sun to bake and dry. During this process, the cyanide evaporates from the heated sun, and then the cassava is ground into meal, much like maize, to make a local food staple called ugali. (I'm not quite sure how, but I never had the privilege to taste ugali while I was in Tanzania. Somehow that delicacy evaded my taste buds on this trip!)
Cyanide. Poison. Death. Sin. I kept thinking about that. Romans 6:23 says that the payment for our sin is death. We deserve to die. But I'm so thankful the verse doesn't stop there. It says BUT...and I love that big BUT in there! It says, BUT, the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ. Only through what He did on the cross. And Msololi and her entire family made a choice for themselves to repent of their sin and accept this free gift my Savior was offering.
God, in His infinite plan, had our little team go a bzillion miles away from Texas to share His love with this family. Who knows how much longer Msololi will live, she may already have died. But this one thing I do know, she will live forever in heaven, now that she's made a decision to allow Christ to invade the life she has left. To the naked eye, sure, laying on the ground waiting to die doesn't seem like much of a life. But in my heart of hearts, I could see she understood the decision she made. I could see her family was so grateful for us coming to share the Good News. Msololi now has a Savior, and that was the most important decision she could ever make.
I love how God can turn the dreadful into good. He can take our ugly, stinky, sinful selves and make us clean. He can take the cyanide and poison away and replace it with His sweet aroma. So as I reflect on Msololi, I'm so thankful today for Cassava. Yes, even cyanide. And most importantly, I'm thankful for a Savior who offers to anyone who receives it for themselves this free gift of salvation.
Cassava. Cyanide. And yes, a Savior. Thank you, Father!