What’s That Smell?

The rancid smell scorches my nostrils. Mathare is a cruel place. A slum plagued by intense poverty and violence outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Home to more than 700,000 residents.

We walk through the muddy, filthy streets to visit one of these residents and his family. We cram into the tiny house and storefront.

person walking down stone steps

Here, Evans’ mother sells odds and ends and fixes hair to support her four precious kids. Evans, her youngest son, attends a child development center in Mathare.

We listen as, through a translator, she shares dreams for her children. She has grown up in this slum and dreams that her children won’t have to grow up like she did — with alcoholic parents and only a fourth-grade education.

I focus on listening to the mother. But all the while I am distracted by that foul, relentless smell.

When we leave Evans’ family, I realize that the smell comes from sewage flowing directly outside their small urban home.

We cross this stream of trash, excrement, and stale water as we leave Mathare.

As we pick our way through the littered streets, I learn that many residents do not leave Mathare for three or four years at a time. For them, there is no escape from the smell, dirt, and filth.

Yet this is exactly where Jesus calls us to be.

He is using Compassion, in partnership with the local church, to bring relief to Mathare and places like this across the world. I reflect on 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 as I remember Mathare:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life…”

A sweet fragrance in a dark place! For in this place, Jesus has stepped in to help Evans and his mother and siblings. It is here that Evans goes to the child development center and finds respite. He is enrolled in a pre-K program at the church where he learns and laughs.

Christ’s aroma through His Church is bringing life to the perishing and the pleasant smell of the teachings of Jesus.

Back home, I sit in the living room, breathing deeply and smelling the spiced candle on my table. It is so different from the smell of Mathare. Yet I know Jesus is here and Jesus is there. And we, as the Church, have the privilege and responsibility to bring His fragrance.

How will you be the aroma of Christ today?

3 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Bet Hays March 21, 2013

    I sponsor a beautiful, brave, and precious young woman named Anastacia who lives in Mathare. God brought her to me in such a persistent way when I thought I couldn’t handle another financial sponsorship and God has made a way for her ever since. I adore her heart and soul. I cannot tell you the number of time God has awoken me from sleep to pray for my girl. I pray diligently that I may be able to go visit her one day. But, if not, I send her letters often (maybe too often) in hopes that she knows my deep affection for her.

    Thank you for sharing this story as it gives me a realistic view of her world. A sad view, but a realistic No wonder she is such a brave and tenacious woman of God.

  2. Kirk Turner March 7, 2013

    A sad but uplifting post. Poverty is so cruel and our God is so great, there is nothing that He will not overcome. My girlfriend went to Nairobi, Kenya in 2000. She said the poverty was overwhelming but the people were so uplifted and hopeful. I hope that we will be the aroma of Christ today and everyday by supporting ministries like Compassion International.

  3. Janelle Coombe March 6, 2013

    Yes the smell of the forest burning, after living through the 1967 bushfires in Tasmania as I child I can smell the forest burning long before you see any smoke. It will wake me at night if my window is open, it has a very distinct smell of smoke and eucaliptus and the slightes woft with trigger a pannic in my heart even now 45 years later my head knows there is no danger but that smell still triggers panic.

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