For the first two months after moving into Nineteen Apartments and doing home visits, I wondered about a smell I noticed each time I would visit a friend’s home. It was a pungent, musty odor that was sometimes strong and distinct, sometimes subtle. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I had figured out that I mostly smelled it (and came home smelling like it) on visits to the homes of friends from Myanmar.
Then one day, one of my team-mates got offered a small packet of betel nut on a home visit. When she walked into the apartment with it upon returning from her home visit, I exclaimed, “You smell Rohingya! What is that?” It was the betel nut I had been smelling the whole time…
Betel nut is one name for the areca nut, which many people from southeast Asia chew regularly. Since that day, I’ve now often noticed Rohingya and Burmese ladies preparing the little leaf-wrapped packets of addictive betel nut for themselves or their husbands. They will tell you they chew it because it keeps them awake and calm. But what stood out to me was the distinct smell. And then something else clicked…
I was listening to an elderly man who has walked with Christ for decades share some key life insights he has learned from 2 Corinthians 2-4. One image in particular stood out to me. Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ “uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2:14-15).
As he was sharing, I thought of the betel nut smell that my teammate and I would talk about when we teased each other of smelling “distinct” every time we return from a home visit. But the thought hit me: do we have a distinct smell to us? Do we “smell of Christ,” like Paul encourages? We deeply desire to be as distinct and different as the betel nut so that all our neighbors would wonder what makes us different and turn to Christ, the One whose fragrance we carry.
I’ve seen glimpses of that happening. Like when my Iraqi friend asks why my husband isn’t angry if I’m late getting home from visiting her, or when she comes over and is amazed that he chats with her and shows interest in her family. Or when an Afghan friend tells me that she likes coming to English class because all of the encouragers (or “teachers”) there are kind and helpful. Or when a Khurdish friend observes that everyone she has met with the English class cares about people and never make her feel dumb for learning at her own pace.
As ambassadors of the Gospel, we are intentional about sharing stories about Christ and God’s love. May we also live in such a way that our refugee friends would know, just by being around us, that we have the “aroma of Christ” and that this aroma would make them hungry to know the living God personally.