Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 19, 2008

We All Stink!

A few years ago I met a couple who serve as missionaries to the Ayizo people in the country of Benin. This little country is located in West Africa and is the ancestral home of voodoo. The Ayizo people of Benin speak a tonal language called Fon (pronounced “phone”). A tonal language is a language that uses tone to distinguish words. So, words that are spelled the same can have a variety of meanings depending on the intonation of the word. For example, in the Fon language, the word “yi” (pitched high) means to receive. However, when this same word is pitched low it means to reject.

I have always enjoyed learning how to say common phrases in other languages. So, I asked my friends from Benin to teach me how to say “I love you” in the Fon language. The phrase “I love you” is (phonetically spelled): “ugh (mid pitch) yi (high pitch) wan (low pitch) nu (mid pitch) way (low pitch).” However, literally translated, this phrase means “I receive your smell.” For the Ayizo people, the most intimate way to say that you love someone is to tell them that you receive their smell. Wow — I’ve never seen that on a Hallmark card!

Travel has introduced me to a world of unusual and unpleasant human smells. On numerous occasions, I have been held hostage by villainous odors and struggled to free myself from malodorous manacles forged in the furnace of human filth. Honestly, some human smells are inhumane and indescribably repulsive. But, none of this is unusual given the fact that water is often scarce and bathing is a luxury in many of the places that I visit. Nevertheless, it’s not always easy receiving other people’s smell. Yet, among the Ayizo people, to love someone is to receive their smell — unconditionally.

When you think about it, missions is about receiving other people’s smell. In my post entitled “Leprosy” I shared about my visit to Blind Town in Jos, Nigeria. One of the most memorable things about that visit was the overpowering smell produced by impoverished human beings living in the dark shadows of filth. Incarnational living is about embracing those people, holding them close, and allowing their odor to seep into your skin and into the fabric of your heart.

I asked my friends from Benin to quote John 3:16 for me. John 3:16 in the Fon language begins, “For God received our smell…” Imagine that. In spite of the foul stench produced by our sin and rebellion, God received our smell. The God of the universe sent His only Son to walk among us, die for our sins, wash away the smell, and make us “a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15). I am grateful that God receives our smell. We must do no less.


  1. But do you receive my snore?

  2. Neel…

    After rooming with you in Uganda, I must confess that you are a champion among snorers. And, I do receive your snore … unconditionally!


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