My college Spanish teacher, Marilyn Allgood, was one of the most persuasive people I've ever known. She was passionate about missions in the Rio Grande River area. To incentivize college students to go during summer break, she offered college credits to go and translate for a mission team doing work in the rural Mexican desert. I was persuaded and signed up.
We went in with a team from Arkansas, and I learned that my college Spanish had not prepared me for construction terminology. No one had taught me the word for rafter or welding or soffit or concrete. By the end of my first week, I was dreaming in Spanish.
The team from Arkansas left after a week, and my partner, Brian, and I were left behind to work with children and lead Bible studies.
The people in the village were trying to scratch out a living in the desert. They had small vegetable gardens, watered by buckets carried from a windmill pump. Their scrawny cows and goats survived out in the bush.
I was enough of a norte americano that after a week, I wanted a bath. With water so precious, bathing was not a regular activity in the village. After a day or two, you no longer noticed the smell of others; you simply hoped they didn't notice you. The only bathing option was the pond by the windmill, where the cows and goats drank and cooled off. The water was muddy and, shall we say, had little islands of cow residue floating on top of the water.
Desperate men do desperate things. I took my bar of soap down to the cow pond and waded out into the filthy water. My soap touched the water, squealed, rolled over and sank. I tried to remove the top layer of dirt, but new dirt was clinging to me faster than the old dirt was coming off. I gave up, filthier than before.
Our Mexican liaison must have noticed our discomfort, because the next day he rattled into the village with a pickup and told us we were going for a ride. We hopped on, Brian and I, and he headed out of the village, headed toward the distant mountains. He stopped in another village to pick up another team of students, Molly and Susan. They had been doing literacy training. Off we went again.
After hundreds of twists and turns, he stopped. Then we heard it: the sound of rushing water.
We jumped off the truck and headed toward the sound. Gushing over rocks was the cleanest, purest water I had ever seen, flowing down from the mountains. Brian needed no encouragement. He waded right in, fully clothed. I was right after him. The water was cold but refreshing. Molly and Susan were hesitant, but soon their desire for clean overcame their modesty.
I found a deep spot and squatted down. I could feel the water peeling away the layers of dirt and grime. I dunked my head underwater and felt the oil stripped from my hair. I was being washed clean.
It was a moment of deep joy, sanitized by the force of the water, refreshed by its cool temperature and restored to something we once knew - cleanness. It meant even more, because the four of us were sharing it together. This was gift, a renewal. It was like a baptism.
The shadows had begun to fall, and our Mexican guide told us it was time to go back. Darkness fell quickly. We rode in the back of the truck, shivering in our wet clothes but clean, marveling at the stars, bright in an unpolluted sky. Despite having no preacher, no music and no Bible, it was one of the best days of worship I ever had.
How often do you try to clean your soul in dirty water? It never works. Jesus tried to tell us this. He told us that hate, lust, self-centeredness, salesmanship, making sure things are even - none of this works. None of these behaviors make us feel cleaner.
You and I need an encounter with God's grace. We need to be plunged into God's blessings and be cleaned by his power, the power of a pure Savior who died for our sins and was raised to give us new life.
Visit God's gushing stream of grace. Be loved. Marvel. Get clean.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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