An Unwrinkled Nose
I walked from the airplane to the bundle on the ground. First, I noticed the flies. Then the smell—the smell of death. The flies flew vulture circles around the bundle on the ground. It contained the perfectly still figure of a tiny woman; the image of God clung tenaciously to her tired features. All that is evil and broken in this world sought to mercilessly destroy this weak and weary image-bearer.
She’d been carried on a makeshift litter over the steep mountain trail from a nearby village to reach the airstrip where my airplane was now parked. Her husband stood beside her, holding another bundle in his hands, a noken—one of the net bags woven from tree bark fibers that his people have been making for as long as anyone has memory of this place. I peered into the noken. It contained perhaps the most uncorrupted vision of the image of God we’re likely to see on this broken planet: the woman’s perfect newborn child. While the child’s mother lay on the ground enveloped in a struggle for life, her baby slept serenely in his father’s arms. The miracle of childbirth, cursed when our race turned away from God, now threatened the life of the baby’s young mother.
When we landed in Sentani, I stepped out of the airplane and went to help one of our ground staff with the stretcher. As we gently moved our patient from the airplane to the stretcher, I watched my co-worker’s face when the stench hit him.
Not a flinch.
Not the tiniest wrinkling of the nose. I knew that the only reason he didn’t react to his senses was out of respect for this little tribal woman, wrapped in filthy, blood-soaked blankets. You don’t wrinkle your nose at someone you believe carries God’s image.
Our team has had to navigate some really rough waters this year. At that moment under the wing of the PC-6, watching my colleague restrain the very natural instinct to gag, my heart leapt and said, “Yes! This is it. This is why we’re here, why we fight on. This is why we don’t quit when everything in us wants to. As a flawed and broken team, we’re somehow being used to touch the least of God’s image-bearers.”
Sometimes all that’s asked of us is an unwrinkled nose.
And here’s a joyful answer to your obvious question: Praise God! The lady survived and after about two months of care out on the coast, we were privileged to fly her back to her home village. Mom and little one are doing great!