India isn’t famous for cleanliness … but keep reading!
A number of years ago I was facilitating a conference in Africa for young leaders. The week’s lessons included small group Bible studies around vocational themes. During the feedback time I asked the group, “What did you learn from the Bible about your vocational interest?” One young African leader, who had studied the material on health care, shouted out, “I now know God likes cleanliness. I used to think that ‘cleanliness was next to godliness’ was a white man’s thing. Now I understand it is a ‘God thing!’”
One of the passages this young leader had been studying was Deu. 23: 12-14
You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. Since the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.…
What might the young men and women who were in leadership roles have learned from studying this passage?
- Clean up your poop! Don’t just defecate anywhere.
- Go outside the camp, away from where people live, work, play and eat.
- Plan ahead and be prepared. Take a spade, dig a hole.
- Poop in the hole.
- Cover it up so that people do not step in it and it doesn’t attract flies.
- God is interested in the particulars (the how) of the principle (cleanliness).
- Why? (It is not just about behavior!). There are reasons:
- “God walks in the midst of your camp.” Of course this is a metaphor. The point is that your “camp”, your dwelling place, must be as clean as it would be if God were to come for a visit.
- Your camp must be holy because God is holy and you are to be like him, a holy people.
- God wants his people to be healthy and to flourish, not to be sick and impoverished. One key to good health is cleanliness.
The bottom line this young leader learned: God calls His people to cleanliness!
Cleanliness is related to human health and thriving in many ways. Here are just three:
- Looking after your excrement and washing your hands can prevent the spread of infection.
- Clean drinking water is essential to human health.
- A clean physical environment, free from trash, can lead to a beautiful, wholesome and emotionally healthy living environment.
The principle of cleanliness is found throughout the Bible. God is holy and His people are to be holy (pure, morally and spiritually clean).
The phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness” is not actually in the Bible. It was popularized by John Wesley, the British revivalist and evangelist. When Wesley began his ministry, England was a cesspool. People lived in filth. Disease and death were rampant. Wesley knew that people not only needed to hear and respond to the gospel in a “religious” way, their lives and living habits needed to be transformed. England needed to be cleaned up. In 1791, Wesley preached Sermon # 88, “On dress.”
But, before we enter on the subject, let it be observed, that slovenliness is no part of religion; that neither this, nor any text of Scripture, condemns neatness of apparel. Certainly this is a duty, not a sin. “Cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness.”
The cleanest village in India … maybe in all Asia
A friend recently sent me a story titled, “The Cleanest Village in Asia.” I was very interested to see that the village written about was in India. Of all the countries I have visited in my years working in relief and development, India, sadly, has been the filthiest. In the midst of all her mystery, her natural beauty and the vibrancy of her people, there is trash everywhere. It is quite sad and depressing. So to find the cleanest village in Asia was in India made me want to read the article.
The article, published by BBC June 8, 2016, was written by Kelly Phillips Badal. Ms. Badal describes the beauty and cleanliness of the village, Mawlynnong. The behavior of the people who live there is very different from the masses of Indians.
Ms. Badal relates this paragraph about how this transformation began.
So where did this sanitation routine come from? No one knows for sure, but, according to my guide Shishir Adhikari, it likely stemmed from an outbreak of cholera more than 130 years ago, and cleanliness was encouraged to control its spread. Early Christian missionaries probably helped implement and encourage the practice too.
How is it propagated today from one generation to another?
“We are Christians from more than 100 years back, and cleaning is learned from our elders,” said housewife Sara Kharrymba. “We pass on these skills, from me to my children, from them to their children.”
Could it be this principle of cleanliness–rooted in the character of a Holy God who cares for the welfare of all people, and articulated throughout Scripture as a necessity for human health and flourishing–is at the heart of the transformation of Mawlynnong?
Go here to read Badal’s article.
- Darrow Miller