“What do you mean I have to go in my ‘birthday suit’?” I asked.
“Exactly what I said, you know, free willy!” responded the villager with a smile. Every bone in my prudish body recoiled at the thought of taking a 250-degree steam bath with a group of naked men all huddled inside a 6’x6′ wood-fired banya. “God, you’ve taken so much, at least let me keep my modesty,” I pleaded. “If not for me, then for the sight of the villagers as my glowing, freakishly white body would surely blind any onlooker.”
Ahhhh…life in the village. So much to learn, so much to experience, so different than what we’re accustomed to. “Taking banya” is no exception. Fortunately for everyone involved that night, including me, taking banya with my skivvies on was deemed acceptable for the “wimpy whitey”.
Not that long ago these steam houses played an important part of village life. They were a place for families and friends to gather, talk, pray, and wash with each other. Much like a sauna in the lower 48, these steam houses were essential for the physical, spiritual and mental health of the participants. But over the years indoor plumbing made its way to the village and the banya fires were snuffed out. Today there are only a couple active banyas so very few people are able to participate in this tradition.
The more I was invited and participated in the banya, the more I grew to love it. It relaxes, cleanses, and provides a great place to have deep conversations with others. As I was enjoying a banya one night (with my skivvies on, of course), God pressed on my heart a “build-it-and-they-will-come” moment. “What?! Build a banya?”
“Yes. Build a banya and open it up for the entire village to enjoy.”
So we built a banya.
A generous donor funded the project and as the building began to take shape, the villagers caught the wave of excitement and donated body soap, wash rags, and firewood. Our friends from Sonshine Treasures sent us scripture verses to put inside the walls and cover the building with God’s word and their prayers. In the first week of “lighting up” 25 villagers (20% of the village) steamed in our banya! From 7-year-olds to 70-year-olds people are now basking in the warmth of the building. Our prayer is that the villagers will experience the warmth of Jesus as they relax in the warmth of the banya.