Four Pleats of a Sari

by Kimberly Rae Thigpen

Filthy is an understatement. At one end of the river, it is being used as a bathroom; at the other end, a woman deftly gathers a jar full of drinking water for her family. You don’t need to have a microscope to see all the dirt and grime in this water; two eyes will do just fine.

Filthy is an understatement. At one end of the river, it is being used as a bathroom; at the other end, a woman deftly gathers a jar full of drinking water for her family. You don’t need to have a microscope to see all the dirt and grime in this water; two eyes will do just fine. The water houses any number of harmful germs that can cause sickness, pain, even death.  

I heard today about an article on a woman who came to this restricted country in Asia to do some research about the water. She saw a woman gathering drinking water from the village river (also used for swimming, washing clothes, and taking baths). She told the Asian woman to filter the water through four pleats of her sari dress. The water that came out was beautifully clean.1 The muck, dirt, and filth remained while the clean water sifted through. The woman was amazed. She had probably never seen such clean water in her life. Later, photographers wanted to take a picture of her drinking the bad water. After seeing how clean it could be, she refused. No going back to the old ways for her. I can picture her running to the other women in her village, telling them excitedly that they can have clean water for free—all they need are four pleats in their saris.

I’m imagining what would have happened had that Western researcher brought in a water filtering machine. First, she would have had to convince the villagers that they needed this strange, foreign piece of equipment. If that ever happened, she would have had to resource them with it, provide funds to continue its use, and return anytime anything on the machine broke, preferably before the villagers went back to using the old ways that made more sense to them. Such a method may give them clean water for a time, but it creates dependency and often does not bring about lasting change.

The sari method was so easy. No gimmicks. No money they didn’t have. No big machines that would wear out. Some might say the solution was too simple, but it worked. And for many in the village, that simple solution could mean the difference between life and death. What a great missionary that lady would be! She didn’t plow into the village giving sessions about how filthy their water was. They already knew their water was dirty, but there was nothing they could do about it. She didn’t bring them a thesis on all the diseases they could get from the bad water. She didn’t present a big machine that only a foreigner could run. Instead, she explained the solution in a way their culture understood, and let them see how wonderfully clean the water could be. Once the woman saw the results in action, she gladly wanted to share the good news with everyone else. Once they saw the clean water, I am sure not one of them went back to drinking the old dirty stuff! Would you?

That’s what we missionaries should be doing, as well. Our job isn’t to bring a “foreign” religion—truth packaged in such a way that the hearers think only westerners can produce it. Missionaries should be bringing Christ by first living in such a way that people clearly see the differences (not microscopic differences; they don’t have microscopes). Our lives should be clean, pure, and full of hope and love. They should be able to look at the unsaved people around them and see the difference as clearly as that woman saw the difference in the water by filtering it through four pleats of her sari. Jesus is the true filter. Our lives are filthy and full of death without him. But when we let him filter our lives, we become changed: pure, clean, and beautiful. Good news like that is simple, easy for anyone to understand, and available to all. Can you picture them rushing to tell the others in their villages about the wonderful changes Jesus has made in their lives?  

Sometimes we get so caught up in the latest method or newest research that we forget the most important thing we can do as missionaries is walk closely with our Savior. We can bring people methods, some of which may even work, and we have changed their lives. But how much better if we bring them Jesus, and let Jesus change their lives! This method too creates dependency—but on Jesus, not us. And Jesus alone can make true, lasting change. Clean, pure water—it’s a beautiful thing, and can mean life to those who find it. Let’s bring Living Water to the world.

1. In case you are the microscopic type, it is true that the sari-filtered water could still have micro-organisms and harmful bacteria in it. But what a change from it’s original condition! We are like that too—once cleansed and forgiven through salvation, we still have our daily struggles with sin as God leads us toward sanctification. But hopefully any leftover residue is the microscopic kind, and our lives as a whole are a beautiful testimony to the difference Christ makes.


Kimberly Rae Thigpen has served in Bangladesh, Uganda, Kosovo, and a restricted country in Southeast Asia.  She now lives in Ohio with her husband and two young children.

Copyright  © 2009 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.   

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