Thailand (MNN/BP) — They needed pigs that don't stink.
At a meeting in rural Thailand, Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary Mark Patenaude heard the pig farmers' dilemma. They were being forced to move their smelly livestock a mile outside their village. But some farmers were too poor or too old to do so.
Patenaude spoke up.
"I know of a method to raise pigs that don't produce any smell," the Southern Baptist worker from Minnesota announced. "Is anybody interested in that?"
Hands shot up all over the room. He hoped this enthusiasm would later lead to openness to the Gospel.
He was wrong.
Patenaude and his wife, Lisa, came to this unreached village in 2003 with a plan. Having worked previously on agricultural development projects in Thailand, they planned to use that knowledge to help improve the community. In turn, they hoped that would give them an opening to talk about Jesus in a place with no known believers.
"We wanted to go into new territory, be pioneer evangelists, and serve the community," Patenaude said. "God would provide new believers, we would be able to disciple them, and we would work with them to come up with a model of church that would thrive in a rural setting."
Things went well at first.
The Patenaudes were welcomed by the villagers, who invited them to attend a government-sponsored development committee in the district.
"That was good for me, because I got to hear all of the issues that were going on in different villages," Patenaude said.
One of those issues was the forced relocation of pig farms. Repelled by the stench, some villagers believed the animals were unsanitary and wanted them out. Patenaude seized the opportunity with an inventive, yet little-known, solution: Make the pigs not stink.
Developed in South Korea, the method — Korean Natural Farming — involves raising pigs on deep organic bedding filled with local microorganisms that rapidly break down the pigs' droppings.
"It just eliminates the smell associated with raising animals in captivity," Patenaude said. "That was amazing to me because it worked. Who would have ever thought that pigs don't stink?"
The Thai government provided money for 10 people from the community to go with Patenaude to a training facility where they learned to implement the method.
"I was very well received, and everybody came to know me as the stink-free pig guy," he said.
He worked with a Thai farmer who set up a demonstration pig pen to test the technique. The farmer became the local expert, training other villagers.
Patenaude's work earned him great respect among members of the community who saw that he truly cared for their needs. Energized by the acceptance he gained, he sprang into sharing the Gospel — and slammed into a wall.
"Every time I told my testimony, I could see their eyes start to glaze over," he recalled. "I could just see them turn off."
The villagers baffled him by showing not even the slightest interest.
"They were so open and receptive to us on [development projects], but when it came to spiritual matters, it was just an absolute brick wall every time," he said.
After repeated efforts failed, doubts flooded Patenaude's mind. Was his language deficient? Was his approach wrong?
"I just couldn't get it," Patenaude said. "Why was what God did in my life and the transformation He offers not being accepted or even seen as desirable by the people I was talking to?"
For five years, he and Lisa labored to break through with the Gospel, constantly re-evaluating their methods. They partnered with Thai Christians, who themselves were shocked by the difficulty of evangelizing the community.
The Patenaudes wrestled with the uncertainty and self-questioning that came with not seeing a single adult accept Christ. The successes they did have seemed to end badly. Several children professed faith in Jesus but fell away in their teenage years because of cultural pressure to conform to their unbelieving parents.
"[We asked], 'God, are we still supposed to be here?'" Patenaude recalled. "Every time, the answer came back [from God], 'Look, you may not see it, but this is where you're supposed to be right now.'"
He and Lisa accepted that answer each time it came, striving to be obedient despite their frustration. Their hearts ached for the villagers, who lived in darkness, fear, jealousy and hatred, refusing to embrace salvation.
"Jesus is weeping over His lost sheep–His people that don't know Him nor receive Him," Patenaude said. "I think that really captures how we also felt."
After knocking on so many doors that wouldn't open, the Patenaudes believed God was leading them to a new strategic role that required close work with Thai churches in a nearby city. The Patenaudes still visit the village, and they have seen some adults move toward a greater understanding of God. The couple trust that the seeds planted in the hard spiritual soil will someday grow.
"We have to trust God in His leadership, no matter what task He gives us, and we have to be faithful to that, even when it is frustrating and we can't see the results," Patenaude said.
"I think we knew that, but He let us experience it."
(Marcus Rowntree wrote this story. He's a summer intern with the International Mission Board.)