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A Woman’s Perseverance in the Face of Denial

A Woman’s Perseverance in the Face of Denial
Image: Brian Kennedy / Getty

In the late 1980’s Gayla Benefield worked in a small town in Montana reading the meters of every house for the local utility company. She noticed there were many people home during the day. They were in their 40’s and 50’s, and on oxygen tanks, sick with various respiratory diseases or lung cancer. Puzzled, she did some investigating. She discovered a toxic form of asbestos, vermiculite, was used to insulate many homes during the harsh Montana winters. It was also used profusely as a soil conditioner in the parks and football fields.

She tried to tell anyone and everyone in the town about the hazard, but nobody would listen. Journalist Margaret Heffernan later reported the story and told National Public Radio:

In fact, she became so annoying, (and) kept insisting on telling this story to her neighbors, to her friends, to other people in the community. (Eventually) … a bunch of them got together and they made a bumper sticker which said, yes, I'm from Libby, Montana, and, no, I don't have asbestosis. But Gayla didn't stop.

A scientific researcher soon confirmed her suspicions. Even so, many in the town argued: “Well, if it were really dangerous … the doctors would have told us.” In total, over 400 people died from the substance and over 1,200 other people were affected. In the end, the EPA spent $120 million on the cleanup and a special asbestos clinic was set up to treat the residents.

Heffernan said:

There's a lot of willful blindness around these days ... There issues at work that people are afraid to raise. 85 percent of people … know there's a problem, but they won't say anything.

Possible Preaching Angles: Many people are also in denial about the deadly effects of sin. A Christian should persevere even when no one is listening to their warning about “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8).

Source: Guy Raz, “What Does Everyday Courage Look Like?” NPR (12-12-2014)

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