“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
I will never forget that smell. I anticipated it, but I did not expect it to be so strong, so overwhelming. I thought I would be tough enough to bear it without flinching, without gagging. Though it was warm on that mountaintop, I dreaded the breeze that carried the stench of rotting food and animal waste.We came to distribute water and food, and as I hiked up to those atop a garbage mound, my feet sunk in unidentifiable materials. I wondered how accustomed the people were to the smell, or if noticed it anymore.
The image of black buzzards hovering over the mountaintop will forever be ingrained in my mind. People and birds were picking over the same things: expired, unwanted, decaying materials. The birds encircled the mounds, only feet above heads of people. Some sat beside people for a quick break or poked their beaks around to see what they could scavenge. They were big, ugly, and scary to me. But maybe the idea of them living in trash made them seem scarier or more rugged to me because their situation so different from what I am used to: birds that live in painted bird houses in my freshly mowed backyard in the states. Maybe the same idea can go for people, too.
The eyes of the people I handed bags of purified water to I will never forget. I wanted them to feel human, and I wanted to reinforce that in my own mind as well. We are equal, and we will always be, despite each other’s vastly different circumstances. Jesus died for all of us, and we are all called to love and be a light for Him wherever we are, whether we are picking through the scraps from a million strangers or sitting in an air-conditioned classroom at a private university. We have the same Father, the same calling, and the same desire to be loved and have meaning in this world.
We were not able to stay long in the Tegucigalpa dump. After distributing food and water and a short game of soccer, we left. While I wanted relief from my discomfort, I felt uncomfortable leaving a place that brought me so much wonder. I wondered about the garbage, how old it was, where it came from. I wondered how difficult it was to find what they were looking for, how valuable those materials were to them and meaningless it was to so many others, and how desperate the people were to pick through it.
I wondered how the people ended up at the dump, how long they have considered it their workplace or if they lived there. They picked through the trash to find items worth selling or recycling just to make a little bit of money. I wondered how they felt about their situation. I wondered about the mission work that took place there and how God was working in that place. I wondered about their hopes and dreams, and how much they understood God ‘s eternal love for them. I wondered if I would had I been in their shoes.
I knew God was at work there, as I believe He is in all places across the world, but it was not obviously apparent. If I had just focused on the awful smell or the site of children in heaps of garbage, I would not believe God was at work in such a grotesque place. But beyond the garbage, there are hearts of gratitude and kindness. There are relationships formed between “the least of these” and missionaries who visit weekly. There are people who have futures and dreams, and there is a God who loves them unconditionally and who, I believe, is with the every step of the way.
“As we enter a poor community, there is a sense in which we are walking on holy ground because Christ has been actively at work in that community since the creation of the world.”
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts
Photos from serving in the dump with Honduras Hope: