Written on Saturday, September 11, 2010
Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Spending the day with my new Compassion child, Stefanie, was amazing. I did see some hard things during the day, but I gave myself permission to feel the joy fully because I knew what was coming next on the agenda.
This morning I woke up with a bit of a weak stomach. I knew we were visiting the city dump and the people who lived and worked there. I wanted to see it – well, sort of – but I was very nervous. I had a mental image of myself wandering through the homes in sackcloth and ashes and wailing at the top of my lungs. I wasn’t sure what that was going to do for anyone. I was also a little concerned about losing my breakfast in front of the team. That was a real possibility. My mom and sister have both been down that road before and I didn’t want to complete the humiliation triangle.
Our team got on the bus and immediately started chatting away. Somehow we got on the subject of weird foods and I was repulsed to the point of nausea by something about sheep brains on toast. I could have gone my whole life without hearing that, I thought. Moments later I was asking Shaun Groves to sing along to A Whole New World, which was playing on the radio. (Remember Aladdin and Princess Jasmine?) Shaun still hasn’t blessed us with his vocal talents and we’ve been giving him a hard time.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the settlement on the dump. Why would anyone want to live on a garbage pile? That was the question on my mind and you’re probably wondering, too. The people who live there don’t pay any kind of rent or taxes on the land. They only pay for power and water. It is very cheap, but they pay a high price in countless ways. The families who live there arrived in desperate situations. Eight years later, they are still living in dwellings made of tin, cardboard, and blankets.
We had a very tough visit with one family and then began walking to another home. On the way, I saw a light-headed girl Annabeth’s age in the alley that we were walking through. She was very dirty and was playing with a filthy plastic doll. She never turned her face to me, so of course I pictured my daughter’s. I could have gone my whole life without seeing that, I thought. Ironically, within those few minutes we heard A Whole New World playing on a radio again.
We ended up driving to a cemetery where we could look out over the dump and get a better view of the settlements where 20,000 families dwell. The cemetery itself was fascinating. All of the graves were above ground, so it was just tomb after tomb after tomb. I’d never seen anything like it in person. It was ironic that the dead were housed better than the living people we’d just met.
A short walk took us to a cliff that overlooked a sea of filth. Below us, trucks were driving in and out and men were unloading trash at a frenzied pace.
The tombs were all around us and vultures were resting in groups on top of them. Hundreds more were circling above our heads. I was so thoroughly freaked out that I hid under the overhang of a sarcophagus. I could have gone my whole life without seeing this, I thought. I feel like I’m in hell. Thankfully, because of Jesus, that was the closest I will ever get to it.
I was desperate to get back in the van. I couldn’t take any more. The smell, the horror flick reality, the freaky birds, the desperation, the children living in the dredges of a sinful world. Stick a fork in me, I was done. When we finally returned to the van, I pressed my forehead on the back of Ann Voskamp’s seat and cried.
What if I had gone my whole life without seeing that? What if I anesthetized myself so much with wealth that I was convinced this wasn’t so? It needs to be known.
My original title for this post was “To Hell and Back,” but I didn’t think anyone would stick around to read it. If you’re still here, please stay with me because I want to take you to the “and Back” part.
It was time to visit the Compassion Child Development Center that serves the children who live on the dump. We were put to joyous work right away, serving lunch to the children and workers. The children eagerly approached the serving area where Lindsey and Lisa-Jo filled their bowls with rice and soup and Ann ladled lemonade into their cups. I was in charge of handing out tortillas. Dos o tres tortillas? I asked. The tortillas were very warm and so was the atmosphere. My sadness and hopelessness began to fade as the joy of doing something to help took its place.
Our leader, Patricia, brought bags of shoes to be given to the children in this community. I had brought a few of Annabeth’s shoes from home and stuffed them in the bag with the others.
At one point I heard someone calling my name and motioning for me to come. It was a mother holding her baby girl who was wearing Annabeth’s black mary janes. Oh, thrill of my heart! She was absolutely precious and medicine to a homesick mama’s heart.
We were invited to visit each of the classrooms and interact with the students. There were boys and girls ages 3 to 16 spread throughout the building. As we walked through the halls, it was like a breath of fresh air. The church was clean and spacious. The children had room to play in safety, under the watchful eye of loving adults.
We entered the room with the teenagers. Most of them were boys. I was thankful to see that because boys in these neighborhoods are very likely to join gangs. The child development program is a HUGE deterrent for them. We had met a handful of strong, godly fathers during this trip and seen a big difference in the disposition of their children. I have hope that these boys will grow up to lead their families in strength and godliness.
Before we left, we had the pleasure of hearing the pastor’s testimony. He said he had lost seven years of his life to drugs. When he was 21 years old, he came to faith in Christ. He sought out a church and during the altar call, he laid on the floor and surrendered his life to God. When stood to his feet, the need and desire for drugs had been completely taken away. Now he only needed and desired God. He has been a pastor for ten years. His wife is a doctor. Can you imagine what a great team they are? The pastor has a heart for the people of this community because he knows what it’s like to live in desperation. He knows what it’s like to live in redemption.
God is at work in the desperate situations. Honestly, when we were in the dump today I couldn’t see Him. I was blinded by buzzards as Satan hissed in my ears that God is not powerful enough to deliver these people. That He must not really love them. But when we walked in the doors of the church the lies were dispelled. We saw the salvation of our God.
Did you know that on average, 500 Compassion children around the world give their lives to Christ every single day? Isn’t that mind-boggling? You can be a part of giving spiritual, physical, and emotional hope to a child living in a desperate situation. Please consider supporting a child through Compassion International. If you’d like to change the life of a child from Guatemala, click here.