OK, I am that guy. I didn’t want to go on the mission trip to Nicaragua. I was not excited to leave the comforts of home. Maybe I’m a little spoiled. I like air conditioning, my comfortable bed and the ability to get drive-thru food. If I want Starbucks I like the idea of being able to jump in the car and get it any time I want. My entire perspective changed when I went to the dump. Now, I’m not talking about the furniture store in Norfolk and Hampton. I am talking about the place the people from Puerto Cabezas take their garbage.
We had finished the Pastor’s Leadership Conference and my Leadership Training Workshop was wrapped up, so when Pastor Earl asked if I wanted to ride out to the city dump I responded with an enthusiastic “Sure, why not?”. I’ve traveled various parts of the world both in the military and while in ministry. I’ve seen poverty before, but none of that could prepare me for the sight we saw that day.
We drove along a well maintained dirt road. We even passed what appeared to be a modern gas station. It stood out in my mind because I remember wondering if they might have Diet Coke, cold Diet coke. I resisted the temptation to ask Pastor Earl to stop so that I could feed my caffeine addiction. Then Pastor Earl casually mentioned that this was his highway. At first I thought he was joking, but I soon realized he was not when he said this is the road he drives to Managua. That’s a 270 mile long trip on a dirt road. That’s a whole different story we’ll save for another time.
We arrived at the dump and the first sight that caught my attention was that the people, both children and adults, left the pile of refuse when they saw the truck coming. They were milling about on the road when we got out of the truck. They were not very talkative and it appeared to me they were not excited about this interruption. The dogs and winged scavenger quickly took their place looking through the giant pile of refuse.
Pastor Jose and Earl spoke to the people and translated for us. The people explained that they were looking for scrap metal; aluminum cans, copper, etc. They told Pastor Jose that they can also get money recycling plastic soda bottles, but they must first wash them. It became apparent that this was how they made their living. They lived off the money the earned from salvaging recyclables from the dump.
Now here is the heartbreaking part of my experience this day. Pastor Earl explained to us that when it’s lunch time these people cannot run on down to the McDonalds drive-thru. They eat what they find while scavenging. If they are lucky enough to find a melon, they simply break off the rotten part. This was the reason Pastor Earl and Verbo Ministries started the feeding center. When he drove past the dump and saw dozens of children scavenging for food he knew something had to be done. The feeding center feeds more than 400 children each day. They receive enough food to feed themselves and still have some to take home to share with their families.
We finished talking to the families scavenging and then we climbed back into the trucks. I made sure I was the first one into the truck, because the Holy Spirit started leaking out of my eyes as I thought about those children dependent on the dump for food. I asked Earl why these people didn’t take advantage of the feeding center (by the way they only feed children at the feeding center). He explained that this site was a two hour walk from the feeding center. The children would lose the most productive part of their day if they stopped scavenging long enough to walk to and from the feeding center.
At that moment I knew, along with everyone in our party, that we had to do something to help those families at the dump. We asked our team members to contribute so that we could buy some basic provisions for these families. The generosity of the team allowed us to purchase enough for over 50 families.
The team assembling packages of beans, rice, sugar, flour, lard, salt and soap for families at the dump.
Fortunately our story does not end at the dump. The next day I had the opportunity to see the solution to the problem. I was able to help serve at the feeding center. There were hundreds of children, who prior to the opening of this center, relied on what they could scavenge at the dump. My wife, Michele, made the comment that they were happy in spite of their circumstances. They were content to play with plastic bottle caps as toys. They were excited to bring their plastic bowls each day to help provide food for their families. I think it was more than happiness we saw on their faces. I believe it was joy. The joy that comes from knowing they are loved. Not just loved by the people who provide them food, but these children are taught that God loves them. In fact while we were visiting, several of our team members were able to share with the children that God loves them so much that He gave His Son for their salvation.
This is a joy that cannot be understood. It is not derived from our circumstances. It does not come from sleeping in a comfortable bed or from the ability to get Starbucks day or night. It does not even come from having a full belly. It comes from having a relationship with God because of His Son, Jesus. The children we met at the feeding center did not have much, but many of them had this joy!