A Gift from the City Dump

I’ve been to Honduras countless times. In fact, I even lived there for a while. Almost every time I go, I bring something back with me, something that impacts my life and my ministry. This last trip was certainly no exception.

Most of the team members on my latest mission trip to Honduras had read, Radical, by David Platt. In that book, Platt describes a life-changing experience he had at the Tegucigalpa city dump. Everyone wanted me to take them there. For several reasons, I did not want to go. I had been to the city dump about five years ago, and I knew the conditions had not changed, at least not for the better. I knew we would see poverty, injustice, and human depravity at its worst. My thirteen-year-old grandson Noah was with us, and I honestly didn’t know how this would impact him. But we decided to go.  Click here to see the Tegucigalpa city dump.

Unless you’ve been there, you cannot begin to imagine this place. Nothing can prepare you for the sights and smells. To see children, young teens, and women living and working in the filth of miles and miles of garbage is simply beyond description. Locals call it the Crematoria – the best translation being, “the burning place.” It reminded me of Jesus talking about hell in Matthew 1:8. He used the Greek word geenna – the name for the valley outside of Jerusalem, where mounds of garbage burned constantly – to describe a place where the fire is never quenched.The Crematoria is much like the geenna of Jesus’ day.

At the city dump, there was smoke rising out of the trash everywhere you looked. The smoke and smell permeated everyone and everything in that place. Our bus stayed only a few minutes, then turned around, and headed back down the hill, away from what was perhaps the most depressing place in the world. As we drove down the winding road out of the dump, everyone on the bus was quiet-no words, no conversations, no questions, nothing but silence, and a lot of tears. I think they were all shocked at, and I was certainly reminded of, the stark reality of how people live in places like that.

I feel sure there are crematorias in many other places around the world – places where people live in abject poverty, where people suffer injustice, and live totally without hope of anything better. We don’t have to go to Tegucigalpa to find people living in some kind of “hell” they can’t escape. People like that are much closer than we think.

What I brought back with me to my home, to my job, and to my ministry in Greensboro was not just another memory or experience, but rather a message from the Holy Spirit that is already impacting how I work, how I live, and how I relate to others. From what I saw, smelled, and felt in the dump, the Spirit of Jesus wants me to remember that these are the people He came to die for, and these are the people He sends His Church to care for, and reach out to with His love and the good news of His mercy and grace.

In a real sense of the word, there are city dumps all around us. But, we tend to build our interstate highway systems, and our lives, so that we avoid them. Our busy schedules and commitments don’t allow us time to see them, much less interact with them. Our homeowners’ association covenants, and city building codes prohibit them from moving in next door. And, our fear of catching some strange disease, or being the victim of crime wouldn’t allow us to move to their neighborhood either. They have their world, and we have ours. And, that’s the way it is. But, I have to ask, is that the way it should be?

What I brought back with me, is a determination to find a way to break into their world – the world of the city dumps – and somehow, some way become the Good News to them. I now understand a little better what it means in John 4:4 where it says, “He had to go through Samaria.” Respected rabbis in Jesus’ day, didn’t go through Samaria, and avoided all contact with Samaritans because of racial and religious prejudice. Going through Samaria, and going into the city dumps is not what most religious leaders do today. But, if we follow Christ, we must follow Him into Samaria and beyond.

I also brought back a commitment to never again look the other way. I refuse to pretend there’s nothing I can do. I reject the temptation to blame their poverty on them, or their governments, and by doing so, excuse myself from any responsibility to act. I’m reminded of the words of William Wilberforce, the man who helped end slavery in England:

“Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way; but you can never again say that you did not know.”

From this trip to Honduras, I brought back a desire to look for the poor and the outcast in the city dumps, and find ways to step into their world in order to make a real difference. I want them to know my Jesus! Perhaps I’m crazy, but I’m done with living in the sterilized bubble of the American Dream. It’s time to go to Samaria!

I’ve seen the need. I’ve felt the Holy Spirit nudging me forward. I cannot look the other way. I’m ready to go where only Jesus would lead me. I wonder, how many people feel the way I do? Would you go there with me?

Larry Doyle

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About Larry Doyle

Larry is the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association. He has served overseas with the International Mission Board (SBC), in Charlotte NC as the Director of International Ministries, and as a pastor in North Carolina and Kentucky. He is married to Rebekah Hill, a native of Greensboro NC, and has two children and three grandchildren.
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