“Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22:2)
The team had a busy and emotionally moving day today, spending much of it in the communities around the Tegucigalpa city dump—a world and life so far from anything any of us have ever known that it is truly difficult to put into words.
The Tegucigalpa city dump is located about six kilometers outside the city limits. It covers acres of mountainous land and is surrounded by settlements of people living in tiny houses constructed primarily of scrap wood and tin. One of the tasks of the team today was to build a house in one of these nearby settlements for a woman named Norma, her husband, and her two children, because their previous house was falling apart so badly that they had not been able to stay there at night when it rained. We were joined by David Logue, Mark and Lori Connell, and several other experienced builders (not to mention a number of Honduran men and boys) for this house, and it went up very smoothly and quickly. As members of our team, the family that would be living there, and others from the community gathered inside the house to give thanks and ask God’s blessing on it, I was literally moved to tears by the sound of many voices praying “Gracias, gracias, Senor” with a fervor and depth one seldom hears in our North American churches. This indeed is we why we came: to be instruments of God’s love to some of the people in greatest need in our world.
It became painfully clear to us just how deep and desperate the world’s needs are when we visited the dump itself midmorning to deliver food and water to the people there. It is difficult enough to see and imagine the life of men and women who support themselves by scavenging a mountain of trash; it is even more disturbing to see and know that entire families—including babies and children—live there, and that for many this world of burning, stinking trash may be all they will ever know. As a truck pulled up and dumped a load of trash, people would immediately start picking through, searching for recyclables—and food. We came with Marc Tindall, who has been involved in feeding and outreach to people at the dump for several years, to feed people a simple meal of rice, beans, and tortillas. People lined up at the back of his pickup truck and received a bowl of food and members of our group distributed bags of water to people who were digging through piles of trash or sitting or standing near us. It is estimated that over a thousand people live here, and others also depend on scavenging to support their families. A bleak picture, indeed; I truly feel that no words I could write would express it. And yet even here, God—and God’s image in every person—is not absent. Smiles and snippets of conversations with people there remind us of our common humanity, even if this itself serves to deepen the sense of injustice and disquietude at the fact that so many are forced to live in conditions so unworthy of the image of God.
After serving food at the dump, many members of the group went to a nearby settlement known as Buen Samaritano to play with the children who live there, since the full group was not needed to finish building the house. Although it was obviously a very poor community, one felt that it had a certain dignity that many of the places we’ve visited did not: the dirt streets were orderly, and the small homes—several of which had clearly been built according to the same 16 x 16 foot word and tin pattern we had been building this week—looked relatively well kept. We parked near a large open dirt field and soon more than forty children—girls and boys of all ages—showed up and joined us in coloring with crayons and playing dodge ball and freeze tag. A few members of the group gave out small toys and candy, as well. I was amazed at the interest these children showed in just about whatever we had to offer, but it seemed they were far more interested in our time and attention than in the stuff we had to offer. It was a good and rejuvenating time, and showed us, once again, the beauty and joy of children.
Our final stop in Tegucigalpa today was brief, but made no less of an impression for that. We visited a very poor neighborhood in an area known as Veinte-uno de Octubre and distributed clothing out of a church there. This was a neighborhood of tightly packed houses (most built of scrap wood and metal) on a steep hillside, with a small wooden church building at the bottom of the hill. Residents greeted us as we walked down the path through the houses, and quickly lined up outside the church when we began to assemble bags of clothes to distribute to them. It was a quick stop, because several members of the team had made an appointment to play soccer at 6pm at a place near our hotel in Valle. The young Honduran boys who had been travelling with us this week formed one team; the gringos comprised another. Although I wasn’t present, reports indicate that the Honduran team blew out the Americans.
After dinner, we finished assembling food bags for distribution and had a long debrief on things we were grateful for this week, as the Helmick family (and others with them) are flying home in the morning. It was a beautiful evening, following a challenging day that called us to recognize the presence of God in the poor.