The Place Where Children and Buzzards Share Lunch
The experience my son and I had in Honduras that changed us forever and challenged us to change the world.
I just recently returned from a mission trip to Honduras with my 13-year-old son. The trip was a right-of-passage for him as he transitions from childhood to adulthood. The whole experience was an opportunity for him to live out his faith in a significant and challenging way. It was a tremendously unifying and bonding time for both of us as we had an opportunity to do mission work together.
My son, however, has been in a place of turmoil and struggle ever since we’ve been back. He’s has been struggling with what he saw while we were in Honduras. Namely he’s been struggling with what he saw in comparison to what he has here at home. In Honduras we saw three levels of poverty: bad poverty, terrible poverty, and shocking poverty. The shocking level of poverty was seen on our second-to-last day in Honduras when we went to the city dump right outside of the capital city, Tegucigalpa. What we saw there has forever changed both of our lives.
The dump is essentially an enormous mountain of trash that continues to grow year after year. When I say mountain, I mean it. Dump trucks literally drive up a road through the trash and heap more and more trash on a mound that continues to grow skyward day after day, year after year. Our bus drove us up to the top of the mountain and as we approached the summit the smell and fumes coming off the gigantic heap of garbage became overbearing. What was worse than what our noses smelled was what our eyes saw when we got to the top. There were literally hundreds of people rummaging through the trash - men, women, and little children. There were little shelters erected all over the place built from cardboard boxes and whatever else could be found. These served as houses for the people. Yes, people literally lived in and on the trash.
The children at the dump search through the refuse for food, clothing, toys, and whatever else of value they might find. This is their daily routine. This is their life. They also gather plastics, aluminum cans and other items that they then take and sell up the road to people who collect and recycle the materials. The money from those sales is only source of income for many of the families living in those horrid conditions.
At the dump there is a constant fume coming off of the mass of trash and there are small fires burning all over the place. The smells permeate everything. In the sky above hundreds of buzzards swarm in circular patterns, as if death has already been pronounced on the human beings in the dump and the birds of prey are just waiting until its official. The buzzards even walk among the crowds of people. I was overwhelmed by all I saw and smelled and how my heart felt, but my heart was pushed beyond its breaking point when I saw a child picking food out of the trash and five feet from the child was a buzzard doing the same. This was literally hell on earth.
The locals call the dump the Crematoria -- the best translation being, "the burning place." It reminded me of Jesus talking about hell in Matthew 1:8. Jesus used the Greek word “geena” to refer to hell when he preached to the people of Jerusalem. Geena was a place outside of Jerusalem where the refuse and trash was dumped and burned. There was a constant smoke and smell coming off of Geena. Outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Aug. 16 of 2011 I got a picture of hell. I will never be the same. Nor will my son.
Coming back we were overwhelmed. My son is wrestling right now with what all this means for him, and what he is called to do about it. He’s struggling with how to handle the relative wealth we live in here in America. He came home to his Wii, and his TV and to our nice home and cars, and he sees that it is all vanity. He can’t get the dump out of his mind. I’m helping him work through all he saw, but I am thankful to God that he is wrestling with it. Had he come back unaffected I'd be worried.
It’s a good struggle that he finds himself in. It’s bringing him joy despite the desperation he feels regarding the Honduran children at the dump. It’s bringing him joy because it’s causing him to see the futility of riches and the wastefulness of American consumerism. It’s causing him to put no hope in those things and instead be willing to put himself and all he has on the table for the sake of God’s calling.
My son knows, and I know, that there is a wise, Biblical balance that we must find. We can’t go sell everything we have and live in a dump just to try to bring equality and fairness to the world. But what we must do is be open and willing to anything God might call us to do to help those in need. We can be open to giving more of our stuff away to meet others’ needs. We can be open to giving more of time away to serve others. We can be open to do anything and everything God might put in our path in order to show the love of Christ in a practical way.
We don’t have to travel to Honduras to be used by God to change the world. There are ways to meet needs right here in Dacula. There are people hurting financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually all around us. They need Christ.
How is God wanting to use us here and now? God may call on some to give away everything they have; He may bless others with deep financial resources so that they can fund missionary endeavors; He may call others to give up time each week to sit with the elderly in a local retirement community. There is no limit to what God might call us to do. The question is simply this: are we willing and available? Are we open letting God take us through the struggle that my son is going through? Are we open to letting God change us in order that we might participate in His efforts to change the world? Yes, my son is struggling, but it’s a joy-filled wrestling that he finds himself in. I said to my son, of whom I am very proud, “struggle and wrestle on buddy, and you will find a joy at the end of that struggle that has nothing to do with how much you do or don’t have, but instead has everything to do with how willing you are to live and give for the sake of Christ.” And I can only hope and pray that as American consumerism begins to sink its nasty talons back into our lives that my son nor I will ever forget the day we saw the buzzards and children sharing lunch.