Have you ever had someone turn their back on you? It’s not a good feeling, right? In fact, it’s probably one of the worst- betrayal, abandonment, worthlessness…all those feelings come to the surface at just the mention of the phrase.
During Semana Santa (Holy Week), the week leading up to Easter Sunday, most Hondurans take off for the beaches, rivers and lakes to cool off, swim, and relax- but not our Trekkers. Fourteen youth and volunteers decided that instead of relaxing all week, they’d travel over eight hours to the largest city in Honduras to find ways to serve others.
On our first full day, we headed to the outskirts of the city, pulling into an old lot housing a soccer field with sun scorched grass. At the end of the field was a cinder-block wall with a gate that led to a beautiful school ground. Stepping out of the van under the hot sun, we walked onto the campus of AFE (Amor, Fe y Esperanza), a school and ministry center for kids who would otherwise be working across the street. In the city dump. Turning around and looking out over the soccer field, all you could see was a large hill with trash spewing down the side and a flock of vultures circling overhead. The stark contrast was unnerving.
We eventually made our way up over that ominous hill and into the heart of the dump. With AFE’s Pastor Arturo leading us, we pulled up to a crowd of people who were digging through the garbage for scraps of cardboard and plastic to sell. Jefry, one of our veteran Trekkers, later told me he was scared stiff at the thought of leaving the van in that moment. The people were rough looking- and dirty. The smell was overwhelming. There was garbage everywhere. Yet despite his fears, Jefry got out of the bus and joined the rest of the group in handing out sandwiches to the dump workers. Most people gratefully took a sandwich with their grime covered hands and headed back to work. Others came back for seconds. A few stuck around to talk for a bit. Jefry handed some water to a lady who said she hadn’t had anything to drink for two days. Many get their lunch from the refuse that arrives in truckloads, tucked away in garbage bags alongside dirty toilet paper and hospital waste. We met a few of the kids who are involved in AFE’s ministry, about 10-12 years old. They work all day in the dump alongside their parents to help earn cash to survive on. Once the sandwiches ran out, we jumped in the bus and headed through the piles of waste and back down the hill.
At the end of the week we went to visit the famous El Picacho Statue of Christ- it’s a beautiful overlook of the entire city of Tegucigalpa. We were able to point out many of the other places we’d visited throughout the past several days. Once we got our bearings, Heidi Buell, a friend and fellow Asbury Graduate who joined us for part of our trip, shared with me a very somber revelation. The city dump was nowhere to be seen below us. It actually lay back behind us and off to the west. Not only did it lay behind the two of us, but it was actually DIRECTLY behind the 20 meter tall statue of Christ that stood directly over us. Many people who work in the city dump feel that God has literally turned his back on them because of the statue’s orientation.
When I shared this piece of news with our Trekkers, Jefry took it the hardest. I could see in his face that he realized the gravity of this revelation. His eyes widened and he shouted out, “You’re right! They’re LITERALLY facing the back of Jesus!” Jefry asked if I thought the people in the dumped REALLY believed God had turned His back on them. Thinking about it for a minute, I said that a lot of them probably did. I mean, most of society certainly has- they get the leftovers from a city of over 800,000 people, rarely get to wear clean clothes, struggle to get food and water, daily face the prospect of gang extortion, and probably have the stench from the dump permanently embedded in their skin. Who wouldn’t at least raise the thought that maybe God had abandoned them? “BUT,” I said, “you guys were able to show them that God has NOT turned His back on them. You stepped out of that bus, even though you were petrified, and took the time to feed the hungry, give water to those who were thirsty, and spend time with people that many would deem outcasts. You turned around and took notice of people who might otherwise not have any hope. And although it may have just been for one day, you were part of something bigger than yourself. You were able to support what AFE is doing in the lives of those families year-round. Just as volunteers and service learning groups come to UrbanPromise Honduras to support what YOU guys do in Copan Ruinas. We are all part of something greater- a Body of Christ that is not erected in concrete or plaster, but rather, is made up of flesh and blood, and can turn to those in need and show that God’s love is not dependent on the direction of a statue. This week, you showed others that God is alive, and He has NOT turned His back on them.”
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.