The mud stuck with me more than anything—both in my mind and on my shoes. The moment our feet hit the ground, the soft, smelly earth embraced them, threatening not to let them go. The slurp of each step sounded momentarily over the rustling of plastic, the clanking of cans, and the aggressive growling of hungry dogs.
The mud’s grasp inspired a few members of our group to tie plastic bags over their shoes in hopes of having a little less filth to deal with on the way back. It was a reasonable decision on their part, but (perhaps to the dismay of that day’s bus-cleaning team) I didn’t bother. I couldn’t help but feel, to the core of my being, that there was something holy about this place.
All 15 of us wandered about the garbage dump, distributing sandwiches, water, and friendly conversation. As part of our week-long service trip in Tegucigalpa, we were spending the morning with Amor, Fe, Y Esperanza, a ministry seeking to break the cycle of poverty in that community by offering classes and care for the children who work in the dump.
The workers, both adults and children, spend long days digging through trash to find cardboard, plastic, and other recyclable items they can make a little (very little) money from. Everyone there is searching for something. Even the dogs search incessantly for a scrap of sustenance to help fill their shrinking stomachs.
As ugly and difficult as such a lifestyle is, I find something beautiful about this environment of constant searching.
In trying to explain the Kingdom of Heaven to his disciples, Jesus tells them it “is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matt. 13:44, ESV)
An immeasurable number of books, films, and other works of art have been created based on this universal drive to search for something of immense value. Children everywhere, I imagine, dream up treasure maps and scavenger hunts, without ever being instructed to do so. The desire to invest in the search for something greater is part of our human nature. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explores this natural instinct to search, positing that “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” In other words, we all have this insatiable desire for something more because, somewhere in us, we know that a real treasure does exist.
The workers at the dump, as well as the treasures they search for from day to day, appear far from valuable to the eyes of the world we live in. The natural response is to protect ourselves from such an environment, to place barriers between us and them, between our shoes and the all-consuming mud covering their workspace.
But if we ask Him, God graces us with eyes to see what is invisible. From the time we arrived at the dump, the Lord gave me the unbelievable and unforgettable gift of seeing the hidden value in that place. What we do for the hungry and the oppressed, the Bible tells us, we do for our own Savior and King. I didn’t want to cover my shoes because I saw the mud transform into a sprawling red carpet. I was honored to be near these people, to laugh with José, to give Carla a hug, because, in the eyes God had given me, they looked just like royalty.
The ten youth on the service trip, and all who are involved with Trekkers and UPH, are searching—whether they know it or not. These youth, like you and me, like Carla and José, like your mom and your neighbor, like every person you know and every person you don’t know, are looking for lasting treasure. In a world where so many worthless things sit sparkling in plain sight, I am infinitely grateful to be part of directing our youth toward the only true and eternal treasure—the one worth giving everything for, the holy Kingdom hidden under hunger, sequestered in suffering, and led by a King who, for our good, let himself be covered in blood and sweat and mud.