I had brought my running shoes to Mexico. Behind our mission site director’s house is a giant trash heap – all the garbage of Matamoros piled into a huge mountain. It sits in a wide open field that stretches miles in every direction, making it ideal for running.
So I ran a mile across the field to the trash heap and bore left. As I was running, thoughts were flashing through my mind. I was in a zone. All the while, I was running into new territory, not paying attention. When it came time to turn around and head for home, I discovered that I was lost.
I began to run on goat paths past scattered trash, cacti, and sage brush. And nothing looked familiar. Panicky thoughts began to rise up in me – I began throwing out “Oh God, help-me-get-out-of-this-one” prayers.
And then I heard, “Go back to the trash heap and start over.”
As much as I hated to back-track, that’s what I did. And then peace began to come back to me. I recognized a dirt road and began to follow it home. And as I ran along, I sensed God saying, “Whenever you get lost, look for me at the trash heap. I like to hang out there with the people living nearby. And when you find me, I’ll show you the way home.”
Afterwards, I reflected – so often in life we find ourselves caught up in self-absorbed thinking. We need the revelation of the trash heap. In a way, we’re lost. We look for Jesus in Bible studies and self-help books, and he doesn’t seem to be around. But every time I’ve gone looking for him in a slum near some trash heap, there he is, reflected in the eyes of a child playing nearby or some old crone waving at me. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He hangs out with them. He makes his home with them.
Recently, our organization sent a team of missionaries to Nicaragua on their way around the world. One young woman named Jeanette Wheeler wrote a great blog post about spending time with a community that lived in the trash heap of Diriamba.
She paints the picture of day-to-day life for these Nicaraguans in a blog that she wrote:
The reality is that this is the neighborhood for over 300 people: men, woman, and children. This is the home and backyard of our friend Michelle, her husband and twin daughters. Precious, beautiful princesses do not belong here. Where is the castle and pink dresses? There is no vacation; young boys work to help their families. The widows and elderly don’t retire. A “day on the job” is a treasure hunt to search for things of “worth.” At the end of the day, the scales determine your wage – did you find enough? A downpour doesn’t stop the progress. You need to eat today… I have been blown away, changed, convicted and blessed by those who are said to have “nothing.”
We need to identify with the poor. We need to put ourselves in their shoes (if they have any) and walk around a bit. We may be wealthy in America, but we need to see our own poverty of spirit. Identifying with the poor is not only part of the faith that Jesus gave to us; it is a sacramental part of our sanctification. In other words, walking with Jesus requires walking with the poor.
Last year, convinced of this truth, I took a couple of weeks off of life and went to Africa with my wife Karen. After you’ve hung out with the poor in Swaziland or Mozambique, it wakes you up to how good you’ve got it. You feel guilty for any complaining you’ve done lately. It makes it hard to feel sorry for folks in America wallowing in their victimization. Of course, poverty can be relative, too. There always seem to be those people who hang out on the margins of society who had no safety net underneath them when they suffered calamity, becoming the widows and orphans that Jesus targets for care. But something profound happened during that time overseas – I realized my own poverty and the poverty all around me.
You can read the rest of the article over at Neue. I wrote it because of Jeff Goins‘ prodding and with his help, It was a take-off of an older blog called The God of the trash heap.