The First Time I Touched Poverty
I thought John was exaggerating when he called it Garbage City.
I never imagined in my saddest dreams what I saw that day in Guadalajara.
I didn’t know much Spanish, but I knew we just entered the landfill. The towering heaps of trash seemed to stretch to the sky. And the stench was overpowering.
But I was still confused why we were here.
“John, did you say we are going to minister to kids? Where are they?”
“Just wait a few minutes, Chris, and you will understand.”
We turned left and drove another five minutes. Turned right and drove a few hundred feet, then another left. That’s when my heart broke.
On the corner of the street was what I can only describe as a lean-to made of garbage. A refrigerator door turned on its side formed the base of one wall, with various boxes and trash heaped on top. A large cardboard box formed the roof. The other wall was just junk. There was no door.
A women, probably sixty years old, was shuffling along the road with a deep limp. When she saw our cars, she smiled a toothless grin and sped up her hobbling. She yelled something in Spanish down the road, initially it seemed to nobody.
Within thirty seconds we had to stop our vehicles. We were surrounded by children of all ages. Giggles and laughter and smiles on every single kid, even though their clothes wouldn’t even qualify as rags in our country.
I started to cry, right there in the car. John placed a strong hand on my shoulder. “Welcome to Garbage City, Chris. This is what it means to be poor. Time to get out and show Jesus now. Come on!”
John got out first. “HOOOOOLLLLLAAA!” he shouted as he opened his arms wide.
“Holllllaaa!!!” The crowd of children shouted back. Three kids were already climbing on John: one on his left arm, another on his legs, and a third climbing on his back.
I held back in the car for a moment. Paralyzed by fear.
What if I have nothing to offer these kids?
What if they don’t like me?
What do I say, since we can’t talk?
What if they make me sick?
The last question brought me up short. What if they make me sick? Whew, my selfishness hit me like a punch to the gut and took my breath away. Wow, I traveled all the way to Guadalajara to share the message of Jesus, and here I was stifled by fear of illness.
Lord, forgive me, I prayed as I opened the car door.
I was enveloped by kids large and small as soon as I got out. I am particularly tall at 6’7”, and I became a massive curiosity, like a bearded lady at the circus. We laughed. We played. We connected, without needing a common spoken language.
John gathered the crowd of children and we gave out groceries for every family. Enough for a few days at least. Then we sang a few simple worship songs with the kids in Spanish. John shared a simple Gospel message and was met with a surprise. The shuffling old lady raised her hand and accepted Jesus that day. She told John her heart found healing because we played with the children, rather than shying away from their filth. We showed her Jesus, she said.
My heart was forever changed by visiting Garbage City. I still struggle with selfishness today, but it’s different now. I know what poverty looks like, and I know the power of investing in the lives of people, even if they are filthy.
Everyone is created in the image of God and is worth loving.
When was the last time you touched poverty? How did it change you?
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