Hope in a Landfill

Our tuk-tuk rumbled down the dirt path kicking up trails of garbage behind us. As far as the eye could see, there was trash in every direction. But although the landfill looked hopeless, I felt a profound sense of peace that I couldn’t explain.

We rolled to a stop and climbed out of our vehicles with bags of fresh bread in our arms. Soon we were surrounded by hungry people. Yet surprisingly, they weren’t fighting over the bread. They calmly waited for their turn to receive some bread. And the peace I’d felt earlier only grew stronger.

This peace seemed to follow us all day as we walked throughout the dump visiting homes that these precious Cambodian people had fashioned from the trash. When we climbed a big hill around noon, I was expecting to find more houses at the top. But as we reached the top, the view that greeted me blew me away. The landfill stretched for miles in every direction. And all across this vast dump, I could see men and women sorting through the trash. Heat waves drifted from the piles of trash carrying noxious fumes. I couldn’t imagine spending my life like this — living in the trash, spending every day sorting it just to collect enough valuable items to purchase food for my family. And yet, despite all this, I still felt that profound peace.

Why God? I prayed silently. Why don’t I feel angry? I should feel heartbroken for this people. But I feel peace. Why? I almost felt angry at God at my perplexing hopefulness in the midst of such poverty.

We visited several more homes in the garbage dump before finally making towards a cluster of buildings that . And as we walked, my frustration at peace grew. I just couldn’t understand it. Where was this peace coming from?

We kept walking for a while longer and got to a cluster of buildings that looked a little nicer. As we entered the area, the peace and hope became stronger. There were four buildings in a row, a sidewalk, a bathhouse, and a garden. I learned quickly that three of the buildings were schoolrooms and the other building was a church.

A teacher invited us into one of the classrooms. “This school was started a few years back by the YWAM base here in Phnom Penh,” she said. “We wanted the children from this garbage dump to have hope for the future. The bathhouse provides training on hygiene. And the church is so they can hear the Good News about Jesus.”

I was amazed as I listened to her story. There’s such power in a two-handed Gospel — when we pay attention both to people’s physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. I was also struck by how incredible Jesus’ incarnation is. He could have stayed in heaven where everything was comfortable. But He didn’t. He came down and made His home among us. He was born in a smelly manger. And it was His example that inspired these YWAMers. They could live and work in the dump because Jesus modeled this kind of agape love. How privileged we are to know such a loving, caring, hopeful, life-giving God!

by Meredith Graber on DTS outreach in Cambodia

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