San Jose Dump, outside Santiago City, Isabella, Philippines.
Rick kicked off conference with worship. He’s good. I mean – I knew that but it’s his spirit that I am impressed with more and more. Nothing phases him. Whatever is needed – he’ll do it.
And ‘conference’ is a term I use loosely. There are roughly 50 to 60 people here sitting under a tin roof and old plastic tarps.
There are distractions galore. Chickens everywhere, a turkey tied on a leash right outside the area. Dogs run the area as well. A couple venture up on stage to see what is going on.
Timm Collins is the first speaker and about 3 minutes in, he experiences what every speaker fears – complete looks of lostness on the face of the audience. There is nothing.
He asks ‘do you understand me?’
We look to Rick A., our Filipino guide and Trash Mountain POC. Rick speaks Tagalog but not this dialect.
Now everything will go from English to Tagalog and hope that it all translates. Rick A. has never translated before, let alone translate theological training. We all cut about half of what we’ve prepared. Just the big rocks.
We’ve got three ‘rookies’ on this trip. This is their first time in a dump. And it’s a doosy. Almost every session there is a crying kid or two that interrupts the session.
I start to get annoyed about the noise and the distractions when it hits me – nobody is checking on this kid.
No mom runs to see what is the matter. No dad to brush off the dirt.
Nobody cares this kid is crying.
Another girl picks up her dress and defecates right by our van. She’s maybe 4. She’s wearing no undergarments and when she is done, she simply drops her dress back down and carries on about her play.
Every 20 minutes a trash truck drives right by the church. The entrance of the dump his a mere 80 yards down the road.
The arrival of the trucks spring to life a handful of older kids. They run to meet the truck, ranging in age from 14-19 years old. They are trying to get to the good stuff before it hits the dump.
The reality is by the time the trash gets to this point, it’s been picked over at least three times. First by street people, next by those who picked up the trash, and next by the family or friends of the truck driver – the last rummage before taking it all to the dump. During the 8 hours we are here, I count about a dozen trucks.
The church building we are teaching in is something the people are very proud of. It’s about a 50 by 30 feet of concrete slab. Half of that is enclosed, the other half covered by tin. 30 feet away, behind the church, are trash piles upon trash piles and an abandoned asphalt factory. It’s guarded otherwise all of the metal would have been scavenged and sold.
It’s 80 and humid. The breeze keeps the flies away but brings the smell of the dump right into our faces. It’s not a smell that can be described. Many of the people are wearing bandanas over their faces. This is a battle we will have all day – fight the flies or endure the smell.
We start at 8 am. Last speaker ends at 2.30. We serve them lunch in the middle of the day. And lunch is stressful.
Pastors are highly respected and honored. We are asked to start the line of food. Our local contact tells us that for us to not eat would be an unrecoverable insult. Ultimately, there is a compromise- the local pastors and their family eat first, then us, then whoever in the community. It works. Plenty of food for everyone who wanted it and it’s delicious.
There is poor. Dirt poor. Then there is trash dump poor. But I speak of only their possessions and finances. They are generous in every other area. With their smiles and high fives, their thankfulness.
We’ve traveled 54 hours to get here. 3 planes, 2 missed flights, 10 hours of driving on about 8 hours of sleep for the last couple of days. There are about 55 leaders gathered, some of them have driven all night to get here. After my 10 hours on the road I understand that this is dangerous traveling. No small feat that they are here.
As I listen to our guys alter their talks on the fly to accommodate for the translator, I start thinking – why do this? To be brutally honest, why are there 9 guys who put up $2,200 U.S. apiece to be in this place? Couldn’t that money be used better than a trip like this?
We must have passed hundreds of churches between Manilla and here
Hears the truth – if we don’t come here…no one else is coming.
No one else is coming.
Think about that.
No one else is coming to the trash dump.
So how else should we spend the money? I’m listening.
There are 33 million people in Manila, countless large churches but none of them are coming either.
It’s not ideal. Ministry never is.
But it doesn’t change the fact that if we don’t go to these trash dumps, no one else is coming.
And that’s why we are here.
As chickens squawk and kids scream in the fields, as the flies and smells drift in and out – we come and we serve and we equip leaders in this place to be the hands and feet of Jesus. For them to be his light in this darkness.