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What About Now?

July 21, 2012

From 1994, also known as previously lifetime ago:

I don’t know what I expected to see at the dump, but it wasn’t what I saw.  I guess I half-way expected to see piles of garbage with people climbing on these somehow relatively clean looking trash.  That’s not what I saw.

First, I saw a beautiful green valley–green like the rest of picturesque Guatemala.  At the bottom of this ravine, I saw millions of tons of trash.  Down the banks of the ravines, garbage was strewn.  At the top were yellow trucks all in a row.  People furiously got  the trash out of one yellow truck.  Once the truck was empty, another truck took its place.  Bulldozers pushed the trash to barranco (bank).

It rained all day today so the dump was muddy.  As Hector told us about the dump, I saw vultures scavenging through the garbage.  These birds were fat and I could tell they were well-fed from all the trash.

People, covered with plastic bags, were all over the place.  They swarmed aroudn the yellow trucks to find things that could be recycled like paper, cardboard, aluminum, and tin.  They collected these things and then would it to factories when they came to the dump in the evening.

The things I heard disturbed me.  Children start working in the dump as early as age 3.  On bad days, like today was, the food they eat is what they find in the trash.  Most of them, some 3 year olds included, were high from sniffing glue.  Sniffing makes them oblivious to hunger, cold, heat and other things that distract them from their tasks.

Church groups sometimes come in to the dump.  They give everyone a Bible with a tortilla and beans on top of it.  They say that they have done their part.  Now it is the responsibility of the workers to read the Bible.  I guess the church workers are unaware that 90% of the workers are illiterate.

The workers say they believe in God.  They thank God everyday for giving them the trash.  They said God is making them do this now so in heaven they will be rich and the wealthy will be in their shoes.

I wrote this in my journal during a semester that I studied in Central America.  The university I attended required all students to have a cross-cultural experience.  For my university, it wasn’t enough to see how the middle class lived in other areas (including our country), they wanted us to experience how a lot of the world lives.  The dump was the extreme in Guatemala, but in Nicaragua, that experience was more common.

I returned from that semester broken–in many senses of the world (I broke my leg the last week of my trip there).  I also found my faith in my country and governments shaken.  How could such poverty exist?  Not only how could it exist, but how was it ok?  Evidently, the American dream meant that some people just had to be that poor.

That was 18 years ago.  As I read my journal, it seems so vivid still, not like it was almost 20 years ago (besides the point that I am wondering how I got so old!!).  My old passions are inflamed and I find myself slipping back into the appalled college student frame of mind.

What triggered all this?  Well, the chapter in my book I am reading, In the Midst of Chaos by Bonnie Miller-McLemore, talks about raising our children to do justice and love kindness.  Part of the tension Christian parents often feel is the pull between those old ideals and passions from pre-children to the realities that raising children bring.  As parents we need to balance the type of neighborhood we may have felt called to live and the neighborhood we want our children to grow up, playing outside.   We try to balance the tension of homeschool-private school-public school.  We wonder what the compromise is to give our children the opportunity to grow up in “safe”  neighborhoods versus economic and racially diverse areas.

And what about the disparity I saw in Guatemala between how those people at the dump lived versus how everyone I know lives?  As parents, how do we raise kids that are sensitive to the reality that not everyone has as much as us and that doesn’t make them more or less “blessed” than we are.

I don’t know these answers.  When is Madeleine old enough to go on the Mobile Loaves and Fishes run (delivering food to the homeless and impoverished in Austin)?  That is one way to let her know people live differently than us.  The decision to attend a downtown church, wasn’t made with exposure in mind, but that has definitely come into play.  Our children have witnessed how we treat those see on our way in and out of church, those who have no home.  They are learning to treat with respect the space people make to sleep, even if it is public places (like stairwells of our church).  We talk about why things are like they.  We talk about why that isn’t ok.  Maybe now, it is time for me to finally respond to the nudging to sponsor a Compassion International Child.

How do you deal with justice and family?

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