He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. Psalm 113:7-8
Ash heaps abound. One of the aromas that linger in my memory from third world missions is that distinct wood burning smell; pots of water boiling over an open fire ready for the rice, refuse consumed in the trash fires, and ashes accumulate around the coals. There are ash heaps in the Korogocho slum of Nairobi, Kenya. There are ash heaps in Orissa, India. And among the ash heaps of the world are stories of compassion and mercy.
Summer, 1989, Guatemala City, Guatemala. The missionary warned our 33 member team not to let the windows down. We would definitely not be getting out of the bus on this trip. This was my first short-term missions outreach, my first time beyond the shores of the Land of Liberty. And for me, and the rest of our team, the missionary thought it in our best interest to stay in our seats as our team entered “the dump.”
The Guatemala City garbage dump occupied 40 acres along a ravine. This landfill, one of the largest and most toxic in Central America, houses over a third of the country’s waste, including trash, recyclables, discarded food items, used syringes, toxins emitted from discarded gas tanks, as well as other biohazardous materials. It is a place of the discarded and the dead. Corpses, both human and animal, decompose amid the waste, exacerbating already poor sanitation conditions.
Sadly, it is also the place of the living. The boundaries of the landfill are so heavily populated that they are considered a municipality of the city. Gretchen Knoth of COHA research reports that 30,000 squatters reside along the perimeter of the garbage dump. Considering that our host missionary would not allow our team out of that bus, I looked on with all the more wonder, awe, and appreciation upon the itinerant evangelists, selfless missionaries, and compassionate workers, who served the impoverished, set up medical clinics for the sick, and shared the love of Christ with perhaps the most hopeless people I had ever seen.
October 1999, Pimentel, Dominican Republic. Few things make me smile like the sight of seeing 200 or so wide-eyed, joyful Dominican boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 13 walking up the gravel road to CERINFA, a privately funded, American based Christian School. I don’t get to see that scene enough.
Their school day begins with breakfast. Americans affectionately call it the “most important meal of the day,” regardless of whether or not we actually eat that early in the morning on a regular basis. For these precious children, breakfast is the “life-changing meal of the day.” CERINFA is a restoration and nutrition center as much as it is a school. All of the children, who attend, come not from families, who can afford such an education. Few can barely afford breakfast or any regular meal for that matter. The children go hungry. The basic building blocks of nutrition are absent. Young minds meant to learn are stunted and the tragic cycle of poverty begins its grind over one more helpless generation.
CERINFA not only lifts children from the poverty of Pimentel. It places children at a desk to learn. It places them at a table for breakfast and lunch. Between full bellies and full minds, the children find full spirits through the message of Christ, which teaches them of God’s love and power to save and deliver! And these children will not only have their futures transformed. They will become voices of hope and life! Jesucristo es el Señor de Pimentel!
On that October morning, I heard the voice of the Savior whisper in my spirit as I watched the children walk up the gravel road to CERINFA and take their seats for breakfast:
I raise the poor from the dust. I lift the needy from the ash heap. I give them a seat among the princes of My people.
It was the voice of Christ. It was the Word of Christ. It was the heart of Christ. And the Son speaks words like these that we might become His hands and His feet to lift, to pull out the chair, to prepare the food and serve the Bread of life, and welcome new princes and new princesses to tables of provision and grace. There are many ways to take part in the great work of Christ, who lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the ash heap. We can give. We can go. We can pray. We can serve.
***The Pimentel supports CERINFA under the ministry and leadership of Pastor Radhames Quezada and MIVA (Ministerio Infantil Viva El Amor). The Pimentel Project organizes and oversees child sponsorships, as well as short-term missions teams. In addition, the ministry similar ministry visions in Nigeria and Kenya.