Riley bounded up the bus steps, pausing at the top to scan for an available seat. Her eyes met Kelly’s. Forcing a smile, Riley flopped into the seat next to the biggest complainer on the trip.“Today sounds like a blast.”
Rolling her eyes, Kelly smirked. “If you think going to a dump will be fun, you must live a boring life.” Riley leaned back as she listened to Kelly rant. “I came on this stupid mission trip because my parents made me. If they knew we would be traipsing around the city dump…”
Riley slipped her ear-buds in and pushed play on her IPOD to drown out the rest of Kelly’s tirade. Her eyes closed as the bus bumped along, and Riley reminisced about her first week in Nicaragua. She pictured the kids’ faces when the group painted the local school. Riley easily saw God at work here. Everyone appreciated their help and the local children were ecstatic to spend time with the older kids.
The bumping of the bus jarred Riley. Her eyes flew open and her nose crinkled at the smell. The chaperone, Mike, stood up and waved his hand. “Listen up. Remember, even though we are at the city dump, it is home for the people here. Today’s goal is to notice how these families worship God and how it differs from how we see God.”
As Riley stepped off the bus, the heat and the stench of rotting garbage assaulted her senses. Her heart dropped as she scanned the mounds of garbage and saw children playing on top of it. Silently, she wondered how anyone could see God here. This place depressed her.
She tried to absorb everything. In her heart, she knew no matter how many pictures she took, the people back home would never totally understand what she was seeing and smelling.
Her stomach lurched as she remembered how Mom wanted to throw her a going-away party but she refused because she didn’t want her friends to see “the dump” she lived in. Her cheeks burned red as she realized these people lived in an actual dump, but instead of shame, the kids were eager to grab her hand and show her their “casa.” They’d think Riley’s run-down house was a mansion.
Kelly leaned over and whispered in Riley’s ear. “Look, those little kids are running around barefoot. What are their parents thinking? They could get cut on the broken glass.”
Shaking her head as she gritted her teeth, Riley reined in her emotions. “Kelly, they’re barefoot because their parents can’t afford to buy them shoes.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Kelly answered, “It’s not like shoes are expensive. Mom bought me these because she didn’t want me to ruin my good ones. They only cost a hundred bucks.” Tears filled Riley’s eyes, Kelly would never understand. She wondered, once again, why Kelly came on this trip.
A little girl squeezed Riley’s hand. She chattered in Spanish as they toured the dump. Riley didn’t understand anything until she pointed and said, “El caballo.” Sure enough, there was a horse walking around the dump, sticking his nose into the mounds of garbage looking for food.
Eventually, everyone ended up near the middle of the dump to meet Esther. Riley saw she had piled up scraps and built a little house for herself. She learned that Esther had lived here for forty years, raising her children and grandchildren.
Smiling broadly, Esther motioned for them to gather around. “Please let me pray.” Everyone bowed their heads. “Thank you, Lord, for bringing these precious people into my home. Watch over them and keep them safe. Amen.”
Kelly leaned over and cupped her hand around Riley’s ear. “Watch, now she's going to ask us for money or food. These people live on handouts, instead of getting a real job.”
Riley turned her back on Kelly. Just then she heard Esther’s voice. “Please may I ask a favor?” Kelly snorted knowingly. “A photo, so I can remember your faces when I pray for you.”
Riley turned and faced Kelly. “Don’t you get it? She prayed for us! Us -- who have everything! She didn’t ask God for food or anything for herself.”
Swallowing back tears, Riley placed her hand around Esther’s. As she looked into her eyes, she wondered why she thought it would be difficult to find God here in the dump. For in Esther’s eyes, Riley saw more of God than she had ever seen before.
Author’s note: This is a fictionalized version of my daughter, Lydia’s, Mission of Peace Trip. The dump and Esther are based on things she actually saw. Riley realizing she had seen God in Esther’s eyes is Lydia’s epiphany. Project Chacocente is a charity that is working to get the families out of the dump. If you are interested in learning more about this project go to outofthedump(dot)org
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