CHURCH CORNER: Inspiration found in humble village
February 21, 2011 · 1:27 PM
Here are some thoughts I wanted to share with you from our youth directors. Blessings, Dan
As I walked down the narrow, cracked cement steps, with a rickety bucket in one hand and a rusty pick in the other, my mind made an attempt to take in my unfamiliar surroundings. Half-naked children, their beautiful olive skin now a dusty gray from a desperate need of warm, soapy water, ran in and out of the street, while baby chicks and pregnant dogs followed closely at their heels. One little girl stopped her scurrying to look at me, the tall, blonde, blindingly white “gringa” who had stopped halfway through my trek down the stairs, mouth agape to return her stare. Her hands and feet were caked with dirt, and her nose ran unnoticed down her tiny, round face. She slowly transformed her pensive stare into one of wonderment and curiosity. Deciding I offered no threat, she timidly smiled and then scurried off.
I resumed my short walk down the stairs, savoring the quick, yet sweet smile of that child that still lingered with me. “What a friendly place!” I thought to myself. However, my reverie was cut short by a wafting, putrid smell that met me at the bottom of the stairs. I stood in a small, dark, closed-off alley between four houses. Broken windows, cracked pipes, mildew and the blackest river of sludge loomed before me. My six other comrades soon caught up behind me, and hands quickly reached for their shirts in a futile attempt to protect their burning nostrils from the horrid smell that accosted them at every turn. We all stood in silence as we stared at the swamp before us. Anyone could have easily read the thoughts shown in our horrified eyes,
We were seven American college students from all across the United States ranging from Washington state to Kentucky. We had raised our own money in order to serve six to 10 weeks in the Dominican Republic through an organization called Young Life. Our mission? We were to share Jesus with both Dominican and American kids while building a Young Life camp in the rural, mountainous area of Jarabacoa. Halfway through the summer we were sent to Nibaje, a small barrio in the middle of Santiago, a city about an hour north of Jarabacoa. We were sent on a four-day mission to stay with families in Nibaje while working on a small project to help out the neighborhood.
Our project? Clean the open, backed-up sewer that pooled at our feet. Usually the drainage system worked well. Open pipes jutted out of the cement walls of the houses and openly drained out onto the muddy ground. The system worked well until everyone started using toilets, sinks and showers all at the same time, and began throwing old clothes, broken bottles, dirty diapers, scraps of food and whatever other useless objects they had into the small stream. Consequently, the large culvert that ran beneath the foundation of the houses clogged, and the sewage, unable to drain, began to pool into a large cesspool and ferment. On rainy days, the families were forced out of their homes as the black, soup-like, muddy stream grew into a large river that threatened to flood the families out of their homes.
Our job was to clean the cesspool by using shovels, buckets and picks and carting the putrid muck up the stairs and onto the street. The mess would be taken and dumped into a vacant lot somewhere down the road. After we had finished the cleaning out process, we were to dig the ditch deeper and build a retaining wall/drainage ditch using cement and rocks. The job was supposed to take two days.
We all slowly grabbed our picks and shovels, rolled up our sleeves and stepped ankle-deep into the open sewer. We dug and dug and dug. Bucket after grungy, smelly bucket was hauled up the stairs and carted off.
Finally, covered in dirt, mud and sewage, we tiredly threw down our picks and shovels and slowly made our way back up the stairs, like wounded soldiers returning from a battle that had been lost before it began.
The following morning, we awoke refreshed and ready to conquer the sewer. We quickly climbed down the stairs, back into the alley, only to stop short in our tracks. The sewer had filled during the night with whatever fluids had poured from the broken pipes. Frustrated and discouraged, we slowly waded back into the swamp to begin yesterday’s work all over again.
Once again, the tenants paid no heed to our relentless struggle to rid them of their sewage. As I was working in my area next to the flooded culvert, one of the pipes started to drip. I quickly dodged out of the way onto dry land just before a surge of water and chicken blood showered down into the place where I had been standing.
“¡El agua! ¡El agua!” we yelled. I looked at my friends in disbelief as we hung our heads, shrugged our shoulders and started once again to dig. The day followed in suit, the eight of us digging and dodging an occasional shower from draining sinks, showers and toilets, trying desperately not to think about what we were standing in.
We finished that day’s work and on the third day arrived to build the rock wall. Before starting, our leader opened us with a word of prayer and told us, “This has been a tough few days, but I am proud of you guys. It’s really hard to work and help someone when they don’t seem to want it, but it is in these times that you really have to ask yourself why you are here. Are you standing ankle-deep in human feces so that men will praise you or are you doing this for Christ?” We quietly left that devotional time and worked our way to the sewage site where a surprise awaited us.
On this third morning several neighborhoods kids, ranging from five to 11, greeted us. As we hand-mixed and poured the cement, the children that had stood and watched us with dazed curiosity and an occasional giggle, grabbed free buckets or simply used their hands to cart large rocks and handfuls of pebbles down to the site. Their offerings were small and many times the children were more underfoot than helpful, but we welcomed the friendly gesture. As we neared the end of the project, more and more people started to gather around us. Our audience grew until the walkways were crowded and the roofs filled with people peering over the edge. We finished the walls, cleaned the tools and made our way back up to the top of the stairs. The children resumed their scurrying about, playing with the chicks and dogs. Heads slowly vanished behind the darkened windows and those peering down from the houses above disappeared. Life resumed.
Later on that day, as the seven of us sat reflecting on the time we had shared and experienced in the small barrio of Nibaje, “Megan, another member of our group turned to us and said, “You know, those children truly humbled me today. My first reaction to their meager ways of helping was frustration. What’s a handful of rocks going to do? Nothing really.
Then in that moment, Jesus whispered something to me. He said, “Isn’t that like your offerings to me?” Megan timidly smiled and continued, “I looked at those children, who offered me six tiny pebbles, in their small, grubby hands, and thought to myself that that is just like us when we offer something to Jesus. We think we do something really great, and look to Him and say, “Jesus look what we’ve done’ when really, it’s something so small in comparison to what Jesus has done for us.” How true were Megan’s words! In that moment, I realized that I am just like those young children. I look to Jesus and try to show Him the incredible things I have done for Him, but in reality, there is no comparison to the miracle He has already done for me on the cross.
Now, years later, as I reflect on that time, I am struck by the power of the God we have the privilege of knowing—not because of anything we’ve done, but because He first loved us and called us into relationship with Him. When He calls, He does not call us to a place of service without equipping us with His strength and it is with that same strength, that He pulls us out of the muck of our own lives, takes our tiny, humble offering and transforms it into something greater for His purpose and glory.