Friday, March 10, 2006

Humble Surroundings

There is a garbage dump outside the city of Manila. The stench is not confined by the walls that surround it. We were still blocks away when my nose gave me the signal to break out the Vicks Vaporub. I smeared a little in my moustache to help me deal with the odor. Mountains of decomposing filth are the landscape for thousands of people who make their home inside Payatas, the city of garbage. There are two seasons in the Philippines; dry and wet. I was there in the wet season. The daily downpour percolated through giant mounds of the most unhealthy sludge you can imagine. You look down at your feet and the mud is an unnatural color. That’s because it is not good, healthy soil. I could feel that my socks were wet, and wondered how long we would be flirting with bacteria before we could wash up again. Then, I took a good look around to see dozens of people digging through the trash, looking for something they could trade with the garbage dealers. That’s how they make their living. They were bare-handed and wearing flip-flops on their feet. Children played on the ground like you might expect to see children playing in a grassy field. But there was no beautiful meadow here. It is heartbreaking to see people economically imprisoned in such conditions. I did not see many old folks. I imagine death comes early for the men, women and children of Payatas. I was relieved when we were ushered to a pad of concrete where there was kind of a faucet where we could rinse off our shoes. There was so much sticky junk on my white gym-shoes, I had to chuckle a little. It looked like I was wearing brown shoes that were 5 or 6 sizes too big for my feet. One of the people on our team is a young lady from Japan. She approached the running water and a local gentleman helped her wipe off the yuck with his own bare hands. We were impressed with his humility. This man is also a pastor. He makes his home with the hopelessly poor so that Jesus’ message can be brought in and they might find hope of a higher quality; a meaning to their existence that transcends the squalor of their environment. He is an honorable, noble man, but here, he washes the feet of visitors. He reminded me of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. (Jn. 13:1-17) How low did Jesus stoop to leave heaven and live among men? And then, the Master of all, washed the feet of his disciples. It is a privilege to mimic the deeds of the Lord; to pay respect by following his example. How low am I willing to stoop? And would I recognize an opportunity to serve, or limit my perspective by a short-range focus on the here and now?

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