This Thursday most Americans will sit down to the ridiculous excess that we call Thanksgiving dinner. I will be one of them. If my pattern continues I will eat too much of the wonderful food prepared by my bride. I will probably complain that I ate too much as if that is anyone’s fault other than my own. I will be genuinely thankful for having my family together. That will be extra special this year because Joni’s cancer is a reminder that such gatherings are not guaranteed. I will thank God for the bounty of food that will be before us. But I don’t think I will really comprehend how blessed I am to be a citizen of the United States.
A story that I read in the Miami Herald gave me a big helping of perspective as I look forward to Thanksgiving Day.
Streaks of grime cover the boys’ bodies and insects crawl on their heads as they scour through heaps of trash alongside buzzards that seem large enough to carry the kids away. Brothers Carlos, 11, and Noel, 9, are dragging a pair of plastic bags filled with fast-food refuse while Ruben, 14, chases after a dump truck spilling fresh rubbish. This is life for the children at the main municipal dump in the capital of Honduras — a life of far-too-early desperation in a country where nearly two-thirds of the population lives in poverty.
Many Latin American nations have pepenadores, Spanish slang for people who scour garbage dumps for recyclable goods they can then sell. But Honduras has the highest rate of children working at dumps — an estimated 2,000, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund.
”Every barrio has a dump,” said Rick Beck, a Christian missionary who visits the Tegucigalpa city dump each week to deliver food and prayer. “It’s a way of living. The problem has to be attacked spiritually, physically and emotionally.” Soledad Ramírez, director of social programs for Tegucigalpa, said the effort to get the kids out of the dump will require a long-term commitment.
”It’s not just to rescue the kids. It’s to educate them and insert them into society,” she told The Miami Herald. “Many of these children grew up in the dumps. There were even children in cribs there.”
I don’t want my ministry to be a travel agency for guilt trips. But I do want to be tender enough to the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit to realize the need and then to gladly offer back a portion of what I have been given. It breaks my heart to think of these precious children digging through the refuse of the other poor to survive. What a disturbing image to picture a crib in the middle of a garbage dump.
We are so blessed…and so oblivious.
Picture this scenario.
Here comes 6-year-old Giovanny, yanking at the brothers’ trash bags to pick through crumpled boxes of fried chicken. He’s known as El Pollo — The Chicken — for his love of the morsels he scrapes off the tossed-out bones.
We laugh about the five second rule when food falls on the floor. But for most of us it would mean nothing to toss that food away and get something else. Imagine gnawing on the remains of someone else’s scraps to get a morsel of nourishment. It is a disgusting thought. But it is a heartbreaking reality for Giovanny.
And I realize that I am so blessed…and so oblivious.
When the dump trucks roll in, it’s a mad dash to get to the refuse. Men and boys tend to push the women off the mounds, and no one seems bothered by the smell, which at times is so foul it burns the nostrils and makes the eyes tear. The pepenadores are too busy collecting anything they can use — some shoes they can wear, a semi-broken toy they can still play with, a piece of cake they can eat, a bit of metal, plastic bottles or paper they can sell.
”The problem is that they make more money in that dump than they do with an education,” said Kim Beck, who helps her missionary husband deliver food.
Enjoy the blessings that God has provided this Thanksgiving. But take a moment to reflect on how truly blessed we are in this country. Maybe a little perspective will help you realize that the position or title you were denied is not that big a deal. Or that person who irritates you at work or church is created in the image of God and in a fallen state…just like you and me. About 98% of what we get all exorcised over is trivial from an eternal perspective. What does the Lord delight in? It is not our wealth or power or position.
“This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
Count your blessings. Be grateful. Don’t feel guilty that you are blessed. But don’t forget the responsibility of that blessing. And maybe we should pray that we could begin to approach what was happening in the early church.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” Act 4:32–35
Maybe that is not possible in this culture. I suppose I am naive. But I am sure we can do a lot better by being a little less oblivious to the suffering around us.