I had never been to the dumps before. Even from far away you could see they were swarming with people, and you could smell garbage baking in the hot Mexican sun.
As we bumped along in our team van, faces of the people whizzed by.
Men with masks on, trailing garbage trucks that expelled heaps of refuse onto the ground and blew dust into their faces.
Women sifting through piles of trash with their bare hands, looking for something salvageable to sell for profit.
I pointed out the window as we drove past a makeshift structure erected in a mound of rubble. There were workers inside, talking and laughing in its shade.
“Do they build those just so they have a cooler place to take a break?” I asked one of our contacts.
“No. They live there,” came the response.
We rolled to a stop in the middle of the dump and waved black smoke out of our eyes as we jumped out of the van. We grabbed bottled waters and hot dogs that we had made earlier, and we handed them out to the masses who gathered near.
We walked up to individuals to talk with them. Took rough hands with dirt-encrusted fingernails into our own and sat down in the trash to have conversations with people. We met men who were Jesus-lovers, a guy who thought I was Chinese, girls who had suddenly been deported from the States after growing up there and becoming brilliant students, doctors, and leaders.
Each story we heard thumbed a string in our hearts.
Because each story was a person.
After an hour or two we picked up and headed into the dump community a mile away from where we were stationed. We continued handing out food and water to the permanent residents living there, calling “Buenas dias!” so they would know we were nearby.
One of our contacts noticed something strange as we looked about the compound.
“Where are all the children?” she asked one of the locals.
The way he responded sounded chillingly as though it was nothing out of the ordinary. The drug cartels had swept in the night before and shot up the entire community. Then in the morning, the families sent their kids away to a nearby village in case more trouble came during the day.
And these stories, too, broke our hearts, tore at our insides, reminded us of the collapsible state of our lungs.
Because it hurt. Because those things should never happen. Not to anyone.
Here’s the thing. It’s easy to leave a place like that completely broken. And to be broken, I believe, is a truly beautiful thing – so long as you have hope.
And there is one hope that we must always remember. That is the hope of Christ. And knowing that always, without fail:
He is gracious.
He is loving.
He is strong.
He is enough.
He is good.