There I stood surrounded by a vast blanket of filth. Any attempt to describe the overpowering stench would be grossly inadequate.
Thousands rummaged through unending heaps of foul debris, making it their livelihood, their bed, and their table. Men, women, children, dogs, cows, and crows flocked eagerly behind a garbage truck dumping more waste from homes and businesses in the city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
In the distance were tents and lean-tos. People actually lived in this place.
I had heard about it and seen pictures before I saw it, smelled it, and tasted of its wildly obtrusive odor. I had even painted a canvas detailing what I was yet to see and experience. But nothing could have prepared me.
Long lines formed behind our pick-up truck as we served hot rice and beans from the bed. The thought of eating while breathing in my surroundings was nauseating. Some of the Hondurans had scarves tied around their noses and mouths to minimize the unrelenting putrid odor, but others didn’t seem to notice it.
Honduran children ran around giggling and playing games. Nearby, a group of soiled young men stood eating from disposable bowls, laughing and making crude gestures to attractive teen girls in our group.
I looked into the sky and wished I could rescue people out of that dreadful place. I asked, “But, God, how would I know which of them actually wanted out?” Some of them seemed happy.
Then I saw us. I saw America. I wonder how closely our nation resembles the Tegucigalpa dump in God’s eyes. I think He gave me a glimpse that day.
Christian, if you were standing in that dump right now, you couldn’t imagine growing accustomed to the rotting odors, flavors, and images. I’m certain of it. But, here you and I stand as Americans, breathing in the inescapable stench of sin, unable to escape its effects. We pick through it, walk in it, and breathe it into our nostrils. It has become part of our existence.
Have we grown to accept what is unacceptable – going about our everyday lives as if everything is normal and good in an increasingly revolting environment? Worse yet, are we willingly participating? God forbid! How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Peter’s caution for Christians in the first century is appropriate for us today:
“Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when He judges the world” (1 Peter 2:11-12, NLT).
I’ll never forget what I experienced that day at a dump in the Third World country of Honduras. As we drove away, down a bumpy, garbage-strewn trail, we realized the odor had permeated our clothes, hair, and skin. And it was forever written on my heart. I knew I was changed.
On those days when I begin to grow weary of alerting people to the alarming realities in a once vibrant and God-honoring society, I remember it.
What if no one were there to tell those people there is a better way? What if everyone had discarded their scarves and gotten used to it?
As I waited to board the bus that day, a pretty, young Honduran mother stood with her daughter. A filthy, pink, hooded jacket partially covered the woman’s hoop earrings and dark eyes lined with make-up and filled with longing.
Maybe she wanted out.