Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Venezuela: The Dump

The dump contains my dearest memories of Venezuela. The city dump of Maracaibo is near a community of Paraguachon. (This is different, I believe, than the town of the same name that lies on the Colombian border about an hour's drive north-by-northwest of Maracaibo.) ITAM only allows men up on the dump. Local women and children may live up there, but it can be dangerous.

The team visited the ITAM store next to the Iglesia Bautista, Fuente de Amor, where they sell crafts made by the people at the dump. A few of us took one of the busses to the dump. We parked in an area where our team did a carnival last year and walked up on the dump from there. It's an open-air dump and has to be about two miles across and growing. It's huge.

We trudged toward the center of the dump. I had left my glasses at home - I'm slightly near-sighted with some astigmatism. I would see what appeared to be flocks of birds in the distance circling over one area then another. I had never seen so many birds circle at once. I made a comment to one of the other men and he informed me that what I saw was not a flock of birds. Rather, it was a large trash version of a dust devil. If you've ever seen the larger dust devils in the American desert, these were about the height of those with a larger diameter. I'll never forget the sight (albeit blurry) of that much trash in the air due to the rising of methane-heated air from the layers of fermenting garbage.

As we walked we chanced upon a woman named Maria and her daughter, whose name is pronounced "Hennessy". Their faces radiated great joy and Maria didn't stop praising God for being alive yet another day. They asked nothing from us, instead giving us warm hugs of welcome. I could've taken them both home with me right then. Not a day has passed since then that I haven't thought of them. Their joy and hope are an example of the work that our teams and others have done in Venezuela.

We proceeded until we came within 100 yards or so of a group taking fresh garbage off the garbage trucks from the city. Yes, I know: "fresh garbage" is an oxymoron. But in the dump, it's necessary to distinguish between that on which one tramples and that from which one seeks items to redeem. Don't miss the meaning here: God has redemmed us from no less.

As we beheld the activity of those sorting through the garbage, we were moved to pray. We gathered in a circle to hold hands, but before we prayed, someone commented that we naturally face inward to pray, but that the ministry of the church is to be outward. We turned around and faced outward. As we prayed someone was moved to raise their hands. Our hands rose slowly in a wave around the circle. The ITAM photographer who had tagged along had been a sort distance away and had come upon us. He snapped this photo just in time.


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