Sao Gonzalo

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV).

Sitting in the front seat of the old yellow taxi, I turned to Davi and asked how long it would be until we got there. “When you see lots of pigs,” he said with a smile.

We were going to visit a Compassion International Mission on the outskirts of Sao Gonzalo. It was quite the trek. The road was nothing more than a rutted track. But we were getting close. Pigs were everywhere and hundreds of buzzard hawks were circling around. I was about to ask about the hawks when we started up a small hillock with a white washed building perched on the summit. We’d arrived!

We were greeted by dozens of children dressed in bright T-shirts with the Compassion logo blazoned on their chests. We were also assaulted by an overbearing smell. Politely, I asked about the stench. “It’s much worse in summer,” said a young man, “Come let me show you.”

We set off through a thin screen of trees and then a sight I’ll never forget, a garbage dump, probably the largest I’ve seen, and on top of it hundreds of people scurrying about like ants. Littered around the base of the dump were shanties of plastic and tin. Between the shanties rivulets of leach-ate flowed from the base of the dump. Pigs drank from it, chickens pecked alongside it, and humans ‘washed’ in it. It was dismal, to say the least.

My guide told me that the children lived in the shanties. When they arrived at the Mission, they’d change out of their ‘home’ clothes, shower, and put on clean clothes. They received two meals and tuition, five days a week. They were counselled with the use of the Pavement Project materials.

I was deeply struck by what I’d seen. With the release of methane gas the dump was lit with fires – a visual representation of Hell. The CI Mission, in contrast, was a picture of heaven.

When we returned the staff gathered in the chapel. They wanted to tell about the healing and transformation that had taken place in the lives of the children who’d encountered Christ through the Pavement Project process. They wanted to thank me, as a representative of SGM Lifewords, for the training their staff had received, and for the big green bag and the biblical resources it contained. And they wanted me to pray for them. But I was at a loss for words; humbled in their presence. They were the front line troops; the ones bringing the love of Christ to the kids from the dump. Who was I to pray for them? They needed to pray for me! But they were smiling and waiting. With difficulty, I mumbled a prayer …