Feature

Built Upon the Rock

Extreme conditions require an extreme response

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Anita brought home her craft and Bible story coloring page from the Kid’s Club, and her mother added it to the three-year collection that papered the walls of the small wooden shack they called home. Two days later, a policeman informed the family and their neighbors that they had 10 minutes to collect their belongings. The families stood in the street amidst a small pile of odds and ends, watching a bulldozer destroy their homes while several policemen kept them at bay.

young Zámbiza girlStereotypical pictures of poverty often include beggars, homeless people or perhaps subsistence farmers. Yet, there is another category of overwhelming need: marginalized and forgotten people who are too proud to beg. They glean food from the leftovers in the trash; they earn a few cents each day by sorting the plastic from the glass and the cardboard. They live—illegally—in disposable shacks next to the city garbage dump. Anita’s family is one of the squatters at the Zámbiza dump in Quito, Ecuador.

Not My Home

On Wednesday afternoons, Anita’s underprivileged world collides with the privileged “bubble” of 14 high school students and several adults (including myself) from Alliance Academy International. We drive four miles to the dump at the edge of the city for Kids’ Club: an hour and a half of games, songs, Bible stories, memory verses, crafts and snacks. When the government bulldozed the homes of approximately 20 of the 40 children who regularly attend Kids’ Club, we had to reevaluate the meaning of “home.”

Why would God allow the government to destroy the homes of our friends? How would we feel if we lost all our belongings with only 10 minutes’ warning? Would their families find a new place to live? But most importantly, how should we respond?

What could we do?

When we received the news of the destruction on Friday afternoon, we began praying for the families. Initially, workers with the nonprofit organization Extreme Response International brought the people some food. We continued with Kids’ Club the following Wednesday and were surprised by how many children came. They were dirtier than usual and downcast in spirit. We asked them for details about what happened and where they were living.

Anita told us her family had rented a small, two-room apartment with two other families near the dump. The cramped quarters are hardly an improvement. A few of the people had connections in other provinces, and we’ll probably never see those children again. The family of Diana Carolina and her sister Dayana did not have resources to move. After the bulldozer and policemen left, they gathered anything useful from the rubble and erected another shack in the same place.

The people of the Zámbiza dump live in a cycle of poverty: they set up a shack on government land, but the authorities (understandably) cannot “donate” land to everyone who builds a shack, so they bring out the bulldozer. The people know only a life of sorting trash, so they build another shack, hoping the government will forget them. If they can live in the same house for a certain number of years, Ecuadorian law grants them “squatters’ rights” to the land. But the government does not forget, and the shacks are periodically razed.

Building on the Rock

Kid's ClubYet, even if we could provide a job training center and help the people start a cottage industry and several families found a better way of life, someone would always be there to sort the trash. Jesus said, “‘The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me’” (Mark 14:7).

The Alliance Academy high school students helped me organize a clothing drive; the following Wednesday, we brought 40 large bags of clothing to help the families replace what they had lost. We sang a chorus with the children, “Levanta tu casa sobre la roca que es Jesús,” and that became my prayer for these families: that they would build their homes on the Rock who is Jesus.

I was devastated when my friends lost their shelter, food and clothing in one afternoon. However, I must also remember that if the people of Zámbiza do not have Jesus as their Rock, they will not have a heavenly home either. Eternal shelter, spiritual food and the clothing of righteousness are far more important. I will spend more time in prayer that each of the children will understand and share with their parents the Bible verses that we’ve been memorizing this year.

Hebrews 11:13, 16 reminds us of the importance of our eternal dwelling: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. . . . Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

The government could bulldoze all the shacks again tomorrow, but would the people of Zámbiza be living in faith, longing for their heavenly home? If I lost my home and all my belongings, would I be able to trust the Heavenly Father to provide for all my needs? Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:20–21: “‘But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”

Perhaps Anita’s mother will start a new collection of Bible story coloring-page wallpaper in their new home. When she hears Anita reciting the Scriptures, I pray that she will put her trust in the Rock who is Jesus and store up her treasures in heaven.

Each One a Miracle

The little boy shyly peaked through the door as we gathered into the room. As I sat on the tiled floor, listening to amazing stories of God’s work in the Quito dump, my gaze was drawn toward the door. The boy, clad in an orange shirt, continued to smile sheepishly at me. I was struck with the realization that just four years earlier this child would not have been inside this building, protected from the muck and stench of the garbage dump just hundreds of feet away. In fact, he would have been working alongside his parents, searching for a few scraps of recyclable trash that they could sell for enough money to feed them that day.

As we entered the beautiful playroom of the day care center, the one small boy multiplied into a throng of children excitedly vying for the attention of the foreigners who had come to visit as part of Quito ’08. We interacted with numerous children that afternoon, each one a miracle of God. Where there was once no future other than the dump, there is now the promise of better things. Where once there was hunger, there are now three meals a day. Where there was once no hope, there is now the greatest hope of all being given: eternal life through Christ.

My heart was forever touched by the children of the Zámbiza garbage dump ministry. We were told that every dump worker who hears the gospel receives it with joy. God’s heart burns for the poor. O Lord, break my heart for the things that break Yours!

—Liz McIntire

Past Alliance Life Issues

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