I have heard Isaiah 61 preached. I have seen it proclaimed from the stage in drama. I have sung it, but I have never heard it like I did at the dump in Nicaragua.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Plastic bags of all colors created a patchwork on the parched brown earth, as our bus bumped down the road. The ditches on both sides were full of the discarded plastic, and the bags waved like flags on the trees and shrubs. The closer we got the more of them covered the ground. The closer we got, the worse the smell. The closer we got, the hotter it became. Our destination was the dump. Our mission was to feed the dump workers lunch. The pastor and his wife we were working with, prepare food like this several times a week, every week. They serve out of the back of a pickup truck to the dump workers who are forgotten by most people.
Coming around a curve in the road, we saw the smoke first. They were burning a mountain of garbage. When our bus arrived, people began their descent from Trash Mountain. Dressed in long pants, long sleeve shirts, hoods and some with cloths over their faces, they gathered around. The smoke and heat were suffocating to those of us who were uninitiated. Running back to the bus wasn’t an option for us, as much as we would have liked to do it. Instead, we gathered around for the devotion which happens before the meal.
One of the moms in our group read Isaiah 61 with the help of an interpreter. As many times as I have heard, quoted, or sung that chapter, I have never heard it like I did that day. It was as if heaven came down and touched the Earth. Suddenly, the dump was the Holy of Holies where God dwells. It was as if the words carried the living Christ with them. His heart so beautifully expressed, as he did in the temple as a child, and still does even now. The words hit my heart, which was beating like a sledge hammer. Bind up the brokenhearted…who were standing right in front of us. Proclaim freedom for the captives…who were waiting in line for nourishment. A crown of beauty instead of ashes…to those who were covered in ash. The oil of joy instead of mourning…for those who walk in heaviness. A garment of praise…to those cloaked in despair.
Suddenly, I was humbled to stand in the presence of such precious people. Suddenly, I knew the high value which they had in God’s eyes. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. A hushed reverence flooded my soul. These are the ones he was speaking of. When you look into their faces you see his. To serve them lunch was an honor. To pray with them afterwards was an act of service. As I prayed for a woman who longs for unity in her family, tears flowed…hers and mine. I asked if I could hug her, and though she seemed surprised at the request, she agreed. I whispered blessings in her ear and we held on to each other tightly for some time. I released her to go back to the heap, and I headed back to the bus which would carry me away from this place.
My heart was breaking into a thousand pieces, as we were leaving behind a granddaughter, a daughter, and a grandmother…generations of poverty, digging through the trash. Workers who make $20 a month to find plastic and metal…a needle in a haystack…of garbage. No gloves, no masks, no protective gear. A blind man gathering soles of shoes to sell the rubber. A girl in her teens, in shorts pulling nasty stuff off of what turned out not to be plastic. A little girl of four, doing her part to dig for her family. Men with bags on their backs with which to collect their finds. A boy, excited to find what appeared to be a radio, in hopes that with some work, it might turn on. All of them thanking us for coming, for not forgetting them. All of us, thanking them for opening our eyes. I saw God at the dump, and he didn’t look like me.