I captured this photo from a rooftop room of a community center at Smokey Mountain, Manila. This former rubbish dump and landfill is now littered with low-cost housing stacked stories high, offering accommodation to thousands of Filipinos. There are still many shanty's and cute sari-sari stores along the road frontage. Prior to the project, people lived in slums around the dump and made their living rifling through the rubbish. Now, there is health and hope and life.
I arrived in the Philippines ten days before I took this photo. It was early on a Monday and I was due to meet up with the rest of my team from St Peter's in the City, Tauranga. They were spending the morning at Trash Mountain, not too dissimilar, I imagine, from Smokey Mountain before it was closed.
At Trash Mountain the poorest of the poor who live in and around the dump scavenge for treasure or burn wood to make charcoal. Suffocating smoke pours forth from the charcoal pits and claims the lives of the workers by the time they are barely in their twenties.
The morning was spent feeding children sloppy mash full of goodness and nutrients, handing out clothing to the ragged and naked, mixing antibiotics for the sick and cleaning the wounds of the injured, and playing with children who's lungs were full of smoke and faces full of joy.
When I arrived I put down my drink bottle, picked up several bags of secondhand clothing and followed Cathy, Braedon, and a local pastor along ashy, muddy paths past charcoal pits and between makeshift shacks. I looked into deep eyes in dark rooms as our hands reached out toward each other, exchanging gratitude.
I am grateful for the welcome I received at Trash Mountain; these people opened up their lives and their homes to me, even if just for the morning.
But I am still disappointed; disappointed that we, humanity, are killing our planet and our people. Places like Trash Mountain shouldn't exist. But they do.
That night I asked God where he was in that place. I'm pretty sure I heard him say that he was on the mountain of rubbish and in the charcoal pit feeding the hungry and being fed, clothing the naked and being clothed, caring for the sick and being cared for. That sounded a lot like something else Jesus said once (Matthew 25).
Psalm 113:5-8 says,
Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
He seats them with the princes,
with the princes of their people.
Jesus has humbled himself, bearing our humanity and bestowing us with dignity. Jesus, through whom the world was created, gets covered in ash and dust as he cradles and carries the humble and helpless. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.
As we were packing up to leave Trash Mountain I spotted a wee girl in a red dress with a ladybug umbrella. She was walking home along the waterfront, walking over the rubbish of a nation. She was alive and she was loved and the God of the universe walked with her.
There is hope for Trash Mountain yet. The same hope that is happening at Smokey Mountain. Maybe there's hope for us all, 'cos God knows we need it.