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Are You Okay With Dung?

In his book The New Friars, Scott A. Bessenecker tells a story of living in and serving a garbage community in Cairo with his family and some college students. After a month, “what at first was repulsive — rotting garbage piled everywhere, animals feeding off the trash, mothers climbing rubbish mountains with their babies playing next to them in the refuse” became normal. Inwardly, he questioned if that was okay. He wondered if they were “bringing Western standards of housing and cleanliness to people who have developed their own culturally defined norms for quality of life and are just fine with how things are.”

The Lord answered him in a dream.

I dreamed about the dung truck. You could always smell the dung truck before seeing it. It was the kind of smell that is more like a taste at the back of your throat; pasty and bitter…. Temperatures of over 100 degrees released the dung’s pungent odor with a vengeance, making this task even more intense than can be appreciated by someone reading this in comfort.

In my dream I was walking past the dung truck. To my horror, I saw my children, Hannah, Philip and Laura, sitting on top of the mountain of dung heaped on the bed of the truck. What struck me most about them was that they appeared perfectly content although every inch of their bodies was covered by animal waste. Then I felt the Lord speaking to me. He seemed to be saying, “As their father, are you satisfied? Even if they are satisfied, are you satisfied?”

I’m still sifting the impact of that dream, but the immediate implication is that a person’s contentment with a situation of poverty does not make it okay. My passion for my kids is a shadowy reflection of God’s heart, which yearns for his children to have more than the dung that surrounds them; not riches, but a life in which their needs are met in a way that doesn’t mask their need for him.