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.

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  1. May 9, 2008
    at 7:39 am

    I love the fact that God still speaks to us, from time to time, in dreams. Yours shows the lie in the idea that people are “poor, but happy”; if they are so poor that they have to rob a store, sell their bodies, or dig in the dung heap of life to meet basic needs, it isn’t okay. We can’t shrug off their poverty by saying, “Yeah, but look how happy they are.”

  2. May 9, 2008
    at 9:00 am

    On the other hand, our lives of wealth, materialism and greed seem “normal” to us, until we come face to the poverty of the world around us. It’s time we said “This is not normal or right — I want to change my spending habits and start giving more.”

  3. May 9, 2008
    at 10:36 am

    That’s a good point. Being content is many times a function of having no other choice.

    I guess that’s why God brings people into our lives…and along with them is their new perspective.

    Thanks Ian!

  4. Erika
    May 9, 2008
    at 11:24 am

    Thanks for sharing Ian! It is clear you are going to make an impact in your new career since you clearly listened to God’s voice to be placed there.

    I appreciate what I expect will be regular wake-up calls from you on seeing how others are forced to live. It is important to also realize we can’t ever know what the correct response is unless we are seeking God’s direction first. Are these individuals “better off” because the weight of our egos and materialism haven’t reached them yet, or do we need to help conventionalize them with the purpose of giving them a better way of life. Tough stuff.

  5. May 9, 2008
    at 2:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing that–it was wonderful and pertinent.

    cd

  6. Cheryl Quimba
    May 9, 2008
    at 5:10 pm

    My stomach twisted as I read this. It made me think of my own life as God’s child: my American life. Just because I am used to having so much, so many comforts, so many pleasant non-essentials, does that mean God is content with it? Isn’t God just as discontented to see my “stuff gluttony” as He is to see the utter poverty of His other children? Especially when my Christ-like “godliness with contentment” would open the floodgates for me to be a vessel of relief to the poor? I don’t believe God is against material blessings -but I know He is for justice, mercy, and compassion. When these rule our hearts our possessions will not, and the poor will receive the tangible blessings of God through us. It’s so easy to forget when I’m clean, well fed, and comfortable. Thank you for reminding me.

  7. May 9, 2008
    at 6:11 pm

    Before reading it in full, I was going to remind my cousin-writer to always add an image / photo to help engage his readers ever more – now that I read the full post, thank you for not doing so! :P

    To be honest, the thought of having my children covered with animal crap for the sake of reaching to the unreached makes my me queezy.

    Questions such as, is God really asking me to put my child’s health at risk so that they can integrate and the family win the trust of the locals? came to mind.

    “Bringing Western standards of housing and cleanliness…” Sanitation and cleanliness is not a western standard. Even in the very early chapters of history one of the first things that civilizations did when establishing new towns or villages was to separate “unclean” things from daily living.

    Part of Compassions work yes is to integrate with the locals but I believe it’s also to share new hope in Jesus through the gospel through providing better living conditions.

    Thanks for reminder Cuz.

  8. May 12, 2008
    at 4:01 pm

    Very thought provoking. It’s easy to ask “big questions” without considering them in a more personal way.

  9. Mike Stephens
    Mar 29, 2009
    at 7:49 pm

    I love reading and learning more about Compassion!!! I have learned so much from all these blogs!!! Thanks for sharing Ian!!! I think as sponsors we are like runners in a race, or maybe a bike ride would be a better example. When riding by myself I wander and can ride slow and relax but if I am riding with someone else something supernatural happens as well as the obvious that I am riding with someone else. Also the fact that we can draft off each other is huge!!! This is not a perfect analogy b/c we and our sponsor children are not both “riding bikes” we are in very different situations but I believe something supernatural takes place!!! I believe we are drafting off of each other!!! We have to and we do it almost automatically to “finish the ride” This might be only making sense to me b/c I ride a lot but to add something I sent a family gift to Osmari in Nicaragua and her dad fixed her bike among other things with part of the gift so now she told me she likes to ride her bike like me!!! So I helped Osmari get back in the race so to speak!!! A lot more to poverty than being able to ride your bike again but it is one of the many things that brings me GREAT JOY!!! When I visited her she had a large scrape on her knee with a band-aid. Her mom told me she is very active, so I am even more JOYFUL knowing hopefully she is riding around on her bike that I helped fix!!! A very small, small victory but nonetheless a VICTORY!!! I have sent a few pictures of me on my bicycle riding I think I will request one of Osmari on her bike if they can manage that!!! I would love to see it!!!

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