Yesterday I did something I said I’d never do.
First, a bit of background. There’s a trend in Guatemala when visitors come in from the US. They want to see the dump. Organizations will put a stop at the dump on their itineraries – the group will go, look at the dump, look at the people working in the dump, express sadness and unbelief over the situation, and move on in their tour. When done out of the context of relationship with people whose lives depend on the dump and communities who’ve built themselves in the areas around the dump, this experience can feel…exploitive.
We take Vida Joven teams to see the dump after a week of work in the communities alongside our Guatemalan staff. Our staff – who has experienced life in the dump themselves – guides our visitors through the sensory experience of witnessing what happens in the Guatemala City garbage dump. I still have hard time doing this, but we’re at least trying to navigate the situation with a sense of responsibly both to our Guatemalan friends and to our visitors.
I have always said I would never take a group to see the dump just to see it.
The past two days I’ve been hanging out with the Calvin College Gospel Choir. They were only in Guatemala City for 1.5 days before heading out to tour and sing around other cities in Guatemala. I had zero intention on taking them to see the dump.
On Monday night I participated in their group devotion, led by Pastor Terence Lauchie from Grace for the Nations Church in GR. Pastor Terence was reminding the group of their call to share good news through music – despite language barriers, the group had an opportunity to make an imprint on the atmosphere through song.
That phrase, “make an imprint on the atmosphere” hit me hard. The reality is that the imprint on the atmosphere over the informal communities surrounding the dump is heavy. Dark. Oppressive. The communities have seen extensive violence, poverty, suffering, brokenness. The communities are forgotten and overlooked. The atmosphere itself, along with the people living in it, is groaning, crying out for redemption. I realized that through the gift of this choir, we had the opportunity to sing a different imprint into the atmosphere.
At the end of the group’s historical tour through the General Cemetery, we went to an overlook of the dump. The group absorbed what they were seeing and then sang into it: santo, santo, santo / Dios todo poderoso / Quien fue, Quien es, Quien vendra. Holy holy holy / Lord God almighty / who was and is and is to come. A beautiful truth was sung into the atmosphere – and with the wind blowing strongly down the ravine, I believe the truth was heard and felt by the people who needed to hear it most.
Words can’t fully express the beauty of the moment, but I’m thankful for it. As Vida Joven staff we will continue to strive to make an imprint on the atmosphere by speaking truth into it – life giving, freedom bringing truth.