(My friend, Jeff Smith, who is the college minister at the Sunset church in Lubbock wrote the following story after his trip to Honduras. While there Jeff witnessed something take place at the dump that was worth sharing … and I’m glad he did.)
Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right
The old adage, “Two wrongs don’t make a right” is always true – well, almost. I recently experienced a bizarre situation that proved otherwise while on a mission trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I was leading a group of students on a Spring Break mission trip with our host, Marc Tindall. Five years ago, Marc and his wife, Terri, left a successful business career to dedicate themselves to the needs of the poor in this Central American country. Among their many good works is a ministry to some of the poorest of the poor – people who scrounge through the city’s waste and refuse, a place known as “the dump.” I had heard about the dump and Marc’s pledge to feed people there at least once a week. The dump was on my “to do” list and I was blessed to experience it with my group on my 49th birthday. It was a profound experience. A few days later, Marc invited me to go back and I jumped at the chance. Little did either of us know the chaos that was about to ensue!
It all began when we met up with two large groups staying at the Baxter Institute who wanted to visit the dump. Marc met with each group to prepare them and explain all the do’s and don’ts of feeding at the dump. “Do’s” like greet people, smile, use appropriate physical contact, and just help people to feel normal. “Don’t” wander off by yourself, don’t get all the cameras out and treat the place like it’s some kind of human zoo. He went on to explain that the dump is filled with desperate people and they may be tempted to take your valuables if it means surviving one more day.
As we climbed the winding road to the dump, I noticed it was very windy. Dirt, trash and vultures were swirling all about. Two bus loads of eager American volunteers unloaded. Hungry Hondurans immediately lined up at the back of Marc’s familiar truck, knowing a lunch of rice, beans and tortillas was to come. Six girls jumped into the bed of the pickup and started serving. Things were proceeding smoothly so I began visiting with a student from Edmond, Oklahoma who was writing his thesis on waste management in third world countries. He had done a lot of research about the Tegu dump, but this was his first time to see it for himself. He mused that he may have to scrap most of his work and start over after seeing it firsthand. He told me about a book written by an African woman entitled, “Dead Aid.” Her belief is that while compassionate Americans may think they’re helping the poor, they may be perpetuating the cycle of poverty & dependence. Just as I was about to ask for his e-mail, all hell broke loose!
Another man from Oklahoma who was filming the dump from the cab of Marc’s truck briefly set down one of his cameras (Wrong #1). In a matter of seconds, it was stolen (Wrong #2). The thief started running towards the edge of the dump and the American, without thinking, took off after him. Instantly, all the people who were in line to get food, started chasing them both. It was crazy! I thought, “Dude, let it go and learn a $400 lesson.” It was sheer lunacy to chase after the thief on his territory. The truck was virtually abandoned as everyone went to witness the commotion. I decided to stay with the truck and young ladies who were in it serving food.
I couldn’t see Marc. All I could see was a wall of gringos and dump people peering over the edge as the chase unfolded. After several minutes, I just had to look over the edge myself. Half way down the hill of trash I could see Marc and the American surrounded by folks from the dump. Further down, off to the right, I saw a very angry mob. It looked like the guy had reclaimed his camera and was climbing back toward the top of the dump. When he got back, he began to explain what happened. He had set the camera down and in just one second, it was gone. He quickly yelled at the thief who started to run. Instinctively, he began to chase after his camera. Two hundred yards later, he caught the bandit and tackled him. Then the thief pulled out his machete. “That’s when I got scared” said the American. All of a sudden, the thief turned and started running again. The American looked back and saw an angry mob of dump people chasing and screaming after the thief. They were furious. He was putting their future meals in jeopardy and they were extremely indignant that he would take advantage of one of Marc’s friends. They caught him and began to administer some vigilante justice. They beat him for a bit and then brought him over to Marc to serve as judge and jury.
The thief franticly pleaded with Marc saying. “Marco, you know me! You know me!” Marc said, “Then why are you stealing from one of my friends?” He began to apologize and promise he’d never do it again. At that point Marc said, “Okay, I forgive you.” This shocked the vigilantes who were just waiting for Marco to give them the nod to continue the beating.
Marc taught us all a valuable lesson and he learned something precious in the process. In the midst of a chaotic moment, he poignantly demonstrated the grace of Christ to those he’s been serving. On this day, he gave them something new to digest—the sweet and sour taste of forgiveness. I’m sure this will be a day that goes down in dump infamy. I’m eager to hear about future conversations Marc will have with his loyal friends at the Tegu dump. This will undoubtedly stand out as a teachable moment allowing Marc a greater opportunity to share the good news of God in tangible and practical ways.
And here’s what Marco learned. He found out in a very powerful way that those folks ARE his friends! They were deeply concerned about what happened to their friend Marco and anyone who comes with him to help. Marc was surprised and humbled by their affection and desire to make things RIGHT.
I suppose many of us involved in ministry frequently wonder if we’re doing any good. It’s hard to gauge the impact of our efforts. More often than not, we question ourselves and even consider giving up. Now Marc doesn’t have to wonder. He knows his work is making a difference!
Maybe all hell did start to break loose. Instead, I choose to believe that heaven broke open to help a faithful servant know his efforts are not in vain and that the Father wants him to take things to the next level! I guess two wrongs can make a right…especially when God’s in control.