I wanted to let you know what I do in my spare time. Not to worry, I’m not trying to expand what I am already doing or being distracted from the work at hand. It’s just a place I visit every couple of months. And this is why I go to visit.
The main source of income for most of the working people in the Canyon is working in the garbage dump in Tecate. It’s where they moved things when they closed the dump in the Canyon several years ago. Many of the men, and some of the women, travel there everyday to see if they can make some money. I remember talking to Miguel one day and he explained that you have to pay for public transportation to get there and back. If your an outsider, you have to pay for the privilege of working for the day. What ever you recycle that day, you have to sell back to them. You can’t take it to a different recycle center, so they can pay what they want. On a good day, you might make $20 for the day and other days your lucky to break even. He explains that if he doesn’t go, then he knows there will be no money that day. But if he goes, there is the possibility. Plus, they allow you to take home any food or clothing that you find.
So I decided it was time for me to go have a look for myself. They call the area, Valle de las Palmas – Valley of the Palms. Looks like dessert with some hills to me. I did find a few Palm trees near the entrance that had been planted by someone, but they have long since died. As you turn into the dump area, you can see the massiveness of the land fill and how the huge garbage trucks look like toys as they drive in an out. I watched as a worker pushed a wheel barrow along the top ridge, overfilled with items he would take home to burn for the metal inside. As he looked at the long steep slope to the community where he lived, you could see that easiest way to get things down there was to just let go. It was almost comical to watch the load tumble down the hill as he walked down to put everything back together.
As soon as you pass the landfill, you can see the community. It reminds you of an old western where you come up on a town or village that has been attacked and burnt to the
ground with only smoldering fires everywhere to show that there was once signs of life here. But those burning piles were actually signs of life, as many of the workers live here take what they are allowed to. When you drive into the community, you see that each living area is surrounded by multitudes of old and new burn piles. When the wind drifts in your direction, it’s not “hard” to breath, it’s impossible to breath.
As I looked around I thought, “wow – I thought the Canyon was bad.” This is some desolate land with no trees or vegetation. There is no water within miles and there are no power poles from which to steal electricity from. For the most part, these aren’t even houses; at best shacks. To the right, you see a large area surrounded by walls that prevent you from seeing inside. This is the compound where the main drug dealer lives. To the left, set apart from most everything else, is a Church. Well you look at it and see what you would call it. I met Manuel who has been Pastoring in the community for the past few years. Every Friday he would drive from the US and bring his projector and speakers to hold services on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. The projector used to show movies to the children and adults for entertainment. An old Army Mash type tent covering the roof and a few mismatched chairs and a couple of old wooden benches. A small kitchen area to cook some food when it was available. Sometimes joining forces with visiting Church groups who only come on Saturdays. While other visiting Churches preferred to do things on their own. Manuel knows most of the people who live there and has been reaching out to them, slowly building relationships. Some became volunteers, not only helping on weekends, but keeping an eye on things during the week. Manuel would need to return to the US each week so that he could work and earn enough money to do this again the next week.
As I walked around, much of it felt familiar to me. All the more so when I start running into people that I knew. I found Lidia and her children visiting her sister who lives here. I see a man who looks just like Pollo from the Canyon and find out that it’s his brother. I find Dalia and Jesse living in a 4 foot tent structure next to the Church. We had lost track of them several months ago when we heard that Jesse had beaten Dalia so bad that everyone thought she was dead. Jesse’s mom, also from the Canyon now lives here. And many of you remember Maribel. She saw my truck as I was driving in and ran down to visit.
This place is not like the Canyon where people will come out from where they live when they see you drive up to see if you have blessings to share with them. When you set up to cook a meal to share with them, there are no long lines. Mostly because they are up working in the dump. And if they are home, they are not interested in eating. The drug dealers like them to keep buying drugs so that maybe they will work double shifts increasing the dealers profit all the more.
On a couple of occasions, I was surprised to see the Police drive in. It’s wasn’t like they were patrolling or on a call. They just kind of drove straight to one location each time. I was later informed that they were here only to pick up their “take” for the week.
I have even gone inside the dump itself to where they are working. A group sets up food to
serve, something cold to drink and playing worship songs. Even then, the workers are reluctant to stop for more than a few minutes to eat. They just gather accept the food and walk off to a remote area to quickly eat. Some of the workers live right in the dump itself. Tents and shacks are set up so they can keep working. Even a little store so they can buy food and drinks at a steep price so they don’t have to leave the work area. A few people lucky enough to have a truck,
drive around offering to buy what workers have collected for the day at a reduced rate. They load up the truck and drive it over to the recycling area and turn it in for a profit. The workers follow behind the in coming garbage trucks as they dump their load. Each worker specializing in various types of plastic or metal. They work on their collection until the next truck comes in and all race to follow behind it for a new load.
The smell is horrific. I can’t imagine how long it takes to get used to it or if you can. It took 3 days before the smell stopped permeating my nostrils after just a few hours of visiting. The toxic waste and drugs have had an incredible impact on the people here. I watched as one man, donning a pair so swimming goggles and the bottoms of a wet suit accepted a cup of water. He walked a few steps away and poured the water over some rocks. I watched as he did this twice more without ever taking a sip of the water. I’m not sure he had enough consciousness to realize what he was doing. I watched as a visiting Church member walked over to talk with him. Wow….talk about a tough mission field.
One of the things that I have learned is that if your going to survive here, you have to keep your expectations low. In this case, it’s better to have no expectations at all and you will be pleased with any growth you might see. Here is why…
Several months after meeting Manuel, things got even worse. The drug dealers did not like him being there. If he got people to start thinking about living a different life, they would stop buying drugs and it was hurting their business. The drug dealers don’t send their Attorney’s to talk to you. They send their enforcers. And the volunteers who were helping and serving – jealousy, pride and selfishness soon raised it’s ugly head. Together, they broke into the Church, stole everything of value and burnt the travel trailer that was just brought in to serve as the new Church. Everything was lost, including the things that Manuel brought each weekend. And he soon learned that they had more in store for him if he chose to return. It’s been about a year since Manuel has been back. Andres has taken over for him as the local representative and holds services, but he has no support or funding. Things have deteriorated even more so over past months.
But from the ashes….
I went back out a few weeks ago to visit. I saw that what was left of Manuel’s Church was still there, not not with any signs of progress and not much life. However, just beyond it, I found another make shift Church. Set up by La Roca Ministries that have been visiting there on week ends for a long time. There are four walls, but no roof as of yet. They sectioned off a small area inside for a classroom for the children. They offer Church services on the weekends and bible studies during the week. The best part is they have set a small travel trailer along side the Church and they staff it with rotating volunteers who stay all during the week. In the mornings, “Nacho” and the others prepare a modest meal for the children and anyone else who would like to participate. They also help get the children to school in the mornings and play soccer with them in the afternoons. They even have old playground equipment set up there, which looks really out of place in area like it is, but what a blessing it is to have. We found a little girl walking around by herself, so we took her over to play for awhile on the playground. They also have been developing relationships with the people who live there and started building their volunteer base from the community.
While I was visiting, one of the locals took me for a short walk. Just beyond the community, he pointed out a large area where the land had recently been cleared. He explained that a Church from LA had been visiting and they were talking about building a large complex with not only a Church, but with a kitchen and dinning area as well as bathrooms and maybe even showers. I have no idea if this is just rumor or conjecture, but it was good to envision the possibility.
The first time I visited the dump community, I was so excited to see all that was going on there and hearing about possible plans for the future. Such an undeveloped mission field with so many possibilities. I have never felt called to do anything there myself, just visit the people we knew and support the work being done there. I would share what ever extra we might have and it felt good to visit a community that I am sure is now what the Canyon was 15 years ago. I must admit that I was really discouraged to hear how Satan took such a strong foothold in people’s hearts there and felt somewhat defeated. I kept waiting for a sign that some one would “storm the gates of Hell” (like Pastor Ken likes to say.) But with all things, it’s in His timing. I am so much more encouraged now that I see ministries working to build a foundation for the work that is to come. Like I said, I have no expectations, other than the excitement that comes from knowing things will be different.
I just wanted to share with you what I see. Not for any other reason than to show how much need there is out there. I’m guessing that there are at least 25 other countries that can share similar stories. Maybe it’s just an opportunity for us to appreciate our circumstances and where we were born and say a prayer for the children who were born in places like this.