Sunday, December 4, 2011

Walk in Love

Africa, Day 1

It is 2:48 a.m. I have been awake for 25 minutes now, tossing and turning.  My body thinks it should be up doing instead of down resting.  I am simultaneously cold and hot.  Bug noises rise and fall outside and I remember Michigan summers with my bedroom window cracked open to the warm air.  My heart and mind can’t quite hold the fullness of the day that has passed, every moment of it overflowing with life.  After the very long plane journey, I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa at 7:30 a.m.  I said goodbye to my seatmate Bruce, a white Zimbabwean who now lives in Calgary, Canada, and with whom I shared 12 hours in the sky running from London to South Africa.

Straight from the airport, I went with my pastor friend Edgar to the home of a man named Mike.  Two little dogs greeted us and the rich earthiness of the summer air nearly took my breath away.  At home, the warmth of this sun will be veiled for months.  Mike and his wife run a ministry called Dumpsite.  Each Saturday morning, they make a bowl of meat, rice, and vegetables for, on average, 200 people who live on a large landfill, collecting, sorting, and then selling garbage scraps and recyclables.  They also make two large tubs of juice.  Edgar and I helped load the bowls of food into a van along with the juice and black plastic bags filled with shoes and clothes.

Mike explained that when we arrived at the dump, he would preach the gospel and then everyone would gather in groups of ten.  Then, we would give each group a palate of food bowls, a black plastic bag, and a cup of juice.  Distributing the food, drink and clothes this way creates community and accountability, preventing line-jumping, pushing to the front.

We followed Mike and his team in their van to the dumpsite where people had already started to gather.  Mostly women and little children.  They gathered in a semi-circle around the van the massive dump looming large in the background.

Mike shouts praises to God and those gathered echo his praises.  He passes out a single sheet of paper to each person, which includes the text from Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, part of which promises that “God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”  (v. 11)  This was quite a promise to contemplate among a crowd suffering from deep, abiding hunger, deathly sickness, chronic foot and belly pain.  God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  Has made.  Everything.  Beautiful.  I can’t help but wonder how any of this is beautiful, this aching hunger, this living amongst garbage, and this lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation.  I can only agree that I cannot see the whole scope of God’s work and it must not be time yet.  Mike tells the group that if any among them has AIDS, God loves them. If any among them has HIV, God loves them.  He tells them that though their pain and suffering is so great now, God has planted eternity in their heart and through belief in Christ, eternal, everlasting beauty is on the way.

After preaching his message and praying, Mike asks the people to disperse into groups and we hand out the food, drink and clothing.  After this is done, a line forms and Edgar explains that those in line had prayer requests for Mike.  Mike listens to each one, types each prayer into his mobile device, and then lays his hands on the shoulders, on the feet, on the stomach, on the eyes depending on the request.  He asks God to heal, to provide, to protect.  For some, he thanks God for answered prayer.  Mike will forward these prayer requests to a team and he and the team will pray for each person all week.  Next week, he will come and do this again. 

Next, we travel to the other side of the dump where hundreds of people have set up “homes” among the garbage.

Mike has brought us here, where he will distribute fresh vegetables and heavy-duty nails in an effort to keep the homes standing.  As we walk through this village, scraps of garbage, colorful plastic bottles and caps, and animal bones litter the ground.  We walk a winding path looking for residents to tell them we are here with nails and food.  Faces begin to appear in doorways and people come out to see us.  We shake hands and exchange names and greetings.  Their hands are warm and dry in mine.  They call out Mike’s name from afar, smiling broadly when they see he has come.  He touches them and asks them about their families.  One man approaches Mike and explains that he needs to see a doctor, pulling down his shirt over the shoulder revealing large red sores that he says cover his chest and back.  He has AIDS and it is eating him from the inside out.  The man looks at me and says he needs a doctor.  Another man staggers behind us, talking nonsense, younger men holding him up as he walks.  Mike says this man will die in a few days.   

“Many of them are drunk and have HIV and AIDS.  We cannot judge them.  We don’t know how it is to live here,” Mike says as we walk back to the van.  “I only can love them.”  By now, there are dozens following us to get the vegetables and nails.  As we walk, Mike shows me homes that have collapsed and not been built again.  “The person who lived here probably died and they just leave the home like this.”  There are two well-built structures that Mike raised money to have built for two elderly men so that they can live the remainder of their lives with protection from the rain and some amount of dignity.  I say my goodbyes to Mike and ask what will happen with the man who needs to see the doctor.  Without hesitation, he says “I will take him now.”  And suddenly I see the beauty.

Before I left home, my 11-year old daughter handed me a stack of letters she wrote for me to read while I am away, one for every other day.  When I return to my lodging after the visit to the dumpsite, I read today’s letter, in which she instructs me to read 2 John 6: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.  As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”  This passage allows me to piece the day together and see how we can and so often do walk through life, and love only on the side, only when the opportunity to love finds us or arrests our movement.  But, in Mike, I see that to walk in love is a whole other thing.  It is to go where love is needed and provide it.  Where this need and this provision collide, there is the beautiful.


  1. What beauty God brings to this world. If you speak to Mike again before you go, tell him I love him.

  2. I can imagine you there - among the people and the garbage and the bones and the handshakes and the warm smiles and the eyes of those in need who carry a wisdom few of us will ever know... and I see it as beautiful... you being Christ to them and they being Christ back to you... I am praying for you daily, friend. Amy

  3. In some ways you seem so vulnerable and in other ways so strong. The power of God's love is your strength. I pray for you Joan

  4. Hey Kellye ... what a privilege it was to share this experience with you was truly an inspiring day of walking with the people ... like Jesus would have done for sure ... to reach out and touch a life and see the joy on the faces as they receive the love of Christ in the most tangible life changing way ...
    then to walk around the Apartheid Museum and be challenged about forgiveness & humility ... so much to take in especially during this period of advent as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's arrival here on earth ... may we continue to be "grace dispensers" of His love, mercy, kindness and joy here on earth ...
    you are in our prayers as you & the team minister first in Ndola and then Livingstone ...
    two verses that I feel are for you and the team ...
    Eph, 6:15 may your feet be fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace...
    and Rom.10:15 ...As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
    you have beautiful feet ;)