It was early morning, and I was bouncing around in the back of a huge truck on my way to the city dump, in Calcutta, India. (The city is now called Kolkata) I have sent tons of garbage to the city dump in my hometown, but I have never been there. So, why in the world—why would I get up before sunrise to visit a dump?
Actually, this site, where 4,000 tons of new waste is dumped each day, is known as Calcutta’s Garbage Mountain, and it has become, for some twisted reason, a tourist site. No wonder! The dump covers sixty acres and is ten stories high. It is permanently on fire from the combustible waste deposited there, and no one tries to put it out. A fetid, unbearable stench hangs heavily in the air.
Amazingly, in 2016, Calcutta received an award for impressive waste management. I dare say that the 30,000 miserable souls that live permanently on or around the garbage heap are not impressed.
Many of these garbage residents are rag pickers or waste pickers. One can find almost anything there including dead babies, smuggled chocolates and medicine, money and even gold. These souls spend their days sorting through the “yuck” picking out recyclable stuff and burning rotting bodies.
When Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in 1971, the population of Calcutta grew from one million to eight million overnight. (Current population is fourteen million.) The city had no provision for such an influx.
When engineers were asked for a solution, they replied, “Raze the place and start over!”
I was in Calcutta for the first time in 1980. The sights I saw and the experiences I had sear the mind and make faint the heart. Never before had I seen such abject poverty, such suffering. Multitudes lived on the sidewalks sheltered only by a cardboard lean-to. They drank from the gutters, and at dusk, they lit their charcoal burners to heat tea and prepare what meager food they had. All over the city black smoke filled the atmosphere and settled on everything in sight. Beggars were everywhere. A trip to the market drew a throng of little black-eyed boys begging to be hired to carry parcels.
I was there for ministry, but I ashamedly admit that there were days I was reluctant to leave the house. However, on that early morning, in 1980, we were on our way to “Garbage Mountain” not as tourists or to see the sites—we were there to feed the hungry.
The line had already begun to form before our truck came to a halt at the designated site. It was all very orderly. In single file, the line of women and children snaked through the wasteland as far as the eye could see waiting politely for the one nutritious meal they would have that day. They came with their tin cups and other containers.
Each one was given a cup of milk and two substantial whole grain pancakes. I don’t know how long we were there or how many people we fed, but after awhile they were gone. I imagined they had found a quiet place among the rubbish to enjoy, perhaps, the only meal they would have that day.
I asked why there were no men in the line. I was told that, if the men were fed, there would be no motivation to find work.
Our faithful, longtime, missionaries worked tirelessly. They had established a thriving church, an elementary school, a feeding program and a hospital in Calcutta, and in every place, in every way, they preached the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet, from a distance, stacked up against eight million “waste” people it seemed so little—too little.
The trip to the dump hung over me like an albatross. I thought about those emaciated children gladdened by a cup of milk, and I wondered whether or not I had made any difference at all while I was there.
In reflection, I thought of the widow in Mark 12: 42 (The Message) “One poor widow…put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus…said…this poor widow gave more than all the others…she gave extravagantly what she could not afford—she gave her all.”
The “garbage dump” people around us are seldom lovely and appealing. Sometimes they are utterly repulsive. But in Matthew 10:31, Jesus, who cares when a sparrow falls, declared that the least person is worth more to Him then many sparrows.
Jesus asks us to look at the need around us. He asks to give extravagantly, even what we cannot afford—to give our all. In fact, Luke 38 (The Message) says, “Give away your life…giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
You may feel that “your all” is not very much, but just as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, He will multiply your “gift” and make it more than enough.
Giving “all” brings bonus and blessing.
REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!