Ironically, it happened around Thanksgiving. Last year, my family and I took our annual trip from our small town in Southeast Alaska to Mazatlan, Mexico. The goal was to rest and get some sun while spending time away from the phones and other hassles of everyday life.
We attend church quite regularly. In fact, my father is the preacher. Sunday was rolling around, and, as in past years, we were asking around for a local English speaking church. Although we had always pursued this with no luck, we finally found one. It happened to be only a few blocks away from where we were staying. We jumped at the chance to try something new.
After the sermon, the speaker started telling the audience about a service project that they had started there in the city and invited everyone to participate along with them. He told us that there are people in that huge city that are so poor that they actually live at the dump. All day long, they sift through the loads and loads of fresh garbage that is regularly brought to the dump in truckloads, looking for recyclables that they can turn in. The garbage has already been picked through several times before it reaches the dump with the same goal in mind, so when they find something, it is especially rare. All day long, in the sweltering Mexican heat, the people in this community bend over and pick through garbage, trying to earn their living.
The man was not relaying any of this with the intent of getting money from any of us. Instead, he was inviting those who were interested to join the team of people who take sandwiches, fruit, and water to these people twice a week. My parents and I agreed that it would be time well spent and an incredible opportunity to help people who were truly in need.
We went to the place where we were all supposed to meet up, and after about an hour bus ride we finally reached our destination. The temperature was high, the garbage was plentiful, and it stunk. Dust was flying everywhere leaving a gray grit on the surface of everything. I remember that it got in my hair, and that it felt gross.
We passed out sandwich after sandwich after sandwich. We filled up cups of cool water and we gave out oranges. We gave candy to some of the children. We gave them to real people, people who were born into poverty and can’t really do anything to rise out of it. I forgot about the dust in my hair.
I took a shower that night. I was able to rid myself of the smell. I went back to the hotel and had a hot dinner in a restaurant too. Later, I hopped on a plane and flew home to a place where it rains almost two thirds of the year and where dust and heat is not a problem. Those people did not. I am no better than any of those people. The only difference is that I was born in a different place and to a different family. I feel guilty even as I type this.
I learned quite a bit from that trip. I learned exactly how fortunate I am. I will always remember that experience in Mexico. I will always remember those people. And hopefully, I was able to impact their lives in somewhat the same way that they have affected mine.
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