The back of my brown legs stuck to the squishy seat. The air was heavy, ominous perhaps. I was with a collective of Christian college students from across the United States, studying in Central America. We had no idea what we would encounter on this field trip of sorts.
Before we could see anything, a putrid smell wafted through the windows to our noses. As our group’s big yellow school bus labored through the gate, I saw mountains upon mountains of garbage. The sun’s rays skipped across pieces of shiny metal and swirling colors found among piles of paper and glass.
Over the next several hours, our group came face to face with the most extreme poverty most of us had ever witnessed. More than 11,000 people lived and worked in that garbage dump in the heart of Guatemala City. We were told 6,500 of them were children. Many of these brothers and sisters made in the image of God were scavengers, who spent their days scouring the garbage for food and anything they might recycle or sell to survive.
The wheels of our bus crunched over gravel then came to a stop in front of the Potter’s House, a place of refuge right in the center of the garbage piles. We met men, women, and children who had hearts to turn trash into treasure. We heard about the vision of one woman who had built a non-profit that would bring respect and dignity to those who were treated as little better than the trash where they found their existence. Young people were getting their education and pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ as a result of her dream. As a young college student, my heart was deeply moved by their stories.
As we drove away that day, many of my classmates started taking pictures through the windows of our bus. I understood they wanted to remember this place, but it felt somehow strange to take photographs. I grabbed my own camera, and my lens focused on a little girl digging through the garbage. Right then my heart surged with fiery emotion. I hurled my camera to the back of the bus. I was filled with something I had never experienced before — a righteous anger that this little girl was forced to survive that way.
I slumped into my seat and sobbed.
How could little girls grow up in such filth? Why were these people living in such poverty while we lived in such luxury in the country I called home? What could I possibly do to help?
The injustice I witnessed that day was seared in my heart forever. Two decades later, I still think about how that trip to the garbage dump in Guatemala was the beginning of God cultivating in me a heart of mercy and compassion.
You don’t have to travel to another country to grow a heart of mercy. That was simply where God began to do His deepest work in me. He can stir compassion in us in our own neighborhoods, churches, cities, and even in our own homes.
But before we can offer up the gift of mercy to others, we need to come to an understanding of God’s heart and His great mercy toward us.
If you go on a treasure hunt through the Bible, you will discover from the pages of Genesis through Revelation that God has a heart of mercy. Biblical mercy differs slightly from our English dictionary definitions of mercy, which often talk about giving people what they do not merit or deserve. God’s mercy is a blend of compassion, kindness, and faithfulness as beautiful and colorful as a handwoven Guatemalan tapestry.
Through Jesus Christ, God displayed both mercy and justice. He sent His son to die on the cross as a substitute for you and me. He met us in our depravity with compassion, and His mercy continues to preserve us through the gifts of forgiveness and salvation.
And as recipients of His mercy, we are called to emulate His mercy.
One way is by having a heart like God’s for the vulnerable. Jesus showed kindness to a woman at a well who had been through five husbands, a paralytic who had been disabled for thirty-eight years, and even a tax collector who was hated by the community. God also cares deeply about that girl in the garbage dump, the young widowed mother raising children alone, and the man suffering from mental illness. He has compassion for the family in Ukraine hiding from the horrors of war.
Mercy is an invitation to align our hearts with the heart of God and to dignify those around us. It doesn’t require a large bank account or hours of time. Sometimes mercy can be extended through giving up your seat on the bus, inviting a rebellious child into your arms, defending someone who is being shamed, or delivering a meal to a neighbor.
As the Bible reminds us, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
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Ruth Mills says
Amen. Amen. Amen.
Thank you for reading!
Norma Jurado says
Hi Dorina, very moving article. I was born and raised in Guatemala under very privileged conditions. I have been to the city dump. I used to work for World Vision International and visited the dump a few time. The worst and best experience at the same time. Life changing and eye opening to God’s mercy. Your article brought vivid images of what I witnessed there three decades ago. Thank you for your writings. I enjoy them and they greatly bless me. Good bless you and hugs to you from a Guatemalan
I’m glad this article resonated with you in your experience. Guatemala was one of my favorite places I visited when I lived in Central America. I learned so much from the beautiful people there!
Read with tears. Inspiring article that we can all make a difference and like you mentioned even in small ways as sometimes those ways may mean the most.
Thank you for the inspiration!
Yes, the small gestures matter! With you!
Just the message I needed to hear this morning! It has been a morning filled with tears, worship, and wrestling.
I’m glad these words met you where you are at today!
I’m going to be very vulnerable in posting my reaction today. I’m also sure there will be others who read my comments and become angry, but so be it. Mercy seems to usually be reserved by a lot of Christians for the poor, homeless, the refugees, the struggling single parent, the sick, etc. But I pray that same mercy be extended to the women struggling with the decision of abortion, or the person afraid to speak of their of sexuality or gender identity. How else will they know of God’s love and mercy if we don’t reach out to them in kindness and compassion instead of hate or fear?
I completely agree with you. Mercy should definitely not be limited to the economically poor. There are people all around us who need a hand of mercy and compassion.
Dawn Ferguson-Liitle says
Dorina Thank you for sharing your story of what you saw when on that bus. Of that we girl who knew nothing else only to seek through the rubbish at the dump for food. When we most of us don’t have to live like. Especially me. I have a home food water clothes and shoes for my feet. Plus a bed to sleep. When there are thoses who are saved have theses things like me. They take that for granted. They don’t think to give God thank that they have theses things. I when saying my prayers. Thank God I have roof over clothes on my back and love. I was taking to an good Christian friend who is about 49 years older than me on the phone. I said to her we grumble fat to much don’t give God enough thanks for all he has given us. I also went on to say to this person. I thank God for everyday he wakes me up to enjoy another day in his beautiful world. The person had to agree with me. She is full such wisdom. This person went on to say. Which is so true. No matter what going on in our world today. Without God in our lives we have nothing. When we here stories like the one you shared incourage today Dorina. We should stop and thank God for all we have and pray for people like that. Yes even as saved. We could ask questions like. Why God have you let people live like this Men Women and Kids. But we are not to ask questions just pray for them and be thankful on to God for all he has given us and it not us living like this. As stories like this break my heart. I heard once on our news. Of a country like Afghanistan. That some kids give up going to school to walk the streets looking for work. To get money to buy food for themselves. Some days they get none. So I pray for things like this every day. As that touched my heart. Like your story of what you saw. When I pray I pray that they should be happy Children going to school getting one meal a day. Even if it is only rice and beans. Not have to be walking the streets looking for work to buy food. I saw that they only got one day enough to buy one piece of special cooked bread. I don’t know the name of it. That is why I called it special cooked bread. They had to break it up divide it among themselves that day. There’s was at least 3 or 4 of them walking the streets looking for work in the heat on sun. To get money to buy food. If they can get work. They do anything like even clean shoes. You know kids here were I live in Northern Ireland. If a parent ask them to do a job. Some of them grumble about having to do it. They those kids put kids like we’re I live and other kids that have good homes to shame. Your story I will add it to my prayers as it touches my heart. Of kids and adults having to look through the rubbish for food and things to sell to get food. God sees all this. My heart is full of Mercy for them. It teaches me to be thankful for what I have. Thank you Dorina for sharing this story. In my prayers you all incourage. I love the work you all do. Plus they way you share your hearts in the stories you write. To make us grow closer to our Saviour and learn from them what God wants us to learn from them and apply it to our lives. God bless big hugs to you all. May God richly bless you all for doing this work for him. Love Dawn Ferguson-Liitle xx
Yes! It’s so important to be thankful and also to recognize our own need for mercy so we can give out mercy to others in humility!
Ariel Krienke says
Would love to find people who would show dignity to those forgotten. Some of us have been looked past and forgotten our whole lives and even people in church don’t see us and yet we are the problem. If I didn’t have good w, I don’t know what I’d do
Ariel, I’m so sorry for the ways you have felt forgotten. Thank you for sharing your heart.
Beth Williams says
I have saying “there for the grace of God go I”. As I age I see how easy it is to become “disadvantaged”-one job loss, cancer or other medical diagnosis & poof your life is turned upside down. I don’t take this great life I have for granted. Knowing that I set my gaze on the needy to help them out. I volunteer with Loaves & Fishes Food Bank once a week, cook/pray for others & at Christmas I buy gifts for those on the “Senior Angel Tree” (elderly). His mercy towards us is great & I want to align my heart with His to dignify others.
Yes, Beth! May we always have eyes to see and align our hearts with Him!