Over the years, some of my ministry students tell me that one of the most thought provoking and impactful stories I tell has to do with trash.
Almost 20 years ago, as a young missionary in Africa, I led a youth movement in Nairobi, Kenya. Muthuri Mpuria, one of my main leaders, had a deep burden for the many street children in that city. Near to his apartment complex was a community of street boys that lived in a literal trash dump. He would go in several times a week and share "tea" with these boys and do nothing more than hang out with these people that were considered a nuisance and outcasts.
One day, he invited me to come and share a meal with them in the trash. We brought the Ugali, a cooked, hardened corn meal, and sukuma, the Kenyan staple of collard greens and hot chocolate mix. When we arrived, these boys swooped into my van, grabbed the food, and began their preparations. The conditions were horrible, to say the least. These boys lived in their "trash" rooms and proudly showed off their individual rooms, their toilet room, and even their "workout" room. They lived without shelter from all the elements. The shop keepers came and gawked at the "Mzungi" with fascination as to why this white guy was visiting these street thugs. As we walked through their "house" among the rats and mud, my first thought, as a typical American, was how can we get them off the streets and into more suitable, civilized conditions.
The meal was prepared on a simple fire of burning plastic they had gathered from their booty of waste and prepared in paint cans from the same. Old newspapers were spread on the ground and the food dumped out onto them. We ate with our dirty hands from the same communal mound. Afterward, water was gathered from the mud puddle nearby, boiled on the plastic fire, and we "enjoyed" a cup of hot chocolate. I had no idea, at the time, what impact I was making not only on these boys but also on their community.
From that point forward, several of the boys accepted Christ into their lives and an incredible transformation began. Not in their surroundings, as they still lived in the same trash, but in their lives. Muthuri began a small Bible study in their "home" and taught them how to worship and live the life of a Christ follower.
One of the boys, Patrick, earned a partial living by selling bangi, similar to Marijuana, out of a small tin foil packet. One day, during worship, one of his customers entered the meeting and pulled him out to buy this drug. After the transaction, Patrick then entered the meeting and continued his worship to God. This was very disturbing to Muthuri, who came to me and said, "How are we going to tell him this is wrong and that he has to stop selling drugs?"
I think my reply was shocking to both of us. I felt that if the Word of God is true, the Holy Spirit would deal with him and he would soon develop his own conviction that what he was doing was wrong. We would pray and let God convict. 1 John 2:27 says, "But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him."
One week later, during the time of worship and Bible study, Patrick produced the tin foil and told the group that he felt he could no longer sell the drugs and serve God as well. Upon hearing this report, it hit me that while our natural inclination would be to have taken them out of the trash and into a home away from all the poverty and temptation, God is powerful enough to minister exactly where Patrick was.
Of course, this thought could be taken to extremes, but how can we apply this to our own personal outreach and discipleship of those that God has placed in our lives? Many times, our first action is to begin telling people all the wrong things they are doing, how bad the situation they live and work in is, and concentrate on the outward influences they encounter. All the while God is interested on the inside. Not on taking them out of the "trash" but getting the "trash" out of them.
As these boys began to follow Christ and getting the inside right, they began to migrate from the literal trash dump they lived in and move into more suitable dwellings in a nearby slum. Patrick became a mechanic helper and no longer sold drugs and the story is the same with many of the boys. They became dedicated church members and these former street vagabonds become an integral part of the church's outreach as lights in these dark, desperate areas.
Jesus' pattern of ministry was very similar. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. His friends were outcasts and prostitutes. His past was a colored one, with rumors swirling that he was not his father's child and his mother became pregnant out of wedlock. Instead of concentrating on their circumstances, He loved on them and many became God followers.
What if we concentrated less on becoming God's police and other's providers and more on being a blessing, a support, and prayer covering for others? I challenge you to love on people and let God work on their short comings. Do your part and let God do His.