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The God of Landfills

The God of Landfills

Because of her chosen occupation, many in society would see Wheng as not that different from the worthless trash she picks through 10 hours a day. Wheng is a scavenger at one of Manila’s landfills. Why would anyone choose to go to a landfill and endure these unsanitary conditions? Flies are everywhere. Rats and cockroaches engulf the piles at night. Because of airborne toxins coming from the trash pile, three of Wheng’s coworkers have died during the past year due to lung related problems. But for Wheng, the worst part of life at the landfill is the “many times” when she is startled by the discovery of an aborted baby among the bags of other undesired throwaways. Despite all these deplorable conditions, Wheng still chooses to be here and rightly finds purpose and dignity in her work. 

I suppose my opinion of Wheng and her 200 coworkers is biased by the fact that I myself spent almost every day of my childhood back in the 1970’s scavenging at a central Ohio landfill. Visiting this Philippine mountain of garbage is for me a journey up a hill of remembrance. The odor is identical. This smell would knock out novice noses but is to mine a sweet aroma that wafts with it a gust of memories. I remember back to my trash digging days, running shirtless in shorts and often barefoot with my little brother rummaging through the trash. That was quite different from the small army of scavengers here who are smartly clothed in multiple layers of mismatched long sleeved sweat shirts, long pants, gloves, and boots. Many have T-shirts wrapped around their heads, terrorist-style, exposing only dark, sun-wrinkled eyes shaded under the brims of stained and faded baseball caps. One thing that is the same is the complimentary hors d'oeuvres. My new fellow trash digger friends are surprised when I tell them that I will happily join them in snacking on goodies rescued from the bulldozer. There are no sweeter candies than those liberated from a trash bag, shared among friends.

My childhood days on the landfill were however not a means of survival like it is for those who inhabit this trash mountain. I was there because it was fun. I wasn’t searching for recyclables but for bicycle parts or scrap lumber for a tree house or some other exciting discovery. Despite our differing motives, Wheng and I are both scavengers searching for treasure. And some days are better than others.

Like Wheng and me, Jesus knows the smells of garbage. Because God so loved the world and me, He sent His only Son to another trash mountain, Golgotha – the garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. The perfectly clean, spotless Lamb of God was born in a sheep barn and died on a landfill in order to redeem mankind from the filth of sin. The Master Scavenger reached down and rescued me from that toxic trash heap in Plain City, Ohio. I was no better than the muck around me, but He chose me. And He more than recycled me - He made me a brand new creation. Now He’s brought me full circle to share this message of salvage with others on life’s trash piles and to seek the real treasure there. All praise be to the God of landfills.