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Smoky Mountain

August 21, 2017


The YWAM clinic where I ended up working for five years was established to serve the twenty thousand squatters who lived on a massive garbage dump outside Manila, right on the South China Sea. I was one of the eleven medics sent out by the clinic to provide basic medical care to these souls.


My first reaction to the dump was to close my eyes and hold my breath. I did not even want the soles of my shoes to touch the ground. They called it Smoky Mountain because the garbage was continually smoldering in the oppressive tropical sun, and it would often burst into flames. Treacherous sinkholes filled with a scorching hot, tar-like slurry of composted refuse pooled everywhere, hidden under piles of windblown trash. Burning tires belched black smoke, creating a perpetual haze that hid the sun even on a sunny day. I never saw a single butterfly or flower on the dump. All you could see, through the smoke, were endless mounds of black and gray garbage, occasional fires, and barefoot squatters dressed in rags, digging with scavenging hooks for plastic, steel and other recyclable materials they could sell to a recycler. That was how they eked out their precarious living.


To make matters worse, high tides and storms regularly flooded portions of the dump, overwhelming pathways and shacks with a thigh-high tide of sewage, garbage, dead rats, dead dogs and even dead bodies. The stench was absolutely nauseating. Given those conditions, nearly everyone living on the dump was sick and had open wounds. The life expectancy was low. I lived there for four years before I saw anyone old enough to have gray hair, and that was a passing taxi driver who did not live on the dump. Beyond the squatters and smoldering pits, it was also a hideout for bands of criminals. The police never came near it, as they were out-numbered. The whole place was lethal- it was exactly how I had imagined hell!


My first day on the dump I went out to meet people, and a woman gave me something to eat. It was a gesture of friendship and I had to accept it. Jesus did say, "Eat what is set before you" (Luke 10:8 NASB). As in most cultures, relationships there developed around shared meals, and Filipinos, being the generous souls that they are, frequently invited us to eat with them in their dump huts. Their delicacies included shish-kabobbed rats barbecued on an open fire fueled by garbage, fully fermented eggs with chicken embryos intact, "double-dead-dog" (a dog that was dead when they found it, which they skinned, cooked and ate anyway), gray worm burgers, boiled pigskin (bristly pig hair included), fermented fish head soup and fired guppy paddies with fish eyes and finds. Before the dump, I felt sorry for John the Baptist for eating locusts and wild honey. But now... I envied him!


I got violently ill with food posioning from my first dump meal. I spent the night sitting on one bucket and puking into another. I had never been so sick before in my life, and it was so bad I thought, "This is it. I'm going to die on my first night." I wanted to go home.


Then I heard the Lord speak to me: "Will you worship Me here,  even though you're not in a comfortable, carpeted church with air-conditioning and padded seats?"


So I began to worship, stopping frequently to vomit and then continuing on in worship all through the night. By morning, I was completely washed out, but I had a deep awareness of God's presence like never before. It was so wonderful that I felt I would rather be sick and know His presence than be well but unaware of Him. That encounter prepared me for the next twelve months, during which I was constantly sick with one disease or another. By grace, I stuck it out and began to serve, studied the Tagalong language, and build relationships.


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