Forgotten People

A Missions Matter! blog giveaway post!

When I lived in Ecuador, I went to high school with Rich and Lisa Brown --only they were just beginning to date back then. They're now back in Quito, working with, and training, national youth leaders from Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, and their children go to the Alliance Academy, where we went as kids.

Rich and Lisa sent some articles and pictures for us, and this is the first one (there will be at least one more later one, so be watching for it). Learn more about Rich and Lisa Brown and their ministry at Inca Link.

The Least of These

“So, Tuesday morning we’ll take some of the youth up to the garbage dump,” Rich said. “What? You can’t be serious!” I answered. This is actually a typical conversation between my husband and me. Great guy that he is, Rich tends to come up with brilliant ideas at the most inopportune times, and today was no exception.

Rich wanted to check out a new ministry opportunity on the very day our family was to fly from our home in Trujillo, Peru, to the United States. As the official packer for our family, I had a mile-long list of things to do.

A year and a half earlier, Rich had attended a youth leader’s summit in Quito, Ecuador. The small group visited a garbage dump, where they ministered to about 25 people who were rummaging through the trash. The experience had a profound impact on my husband.

Just as Rich has brilliant ideas at the worst times, I often have the worst attitude about his best ideas. My list of questions about this outreach was long: Is there even a garbage dump here? None of us has ever been there. What if no one lives at the dump? What if we pick up a rare disease or we’re attacked? What will we do with our kids? Isn’t it going to smell? Each concern was answered and, as usual, Rich won.

“Underground” City
Early Tuesday we met the youth at our church. A huge group had shown up, and all of them were enthusiastic. An observer might have thought we were going to Disneyland instead of a smelly, disease-infested dump. Even our children were excited.

I’m the only sane one in this group, I thought smugly as we loaded supplies into our car and a few taxis. We brought Kool-Aid, fruit, games, clothes and toys to give away and shampoo and towels, lice medicine and huge drums of water to wash hair, hands and faces. Some of the teens even brought scissors to offer haircuts.

The large dump is located on the outskirts of the city in what seems like the middle of the desert. Its only neighbors are the prison and the “red-light” district. The trip took a half an hour. When we reached the turnoff, there was no doubt that we were close because of the indescribable smell. It only got worse as we continued on the dirt road, and flies began to swarm around the cars. We could see garbage bags flying in the air but no sign of life, even at some shacks.

I kept quiet as long as I could. Finally I whispered to Rich, “Gee, looks like no one’s here—let’s go.” It was getting harder and harder to take the smell, and everyone in the car was silent. One of our leaders got out of a taxi and called, “Pastor, let’s try this way.” “Alright,” Rich answered, “but this is the last try. The taxi drivers are getting antsy.”

Now that it looked like the outreach wouldn’t happen, I felt guilty. Lord, may Your will be done, and help me to be big enough to obey You. Just as I finished praying, Rich drove up a hill. When our eyes became accustomed to the smoke and dust, we gasped. It was as if we had discovered a small, underground city. Hundreds of people wearing hoods and cloths over their mouths and noses were rummaging through the garbage with long pitchforks. Some of the people were barefoot; any skin showing was black with filth.

Men, women, children and elderly people—all desperately looking through the garbage. Each time a trash truck rumbled up, there was a mad dash to get to it.

Poorest of the Poor
As we stopped, the people yelled and ran toward us, surrounding our cars. Since their faces were masked, we couldn’t tell if they were happy or angry. With everyone pressing in, we couldn’t open our doors—not that I was trying.

Rich made it out of the car and disappeared into the crowd. Everyone in the car was silent; my children wide-eyed. “OK, guys,” I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking, “let’s get out.”

I managed to squeeze out with my kids, who hung on to me for dear life. The people continued to press in on us, all of them talking. One elderly lady took my arm, expressing concern that I hadn’t brought anything to cover my face. This dirty, starving woman was worried about me! I was so ashamed.

The youth and I were so shocked at the poverty that we had a hard time hiding our tears. Over and over the teens whispered, “Lisa, I had no idea this was part of my country. I didn’t know these people existed.” Teens from our church—who live in dirt-floor homes and whose families often struggle to put food on the table—wept over this destitution.

We weren’t prepared to help the 500 people there, so we decided to take the children away from the garbage “mountain” to play games with them. Many of the adults lamented that they had not brought their kids that day.

We made our way down, stepping over animal carcasses and other horrible things until we found a relatively clear place to play. The youth group took over, giving the kids much-needed attention. The children devoured the bread, fruit and drinks we offered. My children had a hard time seeing some of their toys and clothes given away, but soon they were talking about what else we had at home that we didn’t need.

The kids were grateful for the water and soap we’d brought to scrub hands and faces. I spent a good 15 minutes washing a little girl’s hair and removing the dirt crusted behind her ears. Lice jumped all over us. We made a game out of the “beauty parlor” to convince the younger kids that water wouldn’t hurt them. Our youth gave haircuts and had hairstyle contests with the responsive kids, who just giggled.

Remembering the Forgotten
Our time at the dump ended too quickly. We gathered the youth group together to evaluate our outreach, and we all agreed that the smell and the flies just didn’t matter. God had brought us there to serve “forgotten people” and help us grow in love and compassion. We learned that day that the terms “rich” and “poor” are relative.

The youth unanimously decided we didn’t want this to be a one-time visit, but an ongoing ministry. And that’s exactly what has happened. Our youth have turned their eyes away from their own financial struggles and reached out to those who have absolutely nothing.

Since our first visit to the dump in October 2003, we’ve returned at least once a month. We now know by name many of the people who live there, and we found out how to better serve them by taking a census of the families. Thanks to donations from Helping Hands Ministries, we gave out potato sacks full of clothes, household goods and other gifts specific to each family’s needs. One Christmas we used donations from The Christian and Missionary Alliance churches of Peru to prepare and serve 500 meals.

An evangelistic team came with us to present the gospel, and in February the church started a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the kids. VBS will continue while our family is on home assignment. Our whole church, the America Sur Church, has adopted the forgotten people of Peru, reaching out with generosity to those even less fortunate then they.

Elisa Brown and her husband, Rich, served with the C&MA in Lima & Trujillo, Peru, from 1994 to 2004. Now they are in Ecuador working with Youth Leaders in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. To learn more check out Inca Link.

Missions Matter! ~Blog Giveaway coming November 12th!


  1. Wow.
    I was just listening to a very convicting sermon that said in effect:

    Fake Christianity is satisfied to bundle up its discards and put them in a box at church, then take the stuff to the outcasts while keeping them at arms length.
    True Christianity becomes a part of the outcasts' lives, loves them, cares for them, even opens its home.

    I know not everyone can run a full-time ministry for the world's outcasts, but it was still very convicting to me to see my own attitudes reflected there. Am I open to God's leading, even if He leads me to the dump?

    Excellent post

  2. Patty, I love your heart for missions and the way you share that with the rest of us. I will never forget visiting "Cardboard City" just outside a dump in Mexico that I was able to visit ona mission trip years ago. I am always aware and truly humbled at how blessed I really am, and how most of my problems are really pretty insignificant. Thanks for sharing.

    I have a Blog Award for you over at my blog, so stop by when you have a chance! Blessings, friend!

  3. Peej -- thank you for sharing this. Wow! It puts so much into perspective.

    This couple sounds wonderful! What a ministry! Will certainly be praying for them.

  4. wow...very humbling, to think how much we complain, when we have so much.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. wow...very humbling, to think how much we complain, when we have so much.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Ooooooh wow! What an incredible ministry. I love your heart - and THEIR heart. Thank you SO much for sharing this. Brought me close to tears.

  7. Incredible. So moving to hear this testimony. I will be praying for them. Love your heart to share this.


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