By Santiago "Jimmy" Mellado
Photos by Tim Mitchell   |   Posted: September 30, 2014

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  |   Posted: September 30, 2014

Garbage dumps make horrible delivery rooms — but Cristina had no choice. As she went into labor, her mother’s wood-and-tin shack in the middle of a dump in the Philippines served as birthing center and nursery.

I wasn’t prepared to see a newborn there. I had gone to the dump that day with a team from Compassion to see how one of our partner churches in Cebu City ministers to families who live in extreme poverty. Cristina lay exhausted on a mat spread over a cane floor inches above the dirt. Her son, Jonel, was an hour-and-a-half old. He slept next to her swaddled in a T-shirt. The heat was oppressive. The smell fetid. But Cristina’s mom had helped her daughter deliver Jonel.

In the one-room home, I considered the dump-forged realities Cristina and her son faced amid the refuse. Platitudes are anemic at a time like that. I knew God had placed our Compassion team right there at that precise moment. The time was opportune for the Church to be the Church.

With our Compassion country and center directors, we secured an immediate place for Cristina and Jonel in Compassion’s Child Survival Program (CSP). Now the Mandaue City Baptist Church would rally around Cristina to help her develop income-generating skills. They would train and assist her in nutrition, health checkups and the life-forming needs of an infant as he grows to be a toddler. The church and its CSP staff would do everything in their power to keep Jonel from being one of more than 18,000 kids under 5 who die every day from causes that rarely affect our children in the United States. Cristina and Jonel would receive loving, Christ-centered care.

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Yet, in God’s sovereignty, here was a newborn with a mother who lived and sweated and eked out an existence amid garbage. What did God have in store for this little boy? You see, the easy conclusion for Jonel to make as he grows older is that he is worthless: “My mother sifts garbage. I was born in the dump. My life and my future are worth nothing more than the next truck that dumps another soggy load of garbage at my feet.”

No child should think like that. I knew there was no other place I needed to be than right there, right then. So we prayed. Not quick “bless them” prayers, but heartfelt, Spirit-led pleas to Jonel’s heavenly Father.

As our interpreter translated, I asked God that Jonel’s life would have value. I thanked God that his mother had come to Christ and been baptized a month earlier. I prayed that Jonel’s family would love him the way Jesus does and that he would come to know Jesus as early as possible. I prayed for God to intervene and help Jonel realize his full potential in Jesus. I don’t fully remember all I asked God for, but I’ll never forget the intensity of the Spirit interceding in that home on that day.

And I said goodbye with a different spirit. Once again I realized how relentlessly the Church tracks down poverty in the most rancid of spaces. Because the Church was there, I left confident that Cristina and Jonel were going to make it. This was the Church at its best. This was the Church working the way we should and building a future — even when the future was just an hour-and-a-half old.