I tried to act normal as we stood on the hill of trash, a sour smell cutting my nostrils like a newly sharpened knife. For a moment, though, I was overcome by the sights and sensations of people living for 15 years on the city trash without running water or anything that resembles a proper shelter.
The children, caked in dirt, ran up to us, their mischievous laughter showing their black, rotting teeth; but I noticed that one little boy flinched when V. tried to warmly hug him. I tried to catch the eye of another little girl, hair matted in grime, to make her laugh too, but she looked at me warily, a stony expression set on her 3-year old face.
Fast forward three weeks….
I am in Oxford, England, attending a big joint church service near the main square. The stage is filled with well-dressed people singing praises to God—I am in a completely different world. My throat clenches when I realize how long it has been since I have sung in English with other people:
Open the eyes of the blind; There’s no one like you, none like you. Into the Darkness you shine; out of the ashes we rise; There’s no one like you, none like you.
All of a sudden something strange happens to me. Without warning, my mind soars away from the beautiful square and all the well-dressed people, the ancient buildings replete with history, architecture, and learning, and my imagination takes me back to Albania, to that trash dump.
I am singing, but I am not singing in Oxford. I am singing on the outskirts of Tirana, Albania, surrounded by every level of human brokenness.
Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his Holy name. Sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name.
I sing over the woman sitting in trash with her newborn baby, shyly smiling up at me. I sing over the children who think it is fun to torment puppies until they are screaming in confusion and pain.
I see His love and mercy, washing over all our sin, the people sing, the people sing…Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest…
The teenage girl who gets fed up with her brother’s torment of the puppies and starts pulling his hair and slapping him so hard that his body flies to the ground in a heap. The woman walking by us covered in clothing, with just her eyes showing, to protect her from all the dangers of sifting trash.
Heal my heart and make it clean; Open my eyes to the things unseen; Show me how to love like You have loved me; Break my heart for what breaks Yours…
The men who are taking the money from the women working hard in the trash and gambling it away in the casinos. The children who are not going to school and are living among rats as big as cats.
Christ alone; cornerstone; weak made strong, in the Savior’s love, Through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all.
For a few moments, it was just me, singing to God while standing in the trash, the physical sensation so strong that I could see, hear, smell, and feel that I was actually there. And it was at that moment I realized how deeply that experience had affected me, touched a deep nerve in my soul.
I sang as a lament:
Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For we sink down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.
And I sang to remind God that he is Lord of that place too, and that his faithfulness must extend there:
Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord:
19 that he looked down from his holy height,
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die;
21 so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Zion,
and his praise in Jerusalem,
22 when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the Lord. *
Of course, the mustard seed was already there—and it was being nurtured tenderly by V. through her love for the people.
Things are not right in the world; no, they are not right at all.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
*Psalm 44,102; Isaiah 11