For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
The Church in a Landfill
In 2014 I took my first trip to Indonesia. My experience showed me what we are asking when we pray for His “Kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.” This insight was given to me in the most unlikely place, a village in a garbage dump.
I came on a “vision trip” to see how we could partner with a ministry just outside of Indonesia’s largest city, Jakarta. Jakarta is one of those Asian super-cities where an accurate population count is impossible. As with most large cities, opportunity and poverty abound. The ministry we visited in Jakarta was led by an Indonesian man named Yusup. Yusup was educated and worked in seminaries for the better part of his adult life. He had previously been a Principle of a Bible college when he decided that a more practical method of teaching was needed.
Yusup started a training school where students are given sound theological training while putting what they learn into practice every day. Students have class in the morning, in which they are taught the principles of the gospel of the Kingdom — that Christ died to reconcile not just individuals, but “things.” In the afternoon, the students go out into their community to be the hands and feet of Christ.
The people of the communities they serve are in extreme poverty—living on under $1 per day. Their communities are located inside giant landfills (garbage dumps) in the outskirts of the giant city.
In the midst of a terrible stench and through a cloud of flies, I saw for the first time how the Church is the agent of change for every part of the culture. And I mean every part! Yusup and his team were fixed on infiltrating every aspect of the communities they were serving with human flourishing.
How to Turn Trash into Eternal Treasure
They began by praying for and spending time in the communities. Then, through building relationships in the community, they would find a person who could be the gateway into the community. As the community connector helps them to build relationships with leaders and other community members, they asked the questions: What is God already doing here? How can we join Him in that work?
These people were literally living in dumps, yet they were bearing God’s image through their work. The economy was based on the trash. The people were picking plastic recyclables from the trash to be baled and sold to recycling companies. These communities were already a part of reconciling the world for good!
Yusup and his team joined the community in their economic ingenuity. They became the middleman between them and the recycling companies. And not just any middleman, but a fair and righteous one. They were able to pay the workers more than double the amount they were getting, by removing from their business the corrupt system that had been acting as middlemen.
From there they were off and running. The team now helps the community to build better sanitary systems, schools, and community centers. They train people to improve their hygiene, money management, and trade skills. They preach a message of hope that the people of these communities are made in the image of God. God wants them to have clean water, good jobs, and education. God gives dignity to the poor, to women, and to children.
The people began to see dignity in their work. They understand that they are made in the image of a God who values their work of separating useful items from garbage. A complex and robust gospel was able to penetrate their hearts and change their community!
Reconciling ALL Things
I returned to Jakarta a year later to do a week of intensive training on children’s ministry. Previously, I had gingerly stepped through a slurry of rainwater and liquid trash. On this visit, I came to a wooden bridge leading from the road to the village streets, bypassing the possibility of ruining your shoes with the rancid fluid. The community was being transformed.
That day I witnessed the message of Jesus Christ preached in what was not long ago an Islamic mosque. The hope of Jesus redeemed a community suffering from extreme poverty in the most populous Islamic country in the world. The message came to life: the good news that Christ died to save people, communities, and cultures. He is reconciling ALL things to Himself.
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