We had received word that there was going to be a clean up at our local beach here in La Mision. As a family we decided to go for a number of reasons, 1) it is our community and we visit the beach often 2) we care about God’s creation and His call for us to care for it. So we filled water bottles, grabbed some gloves, put on work clothes and headed to the beach.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as we walked toward the meeting place. But to be honest I wasn’t expecting a lot of people and I assumed that there would be a number of Americans in attendance. But as we turned the corner to the meeting place there were just over 125 people and 95% of them were Mexicans from the community, young old, male and female. For the next two hours, we worked alongside our neighbors, cleaning the beach and lagoon of garbage filling bags of bottles, plastics, styrofoam, etc. A few men waded into the lagoon to pick up the floating garbage. Honestly, it was pretty sad to see how much garbage was on the beach and lagoon. You can easily assume that Mexicans don’t care about their garbage.
When you drive into Mexico from the United States the change in the atmosphere and culture is immediate. The smell is different. The houses are different. But one of the things many people notice is the garbage. There is garbage in the street and on the highway. You can see garbage on the hillside. It is not uncommon to see people burning their garbage. Like our beach day, you can make an assumption that Mexicans just don’t care about their garbage. This assumption isn’t just limited to Mexico. Chances are if you have gone to another developing country you will notice a similar pattern of garbage on the side of the road and in the environment. We can easily assume, “they don’t care about the environment or all the garbage”
But have we ever considered that maybe there is something else going on?
When we serve and when we pursue justice, we must ask the question why? We also must get underneath and behind our assumptions, especially when we make those assumptions solely on what we see on the surface.
So, why is there so much garbage along the side of the road and on the hillside?
Garbage pick up is a luxury. The infrastructure and cost of garbage pick up is a luxury many of us have in the United States and in the Western world. When we put our trash in the garbage can under our sink and we take it out to the curb, that is a privilege the majority world does not have. Of course, just like in any country you will have people who just don’t care and will dispose of their trash wherever they are even in the United States. But for most of the majority world, garbage pick up is not an option. If it was, most probably cannot afford it. Garbage pick up can be a metaphor for the assumptions we make in our lives.
Many times we make assumptions just based on what we see or in our brief interaction with people. We put people, groups of people, and countries into categories that just aren’t fair to them or to us. God’s call to love our neighbor can be one of the hardest, but most rewarding work we do in our lives, especially to those who “look” or “act” unloveable.
We all have a story. Every person you meet has a reason why they are the way they are. We don’t know what their life has been like before we come face to face with them. We don’t know their story as to why they are acting the way they are acting. We don’t know the hurts or pains that are below the surface that is causing them to be who they are. If we were to step back and instead of making judgment and assumptions, let us extend grace, mercy, hope, and love to everyone we meet, without precondition or jumping to an assumption.