There are some images in life that burn in your memory, staying with you through the years and decades to come. I believe this will be true for my encounter with the trash dump in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
As the Young Life Africa/Middle East Communications Intern for this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia for two weeks with Young Life Expeditions. Our time was a rich mixture of getting to know the Ethiopian staff, learning about Ethiopian culture, and seeing some of the Young Life Africa ministries up close and personal.
I could talk for hours about all we experienced and participated in while in Ethiopia, however, one story stands out in my memory. On the Thursday of our final week, we visited an enormous trash dump in Addis called Korah. This dump is essentially a mountain of collected garbage, on top of which half a million people live in plastic houses, earning their income by sorting through and reselling plastic and cloth. Last year, there was a huge landslide on the mountain. Many houses were buried, and 200-300 people died. The government is working to relocate the remaining citizens, yet hundreds of thousands continue to live in Korah.
Our team first met and talked with a man named Sentayehu, who started Young Life in Korah, and he afterwards took us to the dump itself. As we stared out at this mountain of rubble, mud, and layers of trash, our team was filled with anguish. Before our eyes, cranes continually dumped new garbage, followed immediately by Ethiopians swarming in with trash bags in hand. It was easy to feel despair in that moment, as we all thought, “This is not the way life is meant to be!” and mourned the reality of the situation.
However, in the forlornness of it all, there was and is yet hope. Sentayehu leads his team of 14 volunteer Young Life leaders each week to host club at Korah. Sentayehu himself previously lived in the trash dump for 4 years, and God has since called him back to this desolate place to tell people about the love and hope in Christ.
A trash dump doesn’t seem a likely place for God to dwell, and yet, God is sending His spirit and His faithful followers right into the heart of darkness in order to bring His light.
As we stood there praying for the people of Korah, I thought through Colossians 1:17, “And he is before all things and in him all things hold together.” The reality of suffering on this earth is weighty and overwhelming, yet there is an even greater reality of the hope found in Christ, who is truly holding all things together and moving in ways we cannot comprehend. Please join me in continuing to pray for Sentayehu and his team, the people of Korah, and for God to bring beauty and life out of dark places.