Schrock-Hurst Sees Glimpse of Life and “Wealth” at Asia’s Margins

This article was first published in the July issue of Connections, the monthly newsletter of Virginia Mennonite Conference and Virginia Mennonite Missions. Article by Carmen Schrock-Hurst.

Carmen Schrock-Hurst spent several weeks this summer visiting the place her daughter and son-in-law serve in mission: a slum community on the edge of a vast Southeast Asian city. Daily during her time there, she shared reflections of all she was experiencing. Here she shares a window into the context in which her daughter Grace ministers with her husband Yugo and newborn son Jeremiah. They connect with members of displaced slum communities through Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor in partnership with Virginia Mennonite Missions.

Today Grace and I took an excursion into the trash heap village behind their house. Fresh trash is being brought in daily by hand charts. And more shanty houses are springing up all the time. The people who live here make their living by collecting the trash from the city, bringing it here, and sorting it to find recyclables and items of value, and then selling those to dealers who take them away. They make on average $2 a day for their hot and filthy work.

It is nearly impossible to describe what this place is like, and to answer the philosophical question of why some people in the world need to live like this. Picture multiple fields of total wall to wall trash, with a few chickens and goats wandering around and barefoot children playing in the midst of it all. Picture tiny one rooms shanties made of hodgepodge pieces of mismatched plywood and cardboard and plastic and linoleum and tin. Picture open sewage and sticky mud, and motorcycles making their way through the muck. Picture Grace with baby Jeremy strapped on her chest, making her way through the tiny alleyways, being greeted like a celebrity by all sorts of adults who are eager to see the baby, and children who are delighted to see their “teacher.

We made three stops for visits this afternoon. One to a home of a friend of Grace’s who had twins two days after Jeremy, and one twin has already died. The second stop was to see a friend whose story made such an impression on me. Her husband was off trying to earn a living on an ocean liner.

Grace and Yugo lead songs for the children at Rumah Harapan, which means “house of hope.” Courtesy of author.

Grace and Yugo lead songs for the children at Rumah Harapan, which means “house of hope.” Courtesy of author.

Now he is home, but sadly has been paid none of the money that he was promised. He told me that entire crew of 74 people have not been paid for their 18 months of work. They are currently trying to get this injustice righted somehow, but I am fairly sure it is a David and Goliath situation and I doubt that the slum dog will beat the millionaire captain in this story.

I asked Grace as we were walking home if she ever gets used to seeing this. She said she’s not “used to it,” but perhaps less overwhelmed. These are her friends, these are the parents of the children she teaches. These are the people who look out for her. The giving goes both ways.

I continue to lay awake at night trying to reconcile the intensity of my last semester with the reality of this world and it simply doesn’t make sense. No one here hurries. They have so few things, but seemingly all the time in the world.

In the mornings and the evenings the neighbors sit outside and chat, what else is there to do? That is what God made the cooler parts of the day for apparently. Theirs is a wealthy community in a non-material sense of the word.

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