Written for and printed in Grain Valley News
Have you ever wondered what happens to the plastic bottles people discard into our rivers and lakes? Some of them, like Nemo, float out to the ocean. In fact, about two million tons of plastic ends up in the sea each year. This is a huge problem because the plastic does not disintegrate, it accumulates.
Scientists say, because of winds and ocean currents, the discarded plastic that ends up in our seas accumulates into five “accumulation zones” and gets trapped. Some of the plastic pieces remain virtually unchanged while some deteriorate into “microplastics”–which are teeny, weeny pieces.
One of these accumulation zones is called, “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” It is the largest of the five and located halfway between Hawaii and California. A total of 1.8 trillion plastic pieces are estimated to be floating in the patch. That works out to be about 250 pieces of debris for every human in the world. The weight of the garbage patch is approximately 80 thousand tons. What a bunch of garbage!
The term “garbage” can be used physically, as in the case above, or is sometimes used metaphorically. For example, referring to people as garbage. At times, people use dehumanizing language in reference to others. This may include calling someone “trashy”, a “piece of garbage”, “piece of junk,” or saying we want to “waste them,” or worse. When we dehumanize someone, we feel somewhat superior and they become less than human in our eyes. Naturally, our perceived value of someone is based upon our own personal assessment of their worth. It’s always performance based. And, it’s always “them” or “those” people. Them trashy people. After all, they ain’t like us.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Panama City, Panama with a team from our church. To be honest, I have seen worse conditions. Having been to Haiti on three separate occasions and visiting extremely impoverished villages in Mexico, I have been exposed to a considerable amount of heartbreak and poverty.
We had a chance to visit downtown Panama City. Our mission was to find and feed some of the homeless population. Our goal was not to judge, or to try and figure out why they were there, but rather just to pass out sandwiches and coffee and perhaps offer a kind word. Sometimes, the homeless preferred isolation from others. We met them in the cracks and crevices, their valuables about an arm’s length away. At other times, as misery enjoys company, the homeless banded together in the shadows and dark alleys in makeshift camps.
At times, the sights and smells were unbearable. One particular picture remains etched in my mind. A homeless man rummaging through a dumpster and digging through styrofoam take home containers, eating the remnants. I wondered how hungry I would have to be in order to dig through the garbage for supper and eat someone’s discarded food.
While in Panama, we also had the opportunity to visit a small church-run school. The educational system in Panama has been called “one of the worst in the world.” Although Panama requires students to be enrolled in public education for six years of primary school and three years of middle school, dropout rates are extremely high. In addition to having no truancy program, students must walk long distances, sometimes in treacherous circumstances, in order to attend classes. In addition, some parents simply choose to pull their kids out of school so that they can get work. Panama has lax child labor laws. Like their parents, the kids must help provide for the needs of the family. For that family, they feel that education is a luxury that they can’t afford.
One church we worked with started a small school within a very poor, rural community. The school was accessible to the children and provided free uniforms and lunch for the kids. We spend several days here helping the kids learn English. Unfortunately, at this school, we learned that one of the girls was being taken advantage of–by a parent. A female student, about twelve, was being sold on a regular basis into prostitution to help the family survive. Yes, you read that correctly.
As our team played water games with the children in the front yard of the school, I looked around and wondered which one of the students was being subjected to such unspeakable horror–all in the name of food for her family. I went through an array of emotions: shock, anger, and frustration to name a few. I had a lot of questions, but no answers.
The term, Imago Dei, is Latin for “image of God.” In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Scriptures are clear that humans were created in the image of God. It’s really weird, but there are times when I glance in the mirror and I see my father looking back at me. In the same way, a part of my heavenly Father’s image has been imprinted into me.
Being created in the image of God means that we have intrinsic value and worth. Our value is not based upon what we do or what we can offer. Instead, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, our value is based upon the design of our creator. Our value far exceeds our worth.
Two things that I take away:
First, I am incredibly blessed. As I write this, I’m dusting off a piece of lemon pie and throwing back a cup of premium coffee. Having done missions trips abroad, I’ve gone without electricity, eaten meager meals of mystery meat, utilized primitive outhouses that I’ve shared with rodents, slept with mosquito nets, and taken a shower with a garden hose fed from a stream. I try to be extremely thankful to God for what I have. I also try to remember that I am a steward of my resources. There are lots of people in this world—some homeless, some helpless, some harassed. I should try to help and heal the hurting.
Second, I try to remember that every person I meet is just like me. Like me they have been created in the image of God. To be sure, some people may be self-serving, cruel, hateful, mean-spirited, and choose to take advantage of others. Naturally, people need to be held accountable and, perhaps, punished for inappropriate actions. They may even be placed in an accumulation zone. However, this does not reduce their inherent value. Sometimes, they just need to be recycled. I know a guy who trades beauty for ashes and can take that which is tarnished and turn it into treasure.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer. He can be reached at waynegeiger.com.