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God Moved the Mountain

God Moved the Mountain

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Published by TheLivingChurchdocs
By Grace Sears • Ian and Semia Meldrum claimed a Brazilian garbage dump for the kingdom of God.
By Grace Sears • Ian and Semia Meldrum claimed a Brazilian garbage dump for the kingdom of God.

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Published by: TheLivingChurchdocs on Jun 25, 2014
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10
THE LIVING CHURCH • July 6, 2014
I
an and Simea Meldrum will never forget theirfirst impressions of an unregulated garbagedump outside of Olinda, Brazil, on October 16,1993. “It was horrible,” Simea said. Her husbandadded: “The smell, the smoke, the flies — youcan’t imagine.” Dirty children who lived on thedump were malnourished and some adults whocame out of their flimsy shacks had respiratoryproblems. How could the Presbyterian pastorwho asked Simea to join in an outreach to resi-dents of the dump have dreamed that a churchmight be formed here?Simea, a native of Brazil, was serving as youthminister at an Anglican church in Olinda foundedby Ian, a Briton who came to Brazil through theSouth American Missionary Society. She hadbrought the youth group to an event initiated byanother pastor who planned to distribute foodand clothes on World Food Day to about 50 fam-ilies who lived on the dump. When Simea’s grouparrived that Sunday afternoon, a Presbyterian layleader asked her to take charge of the event be-cause the pastor who invited her had gone to Eng-land, where he had accepted a scholarship.
God Movedthe Mountain
By Grace Sears
“I tell you the truth, if you have faithas small as a mustard seed, you can sayto this mountain, ‘Move from here tothere,’ and it will move.” —Matthew 17:20, NIV
The garbage dump before reforms.
Photos courtesy of Paroquia do Agua Viva
 
July 6, 2014 • THE LIVING CHURCH
11
 I’m trapped
, Simea thought.
 I don’twant to be here
. But then she heardGod speak: “Take off your sandals —the place where you are standing isholy ground.” It was not what shewanted to hear. And yet in faith shestepped barefoot onto the rubbish andclaimed it for the kingdom of God.She says she cried a lot that after-noon. She believed God was givingher that horrible place, although shewanted to turn and run.Twenty years later, the putridmountain of garbage is covered andfenced, and many of its former inhab-itants have decent housing and paying jobs. As the stench, hazards, and flieshave decreased, a miasma of corrup-tion and indifference that pervadedthe city also has diminished — notonly in Olinda, but in similar commu-nities throughout Brazil.That October Simea struggled withher call. What did God want of her?She had three young children. Shewas already in active ministry, and her husband not only had responsibilityfor the church where they were co- pastors but supervised four othechurches in Olinda and worked withadditional social-outreach ministries.Their family schedule was hardenough to manage without adding an-other ministry, especially one withouta budget. And what could one womando? The whole city — police, city gov-ernment, churches — ignored thatreeking landscape. After much prayer,she decided to visit the rubbish heaponce a month.
S
imea had never seen such poverty.Her life in Brazil had been shel-tered: her parents had raised her in a Baptist church and sent her to goodschools. Yet even as a young girl shehad gone out with mission teams inher church to work with children inthe poorer areas of the city. When shewas 13 a visiting evangelist singled her out and said “Come on up.” Shethought he would rebuke her for notsitting still, but instead he told her,“God has a plan for you. You will tellthe story of what God has done allover the world.”Conditions on the dump lookedhopeless. For about a year Simea keptup monthly visits, getting to know res-idents, watching how they rushed to-ward arriving trucks to sort throughfresh loads of garbage. They collected paper, plastic, and other recyclablesthat they could sell in the city, andscavenged any kind of food or clothingthey could use themselves. Childrenstarted collecting trash at an early ageinstead of going to school. Motherstypically had children by several dif-ferent fathers. Violence and deathwere so common the children werehardened to it. They would react to a death by saying, “Never mind, tomor-row it will be you.” Boys wanted to be-come criminals, and girls sought mento support them, but none of themseemed to have any love. Simea weptover their heartlessness.Nevertheless, in the course of thatfirst year, she gathered some womenfrom the dump into a prayer group,and held a monthly Sunday School for the children, with help from her church. “God was holding me there,”she says. A local TV station donated 40to 50 parcels of food each month. Shegained residents’ trust — and con-tracted hepatitis, which her doctor thought did not exist in Olinda. Whenshe asked the city government why itwas not doing anything about the con-ditions on the rub-bish heap, officialsanswered: “It’s toocomplicated.”Then in 1994 oneof the women con-fided that the lastbatch of meat somehad scavenged for food included a woman’s breast.Even residents of the dump foundthat shocking. The next SundaySimea told her congregation whatshe had heard. Some journalists were present, and reported it on local TV.Suddenly Simea was not the only person visiting the garbage dump.First local reporters, then national andinternational news agencies came;CNN sent images of the Olinda garbagedump around the world. Headlinesre-ferred to C
 ANNIBALISMIN
B
RAZIL
.Newsteams documented trucks dumpingblack bags of medical waste, includingused syringes, and asked why officialshad not prosecuted the perpetrators.Olinda’s outraged mayor blamed “thatwoman” for the horrendous publicity. Alerted by the scandal, UNICEF in-
(Continued on next page)
Ian and Simea Meldrum
The recycling plant today has a truck and equipment to help process garbage.
 
12
THE LIVING CHURCH • July 6, 2014
 vestigated across the country, docu-menting open dumps where childrenwere scavenging in more than 5,000Brazilian municipalities. The publicoutcry moved Brazil’s government to place the children in schools. Polic-ing dumps and creating landfills be-came a national issue.
 A 
mid the furor, the Meldrumsformed Paroquia do Agua Viva (the Church of Living Water) next tothe dump in Olinda. In some cases res-idents had emerged from generationsof misery and had never imaginedanything better. With assistance fromother churches, the church opened a nursery to take care of small childrenduring the day. A supper club for chil-dren met twice a week. Parents at-tended a literacy class, as well asclasses in practical skills such assewing. In the next four years, Men-nonites provided two social workerswho organized an association of thegarbage pickers and trained them, sothey could get better prices for thematerials they sold, and to qualify as paid garbage collectors for the city. In1997 the Rt. Rev. Clovis Erly Ro-drigues received the first confirma-tion class at Agua Viva. In 2000, after 40 were confirmed, the Anglican/Epis-copal Church of Brazil recognized Agua Viva as a parish.Olinda’s government finally mus-tered the political will to do somethingabout its garbage dump. Leaderswanted to close the dump. At Agua  Viva, that plan was greeted with dis-may. At least the families living thereeked out a living from recycling andhad shelters, however inadequate. If they were evicted without means of support they would starve. The Mel-drums protested, to little effect, untilthe Archbishop of Canterbury came toOlinda.In planning his 1999 visit to Brazil,the Most Rev. George Carey an-nounced he wanted to do two things:see a soccer game and visit “thechurch at the rubbish tip.” He stoppedin Recife, about five miles away fromOlinda, and met with diocesan clergyat the pro cathedral. Simea Meldrumwas present, and made a request of  Archbishop Carey: Please tell themayor of Olinda that the families onthe rubbish dump should receive jobsand housing, instead of simply beingkicked out. Archbishop Carey notonly sent a letter to the mayor but alsocopied it to the President of Brazil.Then he visited Agua Viva. His pres-ence brought increased respect andattention to the church and the Mel-drums’ ministry there, so their con-cerns were heard. The city govern-ment recognized its responsibilities;eventually it offered housing to 120families who had been living on thedump. It began supervising garbagecollection, disposal, and recycling.Of course, as Ian points out, “it’seasier to take people out of the dumpthan to take the dump out of the peo- ple.” A few families sold their newhomes to gain money for drugs and al-cohol, and wound up worse off thanbefore. Yet many found a new way tolive through the ministry of Agua Viva,though it took years for deep changeto take hold. At first church memberswere largely dependent on others, butwith training they began to moveaway from dependency and developself-esteem and responsibility. By thistime, Simea says, “I had accepted thatthis was my place.”Other visitors followed in the wakeof the Archbishop of Canterbury. Oneman who came with a group from theUnited States in 2004 asked if thechurch wanted a bigger building. Sincequarters were cramped, church mem-bers said
yes
. The next month heshipped them a prefabricated building,and later a second one. Others broughtspecial skills and ministries. A clinic provided health care. A youth worker started a dance and drama group withthree teenagers that rapidly became a key means of discipleship and growth.One of the Meldrums’ sons developedthe skills to shoot videos of Agua  Viva’s work. Another son, still in uni- versity, has acquired IT skills and helpsmultiple ministries.The Meldrums are pleased that at Agua Viva’s annual assembly this
Olinda is transformed.
(Continued from previous page)

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