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I met Gabriela in a mucky, stench-filled landfill in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. I was part of a team from the New Covenant Church of Waverly, Ohio, and a local pastor, Carlos Mendoza, had invited us to see the school he and his wife, Mirna, had founded for children living and working in this garbage dump.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras landfill

It was a rainy, humid day, and we had come to the dump to pass out food to over 600 people who called it their home. San Pedro Sula is the second-largest city in Honduras and is considered the industrial capital. People who live in the dump are forced to literally fend off buzzards in their quest for food. They make their living by searching for saleable items such as clothes, plastics for recycling, and in the case of Gabriela, reading material.

Gabriela is 10. That day, she darted through the mud among the piles of putrid trash dumped by the trucks, adding to the smell that permeated the air, our clothes, and our hair. The smell eventually washes off, but the memory stays with you. And she lives in it day in, day out. I watched her moving with ease, stopping to pick up some paper, then a book, and then what looked like a child’s discarded homework. With her hands full, she walked toward me with a triumphant smile on her face and showed me her treasures.

“Do you want to see my library?” she asked.

“Library? You mean you have a library here?” I asked, in credulous.

“Yes!” she replied. “Follow me; I will show you.”

Gabriella, showing David Hawk a book she found in the dump

Gabriela led me to a structure some distance away that stood about four feet high, made of four stacks of tires. The roof was a discarded wood pallet, and a used swimming pool liner had been placed over it to shelter the occupants from the elements. A piece of a damp, dirty mattress lay on the floor, and in the corner, a wooden fruit crate sat full of torn textbooks, papers, and magazines. Gabriela laid her new-found items on the ground and began to separate papers from books, pausing to appraise each item and fit them into their proper place in the crate.

“See?” exclaimed Gabriela, “This is my library. Sometimes I come here to read, and I am teaching my little sister to read.”

Since it was the end of the school year, many schools were discarding old books and papers that had accumulated throughout the year. Gabriela collected what she could find, and she was eager to show it off and demonstrate her ability to read and count. Her older sister, now 13, no longer studies. Gabriela walks about a mile each morning to her school outside the dump where others ridicule her for her torn clothes, dirty face, and worn shoes. But in this little sanctuary, she learns and teaches others.

Later, as darkness descended over the dump, our team sat down for supper and a time of sharing. Pastor Carlos explained the ministry of educating the children of people who work in the dump. He and his wife, Mirna, started Brazos de Jesús (Arms of Jesus), a school and feeding program on the edge of the landfill. Several mothers do the cooking, while others take their places working in the dump to ensure the family still gets income that day.

A graduate of El Sembrador Bible Institute, Carlos pastors a church near the dump. The teachers at Brazos de Jesús are all members of that congregation who work a second shift teaching at Brazos de Jesús in addition to their regular jobs. They work there understanding they are doing a service for God and the children, and if they happen to get paid, they consider it a blessing. Carlos himself has not received a salary for three years, dedicating himself to the school and the church. His wife Mirna, also a teacher, supports the family.

Brazos de Jesús (Arms of Jesus) school

Pastor Carlos began to describe what goes on in the dump after dark. The trucks unload trash around the clock, so there is a night shift of workers. Gabriela does not sleep in her improvised library; instead, it transforms into a place of business where her 13-year-old sister helps support the family by selling her body to whoever can pay. When a young girl reaches puberty, it is normal for the parents to pull them out of school and press them into prostitution.

My mind immediately went to Gabriela. This young child, so full of innocence and life despite her surroundings, was created in the image of God to glorify Him. But she lives in a fallen world, and in two short years, her fate will be the same as her sister’s if God’s people don’t act.

Sights of poverty and suffering are not new to me; I’ve served in Honduras for over 25 years. I’ve seen a lot. But never has another person’s hopelessness impacted me like Gabriela’s. I can’t bear the thought that this young girl with a thirst for knowledge, an appreciation for art, and love for teaching others, will soon be forced to trade all that promise for the hopelessness of prostitution on a dank, dirty mattress in the misery of a city landfill. Gabriela’s own grandmother and mother were conceived, born, and grew up in a dump just like Gabriela—three generations living like this. If nothing changes, Gabriela is likely to conceive as a child, give birth as a child, and raise children alone as a child through no choice of her own.

This is Gabriela’s story. It has broken my heart.


As believers, we like to read stories about transformation and feel good about the role we played in that story. We like endings of triumph and happiness. But how about those stories where transformation has not reached the main character?

Pastor Carlos and Mirna are bringing transformation to Gabriela and others like her. They invite you—they need you—to help write a story of transformation for 60 children and their families this year. Each child enrolled is one less who is destined to a life of hopelessness!

Earlier this year, an individual donor provided a $25,000 matching grant to Pastor Carlos, inspired in part by Gabriela’s story. Pastor Carlos is now seeking funds to match the grant, which will help the school increase enrollment from the current 56 students to 86 students next year. We would like to see the funds raised by the end of 2018 in order to finish this year well and have a strong 2019.

Let’s make sure God’s kingdom is established in the landfill just as it is in heaven. Gabriela is waiting.

Action Steps

GIVE: Do you want to be a part of providing a hope and a future to children who are being raised in the San Pedro Sula garbage dump? We need you to help match this $25,000 grant. Please go to to make your gift.

PRAY: Pray for the health and salvation of the students attending Brazos de Jesús. Pray for their parents and siblings who continue to work in the dump. Pray for God’s provision and protection to be on the teachers and Pastor Carlos.

GO: Volunteers are welcome to serve at Brazos de Jesús. Please contact us at to get more information on how you can be the hands and feet of Christ in Honduras.

David Hawk and his wife, Debbie, are based in Dallas, Texas and serve with the Americas Regional Leadership Team.

The Call (Fall/Winter 2018)

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