Love at Work in a Landfill

Last summer, high-school kids and leaders from Young Life’s Club Beyond ministry at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, joined 300 other kids from European military installations for a weeklong service project in Romania. Dave Kanelos, community director for Young Life Military at Incirlik, said, “Our group worked in a very poor gypsy village called Pata Rat, built on a landfill where the gypsy (Roma) families make their living by picking recyclable materials from the landfill. Most of the families live in shacks surrounded by piles of garbage without running water or bathrooms inside.”

Amid these bleak surroundings, the team provided daily sports activities and Vacation Bible School for about 100 children. While language was a barrier, nothing could stop the students from sharing God’s love with the gypsy children. They connected with the children through songs and games, skits and food, laughs and hugs. The team also left the children with a physical symbol of the Lord’s love for them.

In the middle of the village, the team tore through the landfill to build the children a playground. “It was incredibly difficult to dig through the layers and layers of trash in order to pour cement foundations,” Kanelos said, but watching the children swing and climb on the finished product made it all worth it. The playground became an oasis in the middle of this landfill-town.

The week in Romania was chock-full of teachable moments for the Incirlik kids. Realizing their own living conditions were something they took for granted, the teens’ hearts broke for the families living in Pata Rat. “This trip was a complete eye opener for me when I saw the conditions the people lived in,” Trevor, a 10th-grader said. “And my trust in God was boosted when He constantly responded to our prayers for the playground.”
Briana agreed. “This trip brought me closer to God  and it made me want to stop complaining about where I live. These kids lived in a dump and seeing their faces light up when they knew they had a new playground was incredible.”   

The playground became a symbol of hope for everyone in the village that day. Quentin said, ”I could see all the little children’s eyes light up when a small diamond amongst the coal was built and they could play on a playground for the first time in their life.”
To learn more about Young Life’s ministry to military kids, go to and click on Young Life Military.