Hello everyone. I’m sorry it’s been a while since my last post, but a new project/problem has arisen in my community that has been taking a great deal of my time, in addition to my pastoral duties.
It turns out that there is an enormous, 27 acre landfill situated in an abandoned rock quarry about 1/2 a mile from my church, and about 1500 feet from my home. The facility in question is the City of Bristol, VA Solid Waste Management Facility (Permit # SWR01184).
I’ll spare you all the horrid details, but for over the last year, it has been kicking out increasing amounts of toxic gas onto our community, and really affecting quality of life. For those in the UK, our plight is similar to the Walleys Quarry landfill in Staffordshire. You can read more here.
In our community, the cloud of toxic gas has been affecting older residents with chronic respiratory/cardio-pulmonary issues, as well as young children. Other residents have been adversely affected, with the gas filling homes and leaving residents unable to breathe properly, rest, and the like. As I write this, I am running on less than a full night’s sleep as the gas filled my home last night, and kept waking me throughout the night.
I wrote two articles for the local paper in regard to this story that I will post below. I am working on new stories for other outlets, trying to raise awareness and get help for our community. God has blessed our church and community with a number of scientists and environmental engineers, so we have been on a letter writing campaign to regulators, asking that the problem be examined more closely, and that the landfill be closed down.
To that end, I do ask two things. One, please pray for our community — we’re going to need it! Also, I still plan on posting other stories, but they will be a little less regular as this new project is taking a lot of time. Thank you!
The following is a story I wrote for the Bristol Herald Courier in July entitled, “The Devil Comes to Bristol”. It gives both an outline of what we are facing, and a scriptural rationale for my personal engagement as an extension of pastoral care for the community:
I want to apologize to members of our community, the church I serve, and particularly, the residents in the Fairmount region of Bristol. I have been reticent to wade into the controversy surrounding the garbage dump in Bristol, VA and the toxic fumes washing over our area these many months. I believe that we are to obey civil authorities (Romans 13:1), and honor those who wield political and military power (1 Peter 2:17). In this case, however, I was very, very wrong to keep quiet. Instead, I should have been reminding those in authority of their sacred duty found later in Romans 13:4. There it is clear that authority is given by God so as to be wielded for the good of the citizenry, and to punish those in the wrong.
So, again, I apologize, and I hope this will begin to rectify my oversight. In this case, the good of the citizenry is being neglected, and those in the wrong (either past or present) are being shielded from culpability. This is a reversal of the ordering given us by God, and as such, I feel I must call this situation what it is: the systemic poisoning of a community.
I know these are strong words. However, please note that I did not say that the poisoning is intentional or pre-meditated. In fact, I’m pretty sure that what we are experiencing is a combination of neglect and lack of planning. Nevertheless, couching the situation in disclaimers doesn’t change the reality: our community is being poisoned.
I have been approached by many in our area and told about their lived nightmare. A cloud of stench that has taken on the name “the Devil,” or “the Beast” in a popular Facebook community forum addressing the problem is waking little ones and elderly grandmothers up in the middle of the night, leaving them in tears as they cry and vomit and plead with God to make the gas go away. Residents wake up in the morning to walk or greet the sun or drink a cup of coffee only to be assaulted by fumes that burn their respiratory tracts and eyes. I have members of my church community next door who, after a “gassing,” experience extreme migraines for days on end. The list of ailments could go on.
So, yes, our community is being poisoned. However, we do have choices to make: will we do something about it? Will our leaders take responsibility and lead us out of this crisis, and help repair the breaches? Will we do our part, pitch in, and help hold those with authority accountable? Here, I want to be clear: our call isn’t to resort to the rhetorical apathy of a woe-is-me-politicians-won’t-do-their-job-because-they-are-corrupt-so-what’s-a-plain-old-working-person-to-do caterwaul typical of our age. No, our call is to understand we have a right not be poisoned, and to demand that our leaders help keep that from happening. Where that fails, and like the widow in Jesus’ story in Luke 18, we must be persistent in our calls for justice and a healthy environment in which we can raise our kids.
Here, I close on a note of hope. I am utterly convinced Scripture teaches us that every facet of God’s handiwork is good, and more than that, it is created to flourish, multiply, and grow into greater and more complex harmonies (Genesis 1). Creation exists to glorify God, and so do we. Though we are broken, and by extension corrupt the world, my Christian faith tells me that the same Jesus who was raised and mistaken for the gardener (John 20:15) has defeated death, and by His Spirit, has a redemptive plan for our lives and the good world God created.
The Devil may have come to Bristol in the form on a noxious cloud, but a community of salt and light knows, believes, and acts in accord with their Savior who came to destroy the works of the evil one so that God’s good world and we, God’s image-bearing creatures, might become what we were created to be (1 John 3:8).
We can be better, Bristol. Let’s be the change we want to see.