New Creation (one trash bag at a time)


Over the past few months our team has been brainstorming ways to evangelize here in Phayao. And when I say evangelize, I mean inviting those around us into a new way of living, the way of Jesus Christ, that will eventually bring about God’s purposes for His creation. This means that our goal is to live in such a way, to have particular practices, that will catch people’s attention–an alternative way to live in this world. And, then, with the Spirit’s leading, they will hopefully begin to conform their lives to this Way.

We have thought of various ways to do this in our context, but I wanted to share with you one way that is, I pray, already making an impact.

Over the past year we have noticed that there is not much concern for picking up trash in Phayao. The system in place does not dispose of all the trash and  thus heaps of garbage have begun forming around the city. No one has done anything about it, and most people continue to pile on more trash. We figured this was one area of Phayao life that we could impact. So, we decided to have a bimonthly trash pick-up and recycling drive. We select a trash heap, separate out the recycling, and get rid of the garbage. (Recycling is still profitable here, so we are going to give all the recycling stuff to a family we know who is in economic distress so that they can sell it for some extra income.)

And our hope is that people will see us and begin asking, “Why are you doing this?” We can tell them that God’s creation is good and He has called us to join Him in nurturing it. We can explain to them that these garbage heaps are a health hazard, and our love for God and our neighbors motivates us to better the living conditions of our neighbors. And we can articulate to them that we desire economic development for Phayao people, and beautifying the city can help bring in businesses and tourism.

And, ultimately, our hope is that friends, neighbors, and strangers will join us in caring for God’s creation in this way. Then, maybe, when people begin picking up other people’s trash and separating out recycling, they will start changing their own practices.

So, our first effort was two days before Christmas. We headed over to a trash heap at the end of Ryan and Ning’s street, a heap that has collected 30 feet from five trash cans. People seem to find it easier to throw their trash in the field than to put it in the trash can. And the garbage collectors for the city refuse to pick up trash that is not in the actual trash cans. Thus, this pile of trash has grown.

So, we put on our masks and gloves (with bottles of Purell nearby) and started putting the trash into bags. And then came the stares. I can only imagine what people were thinking when they saw 3 foreigners knee-deep in nasty trash. But, eventually, a few people drove by and hollered “thanks” and “good job.” One person stopped and took pictures. He said that he worked for the district municipality and would tell them what we are doing.

Then, one man stopped and was amazed that we were doing this. He said that he was impressed because Thai people aren’t willing to do anything about this problem but three foreigners are. We explained that it had nothing to do with nationality. We shared with him that our church was doing this because we want to serve the people of Phayao. He took some pictures and then drove off. But, then, five minutes later, we saw him walking down the street towards us with work boots and gloves on. It was awesome! He proceeded to work with us for the next 2 hours. And soon another neighbor came out and joined the effort. His wife came out and talked with Ning while we worked. Though we were picking through some of the nastiest stuff I have ever touched, we enjoyed working alongside our new friends.

By the end of the afternoon, we had collected around 40 large bags of garbage. One of our other objectives is to get the attention of the different district municipalities who should be taking care of garbage disposal. Thus, we decided to stack all the trash bags around, and on top of, all the district’s trash cans that sit 30 feet away.

By the time we finished and had stacked all the bags, the vice president of the district showed up. He was surprised to see what we had done.  He then helped us solve one of the biggest problems we were facing–where to take the trash bags (that district doesn’t have a landfill). He quickly made some calls and arranged for two trucks to come and dispose of all the bags. He then promised to post a sign in that area that forbid littering which was up by the next morning. He thanked us for our effort, and we were grateful for his help as well.

Finally, the next day Chris, Ryan, and I returned to clean up the final small pieces of trash that remained. We planted 4 poinsettias where the trash once was. We figured that people would be less likely to throw trash where something beautiful now existed. And here’s the cool part: in Thai, poinsettias are literally called “Christmas trees.”

All in all, the effort turned out much better than what we had hoped for. We made new relationships, the project blessed the neighborhood, and we experienced the unexpected blessing of neighbors pitching in to help–probably the highlight of the whole project.

New creation–one trash bag, and poinsettia, at a time.

(Note: Besides meeting the vice president of Ryan’s district, our efforts have led to meetings with the head of sanitation for the main city district and the president of the district we live in. They were both initially confused as to why we were wanting to do this, but showed appreciation for our desire to serve in this way.)



  1. Derran–that is awesome—love you and hope you scrubbed up well after that event—give my love to Ann and those precious girls—

  2. what a great idea! i am so glad that it resulted in good connections and good attention from the neighbors. although, reading this and seeing pictures made me go wash my hands : )

  3. Such a cool story! I pray that God continues to show us ways to live alternatively for Him.

  4. Thats fantastic well done, maybe plant some fruit trees as well.

  5. Proud of all of you … as usual.


  6. Job well done! Sounds like something Jesus would do!!

  7. that’s such a great idea! wish i could have helped/seen the thai faces.

  8. I love this! You guys are really living out Christianity as countercultural in ways that challenge me. Thanks for sharing about your cleanup day. I’m looking forward to hearing what comes from a bunch of farangs picking up garbage in Phayao! Love you guys!

  9. Awesome!!

  10. Awesome idea!! Great job, everyone.

  11. […] was reminded of something a friend of mine wrote, something I had read a day earlier.  (here – if you’re interested)  And I was reminded about a book I’m reading.  (here – if […]

  12. You guys are showing who Jesus is by example. May great fruit be produced through your acts of service. Praying for you all.

  13. I read this article many months ago and thought it was a one time project. But I just saw the video you made for Highland and heard that it was an ongoing project.

    I wonder if I could help on one of your trash collection days? I’d like to see how things are done and get your advice on how to implement something like this in Chiang Mai. Please email me.

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