When Brett Durbin and his wife, Jaelle, first visited a trash mountain site in Honduras in 2008, they anticipated eye-stinging stench and circling vultures, but they were completely undone by the sight of sun-baked babies left in cardboard boxes while parents and siblings, some as young as two, culled through debris with crude tools. Children worked as prostitutes and gang members sold drugs as an entire community relied on recyclable bits of rubble to feed themselves and their families.
“We saw the worst the world has to offer in one physical location,” says Durbin, who is expecting a fifth child with Jaelle. “Malnutrition, abuse, hopelessness, sickness, everything you can imagine in a square mile. It was impossible to look at these kids without thinking of our own.”
After extensive research, the Durbins launched the Trash Mountain Project in Lakeland, Florida, in 2009, to develop Christ-centered environments for children and families living in dump sites. They relocated the non-profict agency to Topeka in 2011, partly because they wanted to raise their children near family but also because of the outpouring of support they had received from Durbin’s childhood friends, acquaintances, the Topeka church community and philanthropists throughout northeast Kansas committed to the cause.
Durbin, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminal justice from Washburn University and a master’s degree in Christian leadership from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, once envisioned a career path as a prison chaplain. He describes his experience at Asbury as transformational, and that it really developed his passion and care for the poor around the world, but he never envisioned being a “trash pastor” as many people like to call him.