The Most Inspiring 20-Something I’ve Ever Met

Note: I just got back from Guatemala. Unable to blog during the trip, I have several stories I want to share. This is the first of them. Make sure you’re signed up for free updates so you don’t miss anything.

His name is Marlon, and he’s been raising his brothers and sisters since he was six years old.


A new father and husband, he dreams of a better future, a future that doesn’t involve daily scavenging through the city dump.

The young man is short and rarely smiles. There is a softness to his eyes, but even in the most tender moments of his story, he doesn’t show emotion. 

Listening to him share his struggles, I relate to aspects of his story: his rebellious streak as a teenager; the encouragement that came through people pouring into him at tough times; his little baby.

But that is where our similarities end.

If the circumstances were different — perhaps if Marlon had been born in my native Chicago instead of Guatemala City — we might have had similar fates. But he’s only 20 years old; and nearly 10 years his elder, I am just beginning to grasp the lessons he’s dealt with for 14 years.

The six year-old breadwinner

A man prone to violence, Marlon’s dad was murdered when his children were very young. Despite the fact that for years he abused and neglected his family, the father’s departure still left a gap. The family needed a breadwinner.

Three days after his dad’s death, six-year-old Marlon had a dream in which his father told him to take care of the family. Marlon said he would. At an age when he should have been learning to ride a bike or read a book, this boy went to work.

It started with taking over the family business, which meant visiting the city dump early each morning to scavenge for scrap metal, used electronics, and clothes.

Life in the trash heap

One of 11,000 people who live and work near the dump, Marlon has had to learn how to navigate through trash heaps quickly and efficiently.

Getting to the dump before sunrise is essential to finding good scraps, he says; otherwise, if you wait, they’ll be gone by noon.

Among those who are first, scavenging is particularly competitive and dangerous. It’s not uncommon for two men — or children — to fight over a potentially valuable piece of trash.

On a good day, Marlon can make up to 90 Quetzales ($12 USD), which he uses to feed his entire family. On a bad day, it’s much less.

Following in his father’s footsteps

When he entered his teenage years, Marlon assumed other aspects of his father’s role, particularly the abusive side.

Becoming despondent, he turned to drugs and sex and even made a pact with the Devil. His outlook on life grew dark, and he became irritable and angry. Terrified of their older brother, his siblings kept their distance, swearing they could see evil in his eyes.

Were it not for the intervention of a local NGO called The Potter’s House, Marlon may have never escaped this downward spiral.

The Potter’s House runs a program that tries to reach the 6500+ children working in the dump: feeding them, educating them, and helping these young ones see themselves differently.

From scavenger to treasure

Locals call children who work in the dump “scavengers.” But The Potter’s House has another name for them: tesoros. Treasures.

Due to the personal investment of a few staff members of this nonprofit, Marlon started seeing himself differently. He found a purpose beyond scavenging and subsistence.

Hearing this young man speak, I see a strength that comes only through the hardships of a tough life. But I also see a tenderness and humility that flows from faith.

Marlon believes God was watching over him and his family when his dad died. He believes his life was spared many times, that there is a reason for everything that’s happened to him. Such beliefs give him hope, something he’s been searching for ever since he was sent scavenging in the dump at six years of age.

“The best sermon I’ve ever heard”

When asked about his dream, Marlon doesn’t hesitate; he’s ready for the question. He wants to some day share his story in a stadium full of people, encouraging others to trust God and believe in a bigger story.

Listening to this young man finish his tale, I wipe away a few grateful tears. What a life, I think. And he’s only just beginning. Quietly, I make a few promises to myself and my family that I’m honestly not sure I can keep, but I need to.

Standing, we applaud Marlon, but not nearly as much as he deserves. One person says this is the best sermon they’ve ever heard, and I have to agree.

Thanks for the inspiration, Marlon. I don’t know that I’m able to live up to the standard you’ve set, but I intend to try.

Have you ever met someone whose story inspired you to live a better life? Share in the comments.

58 thoughts on “The Most Inspiring 20-Something I’ve Ever Met

  1. A friend who, when I told her I sometimes wonder if I’m supposed to move to Africa as a missionary said, “Wait ’til you realize you’re a full-time missionary in Jacksonville, FL”, which is where I live. 

    At first, I was offended. After all, Africa is the ultimate “missions destination,” or so my Lottie Moon-offering-raised self thought. 

    Turns out, she was right. For now anyway. If I think I can do more good there and then, I forget what good I can do here and now.

    1. Oh Samantha, what a great comment. I always wanted God to call me somewhere “cool” as well. But instead He called me 7 miles from home to help the broken, abused and homeless. God does need us being hands and feet where ever we are! 

      1.  Samantha and Alene (and Jeff) – I have given to those going on mission trips to south america, etc — and I often wondered what to do here (live in MS).  The only thing I can think of is to support the Salvation Army — they fed my dad and his 11 siblings and parents during the depression so I have great respect for them and what they do.  I also know they keep _less_ for administration so nearly ALL goes to help others.  Researching non profits and their salaries was an eye opener for me.  Now, I am very selective who I donate to.  With very limited funds, retired and almost 70, I am not flush – but trying to do as much as I can. I have decided to sit down and once again try to eek more money out of my salary to give to those how are doing God’s work.  I keep thinking I can do more and looking for how.

        You all really encourage me to look in my back yard (home) vs out of the country.  We have a backpack buddies program at my church – there are children who don’t eat on the weekends (no food at home) but get fed at school during the week…. so we have individual foods that can go in their backpack for the weekends.  Its interesting to think of what can I give that will work for them.  I am thinking of asking my friends from across the country to donate and I will go buy the food and take it to church for them. It doesn’t take a whole lot of money but being careful and selective in what will be good for them.  This is a good program. I attend a sunday school with many single moms – what an eye opener! 

        I just commend you all for your caring and dedication to being God’s hands.  What can we do for Marlon?  If it is to donate to the Potter’s House, how do we do that – contact info?

        thanks Jeff for your blog. Met a gal today in Hobby Lobby who had seen Mandy”s art poster (I took it in to frame)  and had looked for ages trying to find it.  So can you send me Mandy’s contact info?  I know she is on Etsy but not sure how to find her.  And I don’t remember her last name – only that she is a pastors wife.

        Sorry for the length of this post! 

  2. So blessed by this young man and his story.  I will pray that his dream will come true.  thanks so much for sharing it.

  3. What a story! How can one so young as Marlon do so much? And now what since you have heard his story what happens to him? Is it just a story or is it something that prompts you and all of us to in some way add to help him keep going? (Or is that done through the Potter’s House?) Or does this just prompt our thinking of other things besides what’s happening in our own lives. I am so unsure of all of this that happens in the world.
     And what about in our own back yard here in the US, there are stories similar that we miss every day. So those that minister here are just as important, and maybe more so, as those that travel miles away from home into foreign countries. If we are to continue to be a great nation we must take care of our own shores as well, in order to help others, such as Samantha and Alene are doing. They are also true missionaries but not on foreign soil. It doesn’t make them any less great… who knows if one of them won’t or already hasn’t “rescued” someone and they don’t even realize it. We all touch someone every day. We really don’t even have to travel very far… 

  4. What an incredible story.  From scavenger to treasure.  I love that!   And, yes, I’ve encountered many folks who have inspired me to live a better story.  

  5. Wherever you’re is good enough to make a difference. Whether Africa or America, making impact in people’s like is the key to making heaven (in your heart) and knowing the person who sent you to love others is the key to making heaven (up).

  6. This is so surreal. The fact that earlier this week we were standing among the open graves overlooking the city dump hearing Marlon’s testimony and now it’s back to normal, reading his story in the form of a blog post. One of the things that really struck me about Marlon’s demeanor is that when we asked to pray for him he consented but quickly added, “Pray for them” as he motioned over the cliff and to the Treasures in the dump.

    1. Now, isn’t that a case of selflessness and love. He knows that those children needed to be prayed for more urgently than he does. I know a few people who can see past others’ admiration, to thwart any threat of being esteemed and humbly put down their ego so they can focus on the mission first. I want to be just like them.

  7. What an inspiring story, Jeff. Thanks for sharing it! 

    I may not know Marlon personally, but I’m really pulling for him. 

    I also salute Potter’s House for saving Marlon and for coming to the rescue of so many other kids working in the dump. 

    Again, thanks for sharing this. It really made my day.

  8. Thank you for sharing  Marlon’s story, Jeff. Inspiring. It made me realize how blessed my life is, and I want to make sure that I use this life to also bless others.

  9. i enjoyed praying for your team, particularly you and Alene – and I pray that the “wrecked” moments will follow you and flourish deeper into and further out of your everyday life.  He showed you, Oh Man, what is good…

  10. Well this is an incredibly inspiring story. Lovely to see how God works in our lives. I pray that God will continue to bless Marlon and take him and his family to the greatest heights possible. 

  11. Love this. Got goosebumps at the part about the Potter’s House calling the children “tesoros.” It reminds me of Amy Carmichael’s perspective of the temple children she worked amongst in India.
    What also struck me is that in a sense, Marlon’s dream has been fulfilled via this article. 

    1. Great connection, Jenn. Amy Carmichael is a Saint who needs to be front page again. I preached using her as an illustration and a woman in my congregation (a teacher) has now read everything she could find. It’s been totally transformative. Thanks for the reminder of a great woman of God. 

      1.  Something similar happened to me in college; a speaker mentioned her in passing and then later gave me Let the Little Children Come, a biography of her.  God used it and Ms. Carmichael’s own books incredibly in my life. So neat to hear of a similar story.

  12. When I went to Haiti 18 months ago a woman I’d never met called and wanted to buy shoes to send with me. She wanted me to meet her at the consignment shop to help her buy the shoes. 

    I was very busy and thought “can’t you just buy the shoes and I’ll pick them up?” But I didn’t say that. I met her at the shop and watched as she chose each pair individually saying things like, “Oh aren’t these darling? Won’t some child love this pair?” Pair after pair. She spent $100. A duffel bag of shoes. Took an hour. 

    I asked why she did it and she said, “I’ve learned when God tells you to do something, you just do it.” And she did it generously, with a calm, peaceful heart. I was quietly ashamed that I thought it was all about shoes and my big important time.

  13.  Awesome Jeff. I’m there with you man, every inch of the way. It’s impossible to explain how building a school, working with a feeding program, or working on a farm that trains orphans gives and transforms you more than you could ever dream possible. The only way to get is to give, and the only way to care is to care. Inspiration without action is worthless. God Bless You Man!

  14. This is an outstanding blog post. Very inspirational.  Have you checked out

    Awesome (and one of the biggest) Christian communities for the faithful to talk about Christianity.

  15. Jeff, thanks for sharing such a profound treasure! It gives me a new way to see Eph 2:10, “For you are God’s masterpiece; treasure…” That will float around my mind most excellently today!

  16. Interestingly, I wrote about the power and influence of our story on others today, bringing back memories of my own struggles, challenges and hardship. And to read about Marlon…. simply humbles my heart. Great stories change lives. I pray Marlon experiences the miracles he desires.

  17. It was indeed, a great, inspiring story. I did shed tears of compassion. I’m so grateful for The Potter’s House that God used as an instrument for Marlon’s new life.  Every circumstance that we have in this world, God has a reason. Let us not give up when facing with various trials for it is just temporary. If we are able to surpass it, we will definitely rejoice for what God has done! Thank you, so much Jeff, for the inspiring newsletters.

  18. I’m speechless. I too, had to find food for my two year old brother when I was just five, so to hear how God continues to meet the needs of His “treasures” reminds me again of how much He loves us. I have much to write about today. Thank you Jeff for sharing these stories. I always say, “It’s not so important how I began. What’s important, is what I’ve become.” And with these kinds of reminders, I will go forth.

  19. Wow – what an incredibly beautiful and moving story.  Though I’m not a religious person, I’m grateful for the The Potter’s House for providing such a valuable service and for helping Marlon to find a better way in the world.  Very inspiring – thanks for sharing this 🙂

  20. Wow! That’s an amazing story. I honestly think we learn more about the heart of God from those who are marginalized and on the fringes than all the well-educated, preachers of the world.

  21. I just purchased your ebooks on writing and could not open any files. the PDFs came out as one blank page. Now you have my money and I have no product. What’s going on?

  22. Ok, you’re making me cry here. This story is not only inspiring, but also challenging. Am I doing enough to reach people in need? No way. Thanks for the challenge.

  23. Jeff, 
    Thanks for sharing such an inspirational story. Yes, I have met several individuals who truly were amazing and inspirational. I shared many of their stories in my first book, ONE MORE SERVING, from a man whose wife was killed when a drunk driver drove his truck into their bedroom, to an individual who gave up a 6 figure income to start a clinic in Guatemala, to a gentleman who panhandled on the streets of Atlanta while trying to get into law school, because of an unbelievable defining moment when he turned 17. Each one made me realize our blessings are so taken for granted. Marlon’s story just serves to remind us of how fragile life is and how it’s not what you have but what you do with what you have to make life work for you. Great post!

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