TRAVEL THERE: HUMBLED BY THEIR HUMILITY
There is a section of Cairo on Mokattum Mountain that is the home of the garbage people. They are outcasts of polite society. It’s enough that they are garbage collectors, but they are also Christians, almost 100% of them, and in a predominately Muslim country, that too is a problem. Yet rarely have I been in a place with as much joy.
Curiosity Got Me There
Sometimes in Egypt it’s hard to discern what is fact and what is just tradition. Take the Pompey Pillar in Alexandria for instance. Everybody knows the pillar has nothing at all to do with Pompey, yet his name continues to cling to it.
Mokottum mountain has a lot of traditions attached to it, not just the story of the Coptic pope with the faith of a mustard seed, who got the mountain to move. The name of the mountain, which means “broken mountain,” is considered proof of …I’m not sure what to call it – event, miracle, legend, tradition. I’ve also heard a story of a Bible being found floating in the Nile opened to a particular verse which led to the location of this church – or another church. The details are fluid. With so much smoke about Mokattum, I wanted to check out the fire.
The Zabbalene (garbage collector) neighborhood of Cairo is not a garden spot. It has a very distinctive, unpleasant and fetid odor in the air. As we rolled through the area the reason became apparent. Huge piles of garbage sit everywhere, waiting to be sorted through. Someone opened the garage-like door of a warehouse as we drove by. Inside were more mounds of garbage, which I presume were more valuable than those which sat in the open air. At this point in the tour I was still a curious tourist.
We arrived at the entrance of the church and joined a small group being lectured to by someone from the church. Izzat and Zuzu disappeared for this part. At first it was the usual tour guide stuff. This guy started this church this way in this year. We have this many members.
The facts buzzed around my head as I followed the guide from one area of the church to another. I shifted from listening to observing. This guy was neatly groomed, but it was obvious his outfit came from the piles of garbage. He could have used a haircut, but you could tell he had a self assurance and self esteem many pampered US teens could benefit from.
I also saw joy. He loves his church. He was so excited to share each and every piece of information with us. He was so proud of the carvings on the wall. He is in awe of the huge number of people who show up each week to worship. It’s the largest church in the Middle East.
His joy was not just associated with the church. His personal testimony is that God loves him, protects him and provides for him. He is so grateful to be a part of the Body of Christ.
I saw how I must look to him – a privileged tourist. Imagine how many meals, how much education, how much medical care and other basic needs could be filled with the money Bill and I had spent to be right there at that time. He had every reason to resent me and my intrusion into his life, but instead he was thrilled we had shown an interest in his community. He hoped we’d come back and worship with him. We spoke to him briefly to tell him how much we admired the church and were humbled by his joy. He spoke to us as an equal, holding his head high and treating us like a fellow brother and sister in Christ.
After the tour, Bill visited the restroom and could not resist taking this picture. It broke our hearts. I thought of all our country club mega-churches with our slick-talking celebrity pastors. I thought of the people who prefer to participate in ministries that will take them on vacation mission trips. I thought of all the $1-3 donations people thoughtlessly tack onto their grocery bill or pet shop total, and then forget about by the time they get to their car. I thought of all the money we spend on saving cats and dogs, when these people so desperately need a little saving. How in the world does that stack up to the needs of those in Mokattum?
Those garbage collectors have it right and I admire them. I walked away from Mokattum Church a little different than I arrived. The guide’s love and acceptance of me expanded my own heart a little bit. I didn’t come home and sell everything that I have, but I’ve got a new understanding of the joy of the Lord and I’m trying to practice it with the same abandon as my brother in Mokattum.
It was on odd place to go for our final tour in Egypt. Luxury hotels, museum visits, yacht trips and a city of garbage collectors. Next week, I’ll share our last few hours in Egypt. I’m writing this particular post on a pretty day in February, knowing it will be posted in August, and that’s a little weird. Who knows what adventures will follow this blog series!