Thursday, January 19, 2012

Symbiosis: The people and the promise in Cairo's worst slums

Children living in "Garbage Town"
This is a harder post to write. The topic is still travel, yes, and - as always - loaded with spectacular venue, but today I'm focused more on the deep struggle that so much of humanity engages just to make it through the day.

Rebekah and I were bumped up to business class when we flew from Athens to Cairo on "Egypt Air." It was a strange contrast to arrive in the absolute lap of luxury, then drive through a city teeming with 20-million people where squalor seems to be ubiquitous. Tired, rundown infrastructure; desperate living conditions; piles of festering garbage; unfinished apartment blocks occupied regardless of the conditions.

Then, having seen Great Pyramids and treasured antiquities, we visited a children's mission in the heart of "Garbage City."

Children are a splash of color and light
Mother Maggie's Mission is located in the "Garbage City" on the edges of Cairo. Yes, I said "garbage." The town is the industry; the industry is waste; the community is built around the refuse; the garbage is the town. The economy amounts to sifting through the garbage in order to salvage anything potentially useful, to dispose of what can't be somehow re-claimed, and then to live off the refuse. The community exists on and is built around garbage. The relationship between the people and the waste is symbiotic. Yes, symbiosis with garbage... waste... trash... refuse.

Hope for the future
The mission we visited is a day program designed to get one child per home exposed to an environment where they can imagine a different tomorrow. One child spending a few hours each day in the presence of a little education, a little hope, a little promise, a lot of love and the Good News of Jesus. "You are not garbage; you are beautiful children, special creations from the heart of a God who loves you with as much passion as God loves anyone on this troubled Earth."

So we met some of them. Children make your heart sing, and they also make your heart cry. Often both at the same time.

Washing the child's feet
At the gate - and this was telling - we saw a woman washing the feet of a child. They were seated under a mural of Jesus doing just that to his disciples. "We do this for every child," the director told us. "We do this to teach humility to our staff, and we do it to model the way Jesus looks at ministry."

Farther up the mountain, through streets running knee-deep with refuse and head-high in festering despair, there is an amazing church built literally into the side of the cliff. Each Thursday evening, thousands of residents stream into the place to worship God and to hear the message of promise and redemption.
In Egypt, ground zero for the Arab Spring, there is another revolution going on. It's a revolution against hopelessness.

Garbage City
In Romans 8, Paul talks about how creation literally groans in anticipation as it contemplates the full meaning of a restored world. "For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."
Children of light were not designed to live in the middle of garbage. But we do. We all do in some regard. The Gospel is all about liberation, and promise, and the end of a life defined by decay and by existing in the middle of filth.

The Red Sea
I don't have a tidy answer for these children, other than my voice, support for such missions and an unremitting advocacy for justice in this broken world.

But Jesus offers answers - both for those who live up to their necks in physical garbage and those of us who live mired in other kinds of messes.

But enough for today, this is a post, not a chapter in my next book - DEREK

Into the Sinai desert
P.S. That evening we crossed the Suez, made our way alongside the Red Sea for a while (above), and drove into the desert. This picture (left) just scratches the surface of the harsh beauty. Tomorrow's post: "Climbing Mount Sinai"

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