God amidst the Garbage

Having just returned from 3 weeks in the Middle East seeking the presence of God I thought it would be good to share the following story. It is based on experience, not theory, for I was able to personally visit the area described over three days, witness what was happening with my own eyes and speak and pray with the key leader.

Mokkatam is a huge district on the outskirts of Cairo now fabled for its garbage. When the government authorities forced tens of thousands of Coptic Christians to move there some years ago this caused great despair. The area had no hospitals and schools and still lacks electricity, sewage, running water and paved roads. The one thing it has is trash – this is the rubbish collection centre for a city of 20 million people. The major industry in what is locally known as “garbage city” is recycling; individual families focus on particularly products such as bottles, plastic containers, planks of wood, pieces of metal etc. Streets are filled with carts pulled by horse or donkey often stacked 2.5 to 3m high with rubbish.  The stench is overwhelming and the fly population puts Australia to shame.

Pigs who fed on the rotting food were once a healthy source of protein, but when the swine flu epidemic hit in 2009 the pro –Islamic government used this as a pretext to slaughter the animals without compensation. Life has always been tough for the residents of this outward “hell-hole”, and many were deeply mired in alcoholism and drug addiction. Enter the now famous Father Samaan.

When this Coptic Orthodox priest encountered some of the residents of garbage city he was appalled by their poverty, destitution hopelessness and sin. Reluctantly, he was guided by dreams and visions to take on the pastorate of a very small congregation worshipping in a tin shed with a reed roof. Then things began to change. Living and speaking with the people at their own level, from the beginning Father Samaan has preached a gospel of repentance in the streets of Mokkatam with signs of healing, miracles and deliverances.  This is exactly what we saw when thousands assembled for a meeting one Thursday night. I have never witnessed such a bold yet fatherly ministry of Christ-like compassion. People throng for prayer, sprinkling with holy water and the laying on of hands. The crush of the crowds to receive a blessing and the visible release of screaming tortured souls from demonic powers took my mind back immediately to passages in the Gospels (Mark 1:32-34).

How did the scene move from a congregation of eleven in a tin shed to a vast stone amphitheatre that holds 15,000 people? With a growing congregation Father Samaan had a huge problem; there was no way the Egyptian authorities would give permission for a new Christian church on available land. After 5 years of prayer to God for provision of a new worship venue a local workman “stumbled upon” the opening to a huge cavern filled with rubble. As this refuse was removed antiquities were uncovered that proved that the site had been a church centuries ago. The way was open to clear the entire cavern, 250,000 tonnes in all, and the now famous “cave church” was born.

What does all this teach us in Perth today? This is certainly not Egypt! We are comfortable, affluent and live in a society which tolerates all religions. Something however seems to be lacking in our midst- we are short of the sort of faith and miracles through which “garbage city” has been transformed. Nevertheless, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8). I am convinced that Jesus is moved with mercy for the lost and broken of our city just as much as he is moved for the desolate of Cairo. The compassionate fatherly heart of God so visible in Father Samaan desires to manifest itself with the same love and power through us! Surely if we ask for such things God will hear us and change the world in which we live.

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