God came to Garbage City
Miracles in Garbage City and a Cave Church for 20,000 people.
“He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor. 1:28-29)
Egypt: How God came to Garbage City
God heard the cries of a community of despised and rejected people. Those deemed the lowest in Egyptian society – the Zabbaleen or ‘garbage people’ of Mokkatam Village.
Every morning at the crack of dawn over 7,000 rubbish collectors leave Garbage City on horse carts or small trucks and move into the city of Cairo, where they collect over 13,000 tons of rubbish from nearly 17 million residents, and return to the narrow streets of Garbage City, bringing the refuse into their homes. Here the women and children sort it into piles of organic and inorganic garbage. Organic garbage is used to feed the livestock that roam the streets of the people’s homes.
“Then, nearly 30 years ago, one man did care.”
There was a time when it seemed as though life would never change for these people. And no-one cared. Because they were doing a filthy task, a job no-one wanted. And then, nearly thirty years ago, one man did care – Father Samaan.
“When I first came to Garbage City and stood at the first street, the homes were all made of tent. The people didn’t have a chair to sit on. They sat on cardboard on the floor. There were no roads, no electricity or water. It was not fit for human life. The stench from the dead animals was horrible. But I was not really affected by all of this. What affected me personally was the people who were in need of the grace of Christ. Everything else did not matter.”
The realisation of the lostness of these people burned deep into Father Samaan’s heart. Right then, he decided to be God’s instrument of change. He would wade through pig pens and literally pull people from the mud and mire, and present them with God’s love.
“God told me to kiss their hand and put shoes on their feet.”
“When I went to invite the people to come and hear about God, they would hide in the pig pens. I used to go in with sandals and couldn’t get my feet out of the mud. Then God told me to wear boots. The second thing He told me was to take a torch because it was very dark. So I tucked my trousers into my boots and took my torch to find them. It was not easy for them to come. God told me to take their hand and kiss their hand. Then kiss their head, and if they still didn’t want to come, take shoes and put them on their feet. That would really shake them and then they would come with me. All this I learned from the Holy Spirit who taught me how to work in this area.”
We continue our story of how God came to the most despised and rejected people in Egyptian society – the garbage collectors of Mokkatam Village.
As the number of believers began to grow, it became evident that the Zabbaleen would need a place to worship. In 1986, when a workman dropped a rock to the ground and it fell into a natural cave, they knew that God had answered their prayers.
Father Samaan personally supervised the moving of centuries of rubble that lay in the cave, carved out by the pharaos of old who had used the stones to build the pyramids. Many rebuked him for working so passionately and mocked him with questions of whether the stones mattered more than souls. But Father Samaan was simply preparing a place that would one day seat over 20,000 people. He was on a mission with God, and every decision was made in simple obedience. “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” he says. “When I make a sacrifice without obedience it means nothing.”
“Signs of transformation include the building of schools and clinics”
Over the last three decades many miracles have happened on Mokkatam mountain. Tiny shacks have been replaced with brick buildings. The streets have been paved. The children still play amongst the rubbish, but now they have a future because true transformation is taking place. Signs of this transformation include the building of schools, clinic and churches, all right in the heart of Garbage City. Vocational school includes classes, teaching sewing and knitting. Each item made has a value and a use. Take the burial shrouds which will be used in coffins that young boys are being taught to make in woodwork classes.
Despite the appearance of excessive amounts of garbage, there is a creative system of sorting in place. Plastics, metal and paper are gathered and transferred to large bails that are lowered from rooftops and taken into recycling rooms. Here the plastics are melted and used for recycling. Despite the strong stench of burning plastic, the people are eager to work, turning the garbage into usable items.
The efficiency of the Zabbaleen recycling system received international recognition. Far ahead of any modern ‘green’ initiatives, they recycle 80 percent of the garbage they collect, while most Western garbage collecting companies can only recycle about 20-25 percent of the waste. (source)
“Delivering the oppressed is almost a daily occurrence.”
Today, walking the streets of Garbage City, people still flock to Father Samaan and his colleagues who gently move with love and compassion amongst the people. Father Samaan is often inundated with requests for prayer and healing. This work requires great faith, and God often reveals himself in miracles and signs and wonders. Delivering the oppressed and possessed is almost a daily occurrence on Mokkatam mountain. And as people find freedom in Christ, they begin to find beauty in the ashes.
Despite an ever-increasing demand of his attention, Father Samaan never compromises enjoying his time alone with God. He knows that God is raising up labourers from the harvest. “A garbage collector’s job is to collect garbage from Cairo. So when one of them knows Christ, they become a light to the world. Without even evangelizing, his life is a testimony.”
“Those garbage collectors can reach all the people for Christ”
Ever the visionary, Father Samaan regularly retreats to the desert outside Cairo where he shares his vision of building a church that will seat 5,000, and a retreat centre where the Zabbaleen can leave the squalor of Garbage City and enjoy the open spaces. Despite the scorn these people face, Father Samaan earnestly believes that Garbage City people will be used by God to turn the heart of Cairo to the Lord. “We [The Coptic Church] cannot reach all the people because we are so limited. We only have masses and meetings in our churches. But those garbage collectors can reach all the people. God has chosen them to be a blessing for Egypt. And He said: Blessed be Egypt my people.”
As the sun sets over Mokkatam mountain on a Thursday evening, the garbage collectors leave the rubbish in the streets and move into the grounds of the Cave Church. Here they gather for a time of teaching and preparation for ministry.
Adel Gad El Karim serves at the church. “Someone told me not just to think of myself as a garbage collector. Because in Jesus my value is great. So now I’m an evangelist and the nations come to me [visiting the church] and I can tell them how Jesus changed my life.”
Changing lives and pointing them to the Father is the goal of Father Samaan’s live, who has become as dear as an earthly father to the people of Garbage City. He is their arbitrator and confident. He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is their spiritual leader and companion. But to God the Father he is simply a man who has lived a live of obedience and whose daily prayer ‘More of You and less of me’ has been answered.
“A simple prayer: More of you and less of me”
“This is our time to change our world,” says Father Samaan. “We need to cry, scream, travail and groan, to pray day and night. And the Lord will support this work of the Holy Spirit. But we’re not just talking about Jesus in words, but also in miracles which will follow our faith, and the world will see and believe and come back to Christ.”
Joel News International 850, 851, March 3, 6, 2013
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