Transforming Lives in Cairo’s Garbage VillagesBy Glenn Smith
Many of the villagers feed most of the organic garbage to their pigs—indicating that they are at least nominal Christians (Muslims will not have anything to do with pigs). “While this means the villagers are a despised minority, it also means there are various freedoms in the garbage village that we don’t have anywhere else,” Rebecca says. “We can meet openly as we assume everybody is a Christian. We can say things without being accused of evangelising.”
Garbage, People and Pigs
Father Samaan, a Coptic Orthodox priest, manages the work Rebecca is involved in. Thirty years ago, he gave up his job in the city to become an ordained priest in the garbage village. When he began, the village had no churches, schools, electricity, water, medical care or markets. It was just garbage, people and pigs. When thousands were brought to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, the first thing they wanted to do was build a church—and Father Samaan became their priest. Today, the garbage collectors are filled with love and motivation from God. This is what changed their village. The village is a bustling, hopeful community of thirty thousand people. They still collect garbage; however, they now have three schools, a hospital and many churches.
Blessing in Caves
The churches are located in caves that were blocked by rubble. It was only when one small cave was discovered that residents realised they were surrounded by caves. While that first cave was being converted into a chapel, residents found another one that is now used for church services of up to four thousand people. They soon realised that another cave could be transformed into an enormous amphitheatre to seat fifteen thousand people. “Regular church services are held there and people come from all over Cairo—not just from the garbage village—to worship with other Christians,” Rebecca explains. “It is the only place, other than the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where Christians can meet in large numbers in Egypt.” Father Samaan now pastors the largest church in the Middle East and one of the best known in Egypt.
Rebecca also ministers to Sudanese refugees who have come to Egypt as a result of the war in Sudan. Because Egypt does not have United Nations refugee camps like the African nations around Sudan, refugees who come to Egypt have no means of support other than what the churches provide. “It is good they are out of Sudan, because they were very badly treated there and many were fleeing for their lives,” Rebecca says. “However, while they are safe in Egypt, there are a whole host of new problems that they never could have envisioned.
“Our English-speaking church ministers to about seventy Sudanese people each week. They are lovely people who, under persecution, have discovered a deep relationship with God. We keep praying that the war will stop so they would be able to go home again. That is really what they want. In the meantime, we will help in any way we can.”
Glenn Smith is senior associate for urban mission for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and is executive director of Christian Direction in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is a professor of urban theology and missiology at the Institut de theologie pour la Francophonie at the Université de Montréal and at the Université chrétienne du Nord d’Haïti. He is also professor of urban missiology at Bakke Graduate University in Seattle, Washington, USA. Smith is editor of the Urban Communitees section.