The Church in Garbage City
Joshua Mikhaiel is a professional third wheel and story teller. He often photographs weddings in Sydney, but in 2017 he travelled to Cairo, Egypt with some of our team to see the persecuted church of Egypt. What he discovered was anything but a weak church.
I like comfort. I think we all do.
That’s what makes being uncomfortable so distressing. Comfort is one of the biggest obstacles in being effective witnesses for Jesus.
Jesus came to live among broken people and live in our mess to show us the depths of God’s love for us.
Image: A streetscene in Egypt.
I was shocked and challenged by the example of real sacrificial love I witnessed in Egypt.
As our bus drove through the outskirts of Cairo, we were briefed on a bit of church history.
Growth Through Discomfort
Egyptian believers face a huge degree of social persecution. They are a heavily outnumbered minority, and have endured incredibly heinous attacks for many years.
But the church in Egypt does not shrink back. In the face of persecution, the church is growing.
Image: The streets of Cairo
Whenever we brought up the recent attacks, or the general persecution, the response was always the same, “Yes it’s hard, but we’re growing because of it.”
Churches across Egypt even saw a huge surge in attendance after the most recent Easter attacks.
We were told about a Cave Church that could seat 20,000 worshippers at once. It was built out of a cleared cave in the side of a mountain overlooking Cairo in an area known as ‘Garbage City’. This is a majority Christian area, one of very few in Egypt.
My heart broke a little when we were told why.
Employment can be very difficult for Christians in Egypt. Many workplaces will specify “no Christians”. As a result, a huge number of Christians end up working as unofficial garbage collectors.
The bus was silent as we drove through Garbage City. It seemed like most of the rubbish is brought into their house to be sorted and either buried or recycled. This city was surreal, practically a rubbish dump with flats rising up out of the piles of rubbish. It seemed almost as if it was growing out of the homes, like a weed grows through the cracks in concrete.
The Church In Garbage City
There was no official church inside Garbage City, until Father Simon was approached to lead a congregation in the heart of the city. He was told it was perfectly fine for him to travel in to lead the people and then return home to Cairo for a more comfortable existence.
Image: Christians gathering inside the Cave Church.
But Father Simon thought fondly of his God, who came down into our mess and brought hope to the hopeless, light into the darkness, life to those who were dead.
He was not content to lead people he wasn’t living with. So he moved into the garbage, into the mess. Just like Jesus did for us.
Today he leads an Egyptian megachurch in the most unlikely of places. With an insane seating capacity only matched by the insane amount of faith it took to create and sustain this work of God. We sat in awe as we watched thousands worship.
A Muslim woman near the front had come to be prayed for. I heard the most mind-boggling statistic: Father Simon has baptised 10,000 Muslim converts to Christianity since 2011.
A Room Full Of Wheelchairs
Father Simon’s church even boasts a room by the stage filled with wheelchairs. These are relics left behind by those who’d found healing in Christ. A testament to God’s power in a place where it might be easy to forget and lose hope.
Image: The room full of wheelchairs people no longer needed.
We met some other incredibly brave and faithful men and women. I don’t have room to share all their stories, but Father Simon’s is one which I think will challenge my own comfort for a long time to come.
I have such a hard time giving anything, even my time, to step into the mess of those who need Jesus’ love poured out practically into their lives.
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." – 2 Corinthians 8:9
Those who need Jesus, need the Church to show up and be with them. We are the Church – the body of Christ. Will you take up the call to go, as He did, and get messy with those who so desperately need to meet Him?
Image: Christians in Egypt displaying Coptic cross tattoos - a permanent reminder of their faith in Jesus.