It was an odd feeling to be floating down the Nile River in Cairo, considering the fact that not so long ago I was a young boy who stood on the banks of a rural stream, without a name, in Wisconsin–barefoot, muddy and whose only care was finding a shell, creature or fossil. It’s been a long journey in every respect. But, there I was only one week ago taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a world so very different than the one from which I came. But, lately, that’s what my life is like.
My first night in Cairo took me to the Cave Church located in the heart of “Garbage City”. Garbage City is the name that is given to the area where the trash collectors of Cairo are forced to live. By and large this is a Christian area. Upon entering this borough of refuse, you don’t need eyes to know you’ve arrived. But, if you open your eyes, you see a thriving community that takes items that other people discard and repurposes them into commerce-worthy product. There are shops and warehouses that prove the ingenuity of these people. This recycling operation has become a community-supporting endeavor. It’s not clean, but it works for the Christians and poor citizens who reside here. The Cave Church and the Mokattam Mountain, where the church resides, have a long and amazing history that you can read about here and here.
What I noticed most about the Cave Church is that it is a thriving, safe haven for Christians. Not only is the main cave sanctuary large enough to seat 15,000 congregants, the compound is alive in every respect. I arrived here at 11pm to find scores of adolescent boys playing soccer, having youth groups and enjoying the fellowship of others. There was pure joy in this place of refuge, within this place of refuse. There are also regular accounts of healings, salvations and active ministry in this Orthodox establishment. It certainly wasn’t what I had expected!
The next day I was treated to a dinner cruise on the Nile. I was able to see the clear disparity in classes along the riverbanks. I was told there are now only two classes in Cairo – the very rich and the very poor. Along the Nile small farms are active, there are grain depots that collect and distribute feed, and families that fish from their small vessels with nets. In contrast, there were also 5 star hotels and large office complexes. Likewise on the streets you are just as likely to be passed by a Mercedes, as to pass a cart and donkey.
I also met with two senior ministry leaders and benefited from their wisdom and perspective. I was able to tour the SAT-7 Egypt office and studio, made new friends and was encouraged by the Godly focus of the ministry here.
I had to ask myself several times, “how did I get here?” The answer comes in the following verse:
Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
And to prove it isn’t an indication that I arrived here according to my own abilities, verse 5 is an accurate depiction of who I am alone:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5
I haven’t seen the Lord with my own eyes, but I know Him and He knows me. Because of this, He has taken me far from the shores of the unknown stream.