Cairo: Mokkatam 2010

August 11, 2010

“How was your summer?”

Humbling. Challenging. Rewarding. Joy-filled.

In so many ways I was confronted with myself: that sinful, broken vulnerability that I have become so adept at hiding at home. I left for Cairo with all these ideas of what poverty is, what ministry is, and how God would use me this summer. I was wrong.

In some ways I was trying to control the experience by giving God a list of things He could and couldn't teach me. He could show me His heart for justice, but not the ways I am so often the oppressor. He could teach me about ministry to the urban poor as long as I could operate within my interests and skill-sets.

When God started confronting me with myself, it hurt more than I would like to admit. I began to justify what I saw. “So what if the Zabaleen only make $20/week, things are cheaper in Egypt... but I can make $20 in two hours… but, it could be worse... but Warda's family doesn't even have running water... but they are so joyful...” and on and on the tug-of-war raged.

Where is God in the poverty? He's there, I saw Him. Then why are my friends still so poor? Why am I so wealthy? What do I do now?

Yesterday, I climbed Mount Washington. The trail we climbed rose 4200 ft in 4.1 miles. To an experienced hiker this is nothing, but anyone who's ever been on a trek would know how stupid it is to attempt such a climb a week after getting home. I spent my summer not exercising, being sick, and breathing the most heavily polluted air imaginable. I get winded climbing a flight of stairs.

As I climbed the difficult, rocky trail, I kept thinking about the way we were challenged in the Trek – to take the hard road when we returned home, to learn how to integrate well everything God had taught us – and I thought about how I had failed to do that. I refused to stay mentally engaged. I walked away from the mountain. I saved myself from a lot of frustration, pain, and potential humiliation, but I robbed myself of the view.

The view from the top of Tuckerman's Ravine is one of the most fabulous sights I have ever witnessed. I robbed myself of that picture God wanted to give me, and the deeper reliance on Him that comes from dealing with the hard issues, that feeling of needing His provision just to make it to the next cairn.

Thankfully, he uses me, despite me. I wasted a week. God is giving me a lifetime to learn. I’m embracing this time of questioning, searching, wrestling and dreaming. Living in a slum for the summer didn't make me perfect or even a very good person. But it gave me the opportunity to touch Jesus in a new way and to allow him to radically transform me. This summer was just the beginning.


July 27, 2010

“Hello! Hello! What’s your name?”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this shouted at us this summer, it would have funded my trip. The local kids follow our team like paparazzi. At first it was really cute… then less so... then slightly annoying… then pull-your-hair-out frustrating. I wonder if this is how the disciples felt when they tried to keep the children from going to Jesus. Maybe the kids were just plain obnoxious. But Jesus’ response was “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Really, Jesus? Your Kingdom belongs to the snot-nosed, crying babies we’ve spent the last five weeks trying to appease? We have spent a considerable amount of our summer with kids. Some of us came in adoring kids. Some of us didn’t even know what children are. The rest of us fell somewhere along that spectrum. But no matter what our experiences were previously, Jesus gave us no choice this summer. We found the Kingdom among the kids.

The children became our teachers, though technically we were there to teach them. They taught us Arabic with more patience and grace than I ever extended to them in our English lessons. They were constantly helping us out culturally – teaching us what it or isn’t culturally appropriate, teaching us how to eat, acting things out when we didn’t understand. They were extremely helpful. But the biggest lesson they taught us was humility, and I believe it’s this Kingdom value of theirs that prompted Jesus’ reaction to the disciples.

We often joke that the Egyptians like us because we’re like babies. They can feed us, poke us, play with us, make funny faces at us, and all we can do is smile and look cute. It’s funny, but there’s an element of truth in just how much like children we have to become upon entering another culture. It’s incredibly humbling.

We have been humbled by the love poured on us by the Egyptians. We have been humbled by their patience and grace. We have been humbled by their unending generosity. And we have been humbled both in serving them and in being served by them.

I never thought I’d say it, but I think we all miss the children now that we’re back in Mexico for debrief. It’s so quiet we don’t know what to do with ourselves. There’s no one tugging on our arms, ripping at our clothes, force-feeding us ketchup-flavored chips, and making it impossible for us to find just a moment of peace and quiet.

We learned to become like the children. And Jesus taught us to love the children. Now that we’re gone, we find ourselves praying for the children of Mokkatam and the legacy of child-like humility they left with us.


July 15, 2010

One day recently the hospital (where we work cutting and making bandages) was performing several surgeries. There were five tonsillectomies. The fourth patient, a seventeen-year-old girl, walked in and lay on the bed. Right before the anesthetics took effect, she told the doctors her name was Teresa.

Immediately, her pulse and oxygen levels became irregular, but the doctors and nurses went on ahead to take the tonsils out, which took about ten minutes. They had a lot of trouble reviving her. It was the first time the hospital had experienced a reaction to the anesthesia like Teresa’s. Later that afternoon, we learned that Teresa had died.

It was a big shock because I always thought tonsillectomies were minor surgeries and therefore safe. We were not the only ones. The whole city was surprised. Not many patients die from tonsillectomies even here. The team also learned that Teresa was Mousa’s sister. Mousa had been spending a lot of time with the team and helping with various ministries. The whole team went to Mousa’s house to pay our respects and pray for the family. The house was full of much despair, anger and confusion.

Due to my own experience with death in the family, I could empathize with Teresa’s family. I had a lot of trouble sleeping afterwards. I realized I was going through the same emotions and thoughts after staying with my mom as she passed away. I had forgotten how difficult it was to lose a loved one.

When it is most difficult to see and understand what God is doing, it is most important to trust and know that God is still working for good. I remember the peace and comfort I received knowing there is much more to life than the one on earth. I remember how much God used our family and friends to encourage us in so many ways.

I wanted so much to relay all that God had taught me, but I believe God will work in his own way. I am praying that God would be working even more powerfully and evidently in Teresa’s family during this time of grieving.


July 14, 2010

Last weekend we headed to Dahab, Egypt, to a resort on the Red Sea for our mid-project retreat. It was a great weekend of rest, and we all found time to reflect on our experiences and what God has been doing among us. We all had fun, but were ready to come back to Mokattam.

As we left our air-conditioned tour bus and walked back into Mokattam, we were hit with the realities of poverty once again. But instead of feeling reluctant to leave the comfort of the resort, we were filled with joy at the sights and smells of our temporary home. We were eager to live out the last two weeks of our time here to the fullest. Jesus blessed that desire.

It was an intense week of internships, but God met and blessed us through it. One of the teachers at the handicap school invited many of us to her home for lunch on Monday. We were completely overwhelmed by her generosity and the amount of work she and her family put into thre meal. They served us duck stuffed with barley, lamb, fried chicken tenders, molokhayya (a traditional Egyptian soup), okra soup, eggplant pita, and rice followed by fresh mango juice and traditional Egyptian tea. It was a feast, and we were all humbled by the (incredibly full) experience.

We always find joy when we are invited into people’s homes. We praise God for the hospitality he has given this culture. On Wednesday night we had Arabic lessons. Just ask uswhen we get home – we’re very good… Or at least we’re getting better at pretending to know what’s going on.

Thursday night is the main Coptic service held here at the monastery. Most of our team attended, while a few of us were invited to a wedding. Both were good cultural experiences and ways to rejoice in the Lord.

Friday morning we spent time with the handicapped ministers and learned more about the history of the handicapped ministry here and their vision for the future with the building of the Center of Love. The Center of Love will centralize the ministry. It will house the school, medical clinics, speech and physical therapy centers, and will house handicapped people that have no one to care for them. They hope to have the first three floors completed this year. Pray that finances continue to come in! It is a big dream, but we serve a big God!

Friday night we went for a boat ride on the Nile and to the protestant church service downtown. And Saturday we went to the pyramids! I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

We have just one week left before we head back to Mexico City for debriefing. Pray that we would stay focused and engaged. Pray also that we would be listening to the Holy Spirit as each of us discerns whether God is calling us to make a commitment to live incarnationally among the urban poor.


July 11, 2010

School for the Handicapped in Mokattam (Harrison, Kristy and Monica)

Every day is an adventure at the handicapped school. We never know how many children will be there. The teachers have been very welcoming and patient with the little Arabic we know. We have done many activities with the children including puzzles, coloring, and different games. They are a joy to be around each day we are there.

School for the Handicapped in Tora (Katie, Joel and Lauren)

Tora is a garbage village about twenty minutes away from Mokattam. In Tora we work with the mentally and physically handicapped kids. When we arrive, the kids love to shake our hands. We help the kids complete puzzles, teach lessons, and help them practice the colors and numbers they have learned in their notebooks.

Association for the Protection of the Environment (Josiah, Antoinette, Jessica, Brendan, Bethaney, Karen, Lori, Victor, Joel, Jeneva, Amy, Ama and Monica)

Each afternoon we teach moral values, hygiene and English to over a hundred 1st to 6th graders. Many of the children are receptive to the things we say, but limited communication and supplies sometimes hinder us. We are excited to see what we have taught the kids and what they have taught us by the end of our time here.

St. Simon-Patmos Hospital (Karen, Brendan, Stacey and Antoinette)

At the hospital, we prepare supplies used in the hospital’s procedures, like cutting bandages. We also have the opportunity to shadow the doctors, exposing us to the service of medical clinics in the context of a slum community. We have grown closer as a team through our service at the hospital, as we spend hours together cutting bandages and talking.

Sisters of Charity (Monroe, Jon, Jessica, Bethaney, Stacey, Kristy, Katie, Lori, Jeneva, Amy, Harrison, Joel, Ama and Lauren)

At this orphanage and daycare started by Mother Teresa there are lots of babies – everywhere. Tons of runny noses and messy shirts. Lots of hitting and crying. But there is also a lot of love as the nuns and other young women faithfully care for the children, and as smiles and giggles erupt around the room while volunteers and kids are at play. Sisters of Charity is a great place to serve and to see God’s kingdom flourish in small, simple ways.

Boys’ Recycling Center (Victor, Josiah, Monroe, Jon and Steve)

Four of us were able to attend a camp this week run by the BRC, a school for boys who have trouble fitting in at governmental schools. We had opportunities to learn from the boys, build relationships and share Christ’s love with them. It was an enjoyable, challenging, humbling and eye-opening experience. The boys could be undisciplined, physically rough and hard to control, but we also found that they cared for us, wanted our attention, and needed Jesus’ love. The experience grew our heart knowledge of the Zabbaleen (or ‘garbage people’) in Mokattam.

July 2, 2010

I can’t believe we’ve been here a week!

We spent our first few days adjusting to the time change, heat, language and cultural differences and finding our way around Mokattam, the monastery and downtown Cairo. It first felt as though we would never figure things out, but it has already become familiar.

When we walk down the streets instead of strangers, we see friends – amazing Egyptians who have partnered with us and shared their community and vision with us, people we have met at church or visited in homes, and children we’ve taught English and played games with. It’s amazing how quickly such a foreign place can become home.

As I write this, Jeneva and I are sitting in a tiny storefront, playing Egyptian hand games with a group of children while our host mom makes us tea. Nevermind that it’s 95 degrees and she’s cooking over an open flame in a room that lends itself better to a pantry than a store. Teresa has invited us into her home, her family and her life. She loves us, though we’ve scarcely known her a day. This is the kind of overwhelming welcome we’ve received from this incredible community. It has been humbling to say the least.

The children steal my notebook to draw and teach me Arabic. Outside, the ancient clashes with the modern as donkey carts fight trucks over the dirt roads. Garbage is piled high on both sides of the main streets and literally fills many alleys. The smell isn’t as overwhelming as we imagined it would be, but it is constant, as are the flies. Though it’s late, the streets are filled with traffic, people, and animals. I swear Egyptians never sleep.

Back at the monastery, the boys watch Portugal and Spain face off in yet another World Cup match. Soccer is incredibly important to Egyptians and we have found that you don’t need to speak the same language when it comes to sports. Men can bond over it wherever they’re from. The women that aren’t with hosts are also doing what they do best: talking. The monastery is a great place to socialize and our girls take advantage of the opportunity to meet women and children.

God is teaching us to live in the tension between the beauty and brokenness of this community. We have seen how Jesus has redeemed the people of Mokattam. They’ve started their own day cares, hospitals, youth sports programs, and handicapped ministries, and have graciously invited us into the work God is already doing here. It’s so exciting to be a part of.

But when we see kids playing in garbage, running barefoot through piles of debris, and when we imagine these could be our siblings, nieces and nephews, and one day even our own children, our hearts break with God’s. We rejoice in God’s Kingdom come, but we ache for the Kingdom where places like Mokattam won’t exist at all.


June 22, 2010

When I think of Mexico, I think about the amazing food. And we were not disappointed.

We started each morning this past week with fresh mango, pineapple, papaya, and melon, often served with honey and granola and fresh baked breads from the bakery right around the corner.

For lunch and dinner, we invaded the local stands and restaurants for tortas, tacos, tamales, or the overwhelming favorite, flautas, covered with crema, onion, tomato, avocado, and chipotle. It was fun being in the neighborhood, getting to know the vendors, and seeking the livelihood of the city.

When we weren't eating, we were doing some good old-fashioned bonding. It's amazing the way that 22 strangers can become a family in a matter of five days. Orientation is designed to facilitate the type and level of relationship building that normally takes place in months and packs it all into a matter of days.

We left all of you, our dear family and friends, just a week ago and already have been challenged in new and unique ways. We spent orientation wrestling with Isaiah 58 in which the Israelites are seeking God, fasting, and asking for God's justice but simultaneously are oppressing their own workers. We were challenged to confess the ways in which we seek the justice of God when our hearts are actually far removed and we too can become the oppressor.

Then we engaged in the incredibly difficult work of racial reconciliation. We started the conversation that will continue throughout the summer as we learn to live with and celebrate our team members that are ethnically different from ourselves, while also learning to engage in Egyptian culture. For some of us, it was painful facing our own prejudices and biases, grappling with the position God has given us in the world, learning to value who we are and the gifts we offer, and finding healing as the Spirit moved among us.

So as we were challenged in our theology of missions and poverty, as we mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared for the next five weeks – as we fasted and mourned for the 16,000 children that die of hunger each day – God met each and every one of us right where we were. He walked with us on the journey that led up to this point and will continue with us on the journey ahead.

We arrived in Mokattam last night and the realization – that we're actually here, that we're actually spending our summer living in this garbage village that the world has rejected but Jesus wants to redeem – is finally hitting us. It feels surreal, but we eagerly await His work in us this summer. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."