WEEK OF PRAYER: One man's trash is another's treasure
EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 2-9 with the theme of "BE His heart, His hands, His voice" from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists' 5,000 international missionaries' initiatives in sharing the Gospel. This year's offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to www.imb.org/offering.
CAIRO (BP) -- A wise man builds his house upon rock; a foolish man builds his house upon sand. On the outskirts of Cairo, approximately 300 people have built their houses upon trash.But amid the stench and squalor of shifting garbage, God is building a church on a firm foundation.
Desperate for shelter on the outskirts of Cairo, residents use whatever they can find -- sheets of tin and discarded cardboard -- to create makeshift residences within this garbage village.
For more than 20 years, families living here have collected trash from area homes and businesses to make some cash. It is estimated that the 17 million people of greater Cairo throw away 13,000 tons of garbage every day.
Men rise early in the mornings to gather refuse and transport it back to their community in weathered pickup trucks or overflowing carts pulled by horses or donkeys. Some businesses bring the garbage to them.
"Society looks down [on us]," says Joseph,* 31, who has lived in this slum for 14 years. "The smell is not good, the environment is not good." Regardless, he says, he has a message for fellow residents in one of Egypt's poorest areas: "You are not garbage."
Joseph's family moved to this garbage village from Asyut, Egypt, when he was 15. His father was a garbage collector and believed relocating closer to Cairo would offer more job opportunities.
Believing education was key to a better future, Joseph was determined to go to school. His parents sent him back to Asyut to live with his grandmother during the school year until he finished high school.
It was during his teens that Joseph began attending a Bible study. As he read the Scriptures, Joseph felt God transforming his life -- in more ways than one. He realized his worth in Christ was greater than his circumstances in the dump. At 18, he became a believer and the study group leader began mentoring him. He also began attending a nearby seminary.
It was around this time that a neighborhood girl caught Joseph's eye. Hiba*, who was born and raised in the garbage village, was a Christian when she met Joseph at a home Bible study. The two dated for five years before marrying.
As Joseph studied the Bible, the verses about God choosing the poor of the world to shame the rich resonated with him. Though he and Hiba had dreams of bettering their circumstances, God made it clear He wanted them to serve among their community.
"God put in my heart to build a church here," Joseph says. "That has been my dream since [becoming a believer] 10 years ago."
First worship service
In June 2011, Joseph saw his dream realized. He and several other believers began building a church from discarded cinderblocks and mud. A local Egyptian Baptist church heard about the undertaking and offered leadership and financial support. On Dec. 30, 2011, the church held its first worship service under a partial roof.
Since that first service, three people have prayed to receive Christ. This gives Southern Baptists reason to celebrate.
Southern Baptist workers in North Africa and the Middle East are training Joseph and local pastors in outreach and evangelism and providing them with needed resources to support church plants.
In fact, Joseph's church is but one of many in a rich history of Baptist ministry in Egypt.
"Southern Baptists were very influential through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon [Christmas Offering]," says Ron Robinson*, a Christian worker who served in Egypt for 29 years and witnessed the beginning of Baptist work. "When we first went [to Egypt], the work was evangelism that resulted in churches. That was our statement."
The work has led to a vital impact on Egyptian churches, which are answering the call to reach their own people.
"Now we have partners on the ground near cultural believers who are very capable of sharing the Gospel and dreaming of reaching their country and communities for the Lord," Robinson notes.
Those partners include Joseph. He has more big dreams for his neighborhood. He hopes to raise enough money to finish the church building, which will take about three months to complete. In addition to bringing water and electricity to the entire village, he wants his slum be to legally recognized as a community by the government in Cairo.
His continued prayer is to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ to all.
"In the middle of all this [garbage], where a person could be psychologically broken and worn out, I know and believe that Jesus loves the people and is looking for them," he says.
"I have lived this.
"God created us as a church, not to be closed in on ourselves but to serve the society around us," he adds.
"The people here are very precious to our Lord."
No matter where they build their houses.
*Names changed. Yvonne Carrington and Marie Curtis are writers/editors for the International Mission Board. Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the Gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.