One of the oldest cities in the world, Cairo (Egypt)
has a rich history and culture that dates back to
biblical times. Whereas the pyramids, the Nile and
the rich culture may appeal to foreigners, such
romanticism may not be prevalent among the nearly
twelve million people who live in Cairo.
Every ten months, the country’s population grows
by one million; every day, this capital city sees an
influx of one thousand new residents! Fifteen
percent of the city’s population does not have
access to portable water, 4.2 million residents live
without access to a sewage system and Cairo’s
poor air quality accounts for over two percent of
all deaths. Cairo boasts to having one of the
poorest air pollution levels in the world.
Often considered the “Jewel of the Nile, ” Cairo may
preach elegance to the world. But for the millions
who live in abject poverty and in wretched conditions,
Cairo is less of a gem and more of a rock.
While he revolutionised Bible missions in Egypt, she became “Mother Theresa” to the untouchables of Garbage City outside of Cairo.
The husband and wife team of Ramez and Rebecca Atallah allow God to inspire them to help people know God better and express Jesus’ love in Cairo. Ramez was born in Egypt; he immigrated to Canada as a child in the 1960s. In 1980, the couple took their children and moved from Montréal to Egypt. Since 1990, Ramez has headed up the Bible Society of Egypt. His desire was to see scripture become relevant for Egyptian Christians, so he began finding new formats and styles in which to present God’s word. Both Ramez and Rebecca work closely with the Coptic Orthodox Church in their respective ministries.
Rebecca is a key worker at the St. Simon Coptic Orthodox Church in the Mokattam garbage village. Over the last twenty-five years she has helped with church planting and providing Christian education among the lowest of the low, Egypt’s untouchables. Her gentle, compassionate way of ministering and befriending people has helped hundreds of untouchables realise their potential and value in God.
Countless thousands of people who live in garbage villages
collect and recycle garbage they pick up from apartments
and homes in wealthier neighborhoods.
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.