Just like the Bible states in 1 Corinthians 3 verse 19, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; the members of the Cave Churches have turned the waste or the garbage into very useful products through recycling.
Who are these members of the Cave Churches and where can they be found? One can easily get excited to answer these questions. Some would tell you that if you have visited Egypt without visiting the Cave Churches then you have had an incomplete tour of Egypt. Both the Cave Churches and the congregants are found in the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt. Visiting the congregants and the Cave Churches will increase one’s historical and cultural experience. The Mokattam Mountain accommodates the cave Churches while the congregants live just below it.
SEATING CAPACITY OF THE CAVE CHURCHES
There are altogether seven churches located within the Mokattam Mountain and their seating capacities vary greatly from three thousand to twenty thousand people. The weekly attendance of congregants is seventy thousand people, almost the total population of the people living in Zabbaleen or Garbage City is the popular name for the area. Almost all the inhabitants of Zabbaleen are Coptic Church members who live very peacefully with the Muslim minority in this area alone. I hope this example should be emulated by all peace-loving Muslims and Christians living elsewhere in the Arab countries.
MUSLIM DOMINATED COUNTRY
Egypt is a Muslim dominated country accounting for 90% of the total population. Half of the remaining percentage belongs to the Coptic Church or Eastern Orthodox Church while the other half is split between the Roman Catholic Church and protestant or Evangelical Churches. According to tradition, the Coptic Church claim the longest existence in Egypt since Mark the Apostle himself, founded this Church in about 42 AD.
SAINT MARK’S CHURCH BUILDING IN CAIRO COMPARED TO THE CAVED CHURCH
Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral built at the town centre in Cairo, is the largest church building or cathedral of any denomination in Africa and the Middle East. It has a seating capacity of five thousand worshipers. On the other hand, the Cave Church referred to as the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner is the largest and it has an amphitheatre with a seating capacity of 20,000. This church is the largest church of Coptic believers in Africa and the Middle East.
THE ZABABALEEN’S WAY OF LIFE
There are many things we can tabulate here as the way of life that can be attributed to these Cave Church worshipers called the Zabbaleen. Many Christians and Muslims including other communities have many things to learn about them and even emulate their way of life. Generally, they like following Jesus Christ’s teaching to the letter.
CAVE CHURCH MEMBERS ARE ENTERPRISING
The Zabbaleen communities who are at the same time congregants of the Cave Churches are hardworking people. They are also very enterprising in that they turn what other people consider worthless material into very useful raw materials for bottles, sacks, plastics even scrap metal. UNESCO has recognized their efforts and commended them for recycling 80% of Cairo’s garbage. UNESCO wishes other cities in the world could have similar communities who would be just as enterprising as the Zabbaleen.
SPECIALIZING IN CERTAIN WASTE MATERIAL
Men and their elderly sons above the age of twelve start their day as early as 03.00 hours by moving door to door among the residential areas of Cairo or shopping centres. They pick up whatever waste they come across and have to carry up to 50 kilograms of waste stuffed into sacks on their backs. Sometimes they have to move up and down staircases of four floors collecting the waste before loading them onto donkey carts, wheelbarrows or pick up vans.
ZABBALEEN’S LOVE FOR THEIR GOD
You cannot appreciate the Zabbaleen’s love for their God until you see the architectural designs involved in coming up with their Caved Churches. One may wonder how this community referred to as the poor community came up with money or great ideas in forming a nice worship centre out of a mountain. Just like their desire to turn useless materials into recyclable products, they overcame the obstacle of a mountain to come up with a masterpiece of a worship centre that can attract visitors from all over the world. God can do wonders and we see the wonderful relationship that exists between these poor people and their God.
WOULD SOME ZABBALEEN RESIDENTS RELOCATE TO ANOTHER PART OF CAIRO?
With the obnoxious or offensive smell emanating from the garbage everywhere you go in this area except inside the Cave Churches, one can think that some residents of this area would like to relocate to other parts of Cairo. Why should they? This is a place of ancestral settlement and as such, they cannot think of moving away to a place where they cannot enjoy their own worship to the True Living God. They love him and for His sake, they would rather stay in a smelly place, but be able to worship their God freely without any interference from other people who may shoot them as they are worshipping God inside a church building.
EVEN POOR PEOPLE HAVE THE RICH ONES IN THEIR MIDST
It is always said that even among the poor communities; one or two people within the community may rise above the others and be recognized to be the rich ones. Those considered being the rich among the Zabbaleen community are those who employ others to do the dirty work for them and own donkey carts and pick up vehicles for others to hire and transport the garbage from the city centre. Still, others employ many servants at their homes and send their children to expensive private schools within or outside Egypt. Such children come back to the community and continue worshipping God at the Cave Churches.
THE ZABBALEEN DO NOT WITHHOLD THEIR WEALTH FROM GOD
Like the women mentioned in Luke chapter 8 verses one to three, women like Mary Magdalene, Suzanne and others who supported Jesus Christ’s ministry out of their own pocket money, the Zabbaleen sacrificed their money and time to contribute everything they had to come up with such an impressive worship centre. It is their love for God that has made them ignore the obnoxious smell to stay nearby their own worship centre.
DO YOU EVER THINK OF VISITING EGYPT?
This is a question travellers may be asked. If you ever think of visiting Egypt, do not just visit the pyramids or other places of attraction. Be mesmerized by visiting the settlements below the Mokattam Mountain and their worship centres the caved Churches of Egypt. It shall be a memorable experience for you and anyone else who shall accompany you. God, indeed, uses the marginalized people of this world to come up with the seven caved churches of Zabbaleen. I hope that your visit shall be sooner than later.