My Short Term Mission in Egypt During the Arab Spring

There were a lot of things I never thought I would do. One of them included living in an overseas slum for six weeks. But sitting in a general session during Urbana 12, I heard God’s simple command to “Go” and I was reduced to tears (and not the cute kind either). As I sat there sobbing, I rehearsed my selfish and fearful reservations about going on the Global Urban Trek to Cairo.

  • I didn’t want to sacrifice my usual summer plans with friends I only see once a year.
  • I didn’t want to give up my birthday weekend for our region’s Ministering Across Cultures training.
  • I didn’t think I could last in impoverished conditions.
  • I didn’t think I would be safe!
  • I had never been to North Africa and I was scared of what I might meet there.
  • I was afraid I would do something unbelievably offensive and ruin relationships within the program.
  • And I thought of the flies. I hate flies. A piece of my soul dies when I hear one in the room and my anxiety goes full throttle.

I said all this and more to God for the final time as I left the stadium, submitting to his request.

But as the months passed, I actually started to get excited. I started to see the Trek as a new adventure in my walk with God. My expectation grew as I thought about the ways the Lord would use me as his hands and feet. I increasingly began to own the work as I counted down the days.

And then came orientation where I learned that, just by virtue of living in America, I am in the top 2% of global wealth. This was something that this girl from the south side of D.C. couldn’t swallow. Prior to orientation, my attitude toward those I would be serving was “I get you. I’m the poorest of the poor, too.” That’s embarrassing to say, but that’s what I was thinking. When I learned the depth of the global economic disparities and the impoverishment I was preparing to live in, I was deeply shocked. Just how poor did the “poorest of the poor” actually live?

And then we went. When the gates to the garbage village in Mokkattam opened and the smell hit me, all the blood drained from my body. In my mind, I frantically climbed over everyone out the back of the van, and ran to the airport. “What the heck am I doing?!?” I thought. But seeing as I was in a foreign country and didn’t actually know my way back to the airport, I decided against it. I began, instead, to rehearse my fearful questions. I became stiff. My stomach turned in fear. I tried to quickly habituate to the smell and the flies so as not to offend.

When the gates to the garbage village in Mokkattam opened and the smell hit me, all the blood drained from my body. In my mind, I frantically climbed over everyone out the back of the van, and ran to the airport. “What the heck am I doing?!?” I thought. But seeing as I was in a foreign country and didn’t actually know my way back to the airport, I decided against it. I began, instead, to rehearse my fearful questions.

As the days went by I began to find a rhythm. I watched students build relationships with our hosts. But I watched from the sidelines, scared. I withdrew because my usual witty comments couldn’t help me due to the language barrier. I had also thought about the times people had tried to connect with me via my African-American culture and had failed. I didn’t want to pay these failures forward; I wanted to enter in perfectly.

As others continued to build relationships, another staff noticed my silence and withdrawal and encouraged me to step in and engage. Once I did, the people responded with love and care. They were gracious. They were patient. I was shocked and humbled. They corrected my horrible Arabic and complemented me when I did well, all the while delighting in my efforts. Living on top of each other forced us to engage in deep and meaningful ways.

And then we began hearing conversations around the village about a revolution. Political unrest was already starting to rise when we arrived in Egypt. As things heated up, we joined some of the Egyptian IFES students and prayed over the country, but our lives in Mokkattam were relatively untouched. As some from the village came back from nearby Tahir Square, we would hear about people getting injured or even some losing their lives. It became the talk of the village and we stayed abreast of what was happening. Danger was nearby, but it wasn’t threatening to overtake us.

I not only was beginning to make the village and the people my own but I was beginning to own the country, as well, through prayer. As we discussed whether we would stay despite the inability to leave on time because of deteriorating political conditions and safety, I noticed I had moved from fear to wanting to stay. We had rapidly become family. We rejoiced over political achievements. We rushed the streets and watched fireworks, listening to guns going off and watching a motorcycle full of 15 people circle around the block repeatedly. We spent time together, laughed together, prayed, sang, worshipped, served, and soon cried together.

I not only was beginning to make the village and the people my own but I was beginning to own the country, as well, through prayer. As we discussed whether we would stay despite the inability to leave on time because of deteriorating political conditions and safety, I noticed I had moved from fear to wanting to stay. We had rapidly become family.

The surreal moment, as I gathered my small group on the roof to process and pray about the news of our evacuation, still makes my heart heavy. I held and comforted Egyptian students and listened to some pray in Arabic, as I watched my American students stand shell shocked, crying. I couldn’t leave now. We had just become family! I fell in love with the children of the village, the mothers of the monastery, the Thursday night services where they sang worship in Arabic under the cool breeze of the night, and the hospitality of the people of the village. And even though so much was happening, we never saw the danger first hand.

Yet, one by one all roads to the airport were being closed. If we were to try to leave when the Trek was scheduled to end, there was a good chance we wouldn’t be able to. On the way to the airport I watched the tanks on the sides of the road waiting for them to move and close off the road before we could pass through. But I also felt God’s peace. We ended up making it through without the slightest incident.

Once stateside, I couldn’t stop crying. It felt like we had been ripped from family and I wondered what would happen to them. I kept thinking of the work and the call the Lord had put on my heart. I was angry. Why God would send me to start a work that I would be unable to finish? I felt the burden to go back.

But while receiving prayer ministry, the Lord showed me a picture of him. He was walking towards me on the village streets but then kept walking past me. I was confused. I figured the Lord was coming to greet me or at least say something about the work. But he kept walking.

Afterward, I felt God saying that the work was his before I got there and it will be his long after I’ve left. God’s kingdom coming to Mokkattam wasn’t contingent upon my presence there. Heartbroken, I committed the work back to him. In faith, I committed the work back to him. I am not the savior. Nor am I the solution. God alone is. And I can trust him.

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