I was surprised to find out one of the largest churches in the world is found in Egypt. With the increased activity of Muslim militants, Christians are increasingly under threat in the Middle East and many are leaving. But in the midst of this turmoil, a church thrives in Mokattam mountain located southeast of Cairo, Egypt.
Over 70,000 people attend the weekly services held at the Coptic church built into the mountain, that is part of the ancient Monastery of Saint Simon.
The church itself holds about 20,000 people including those who sit inside and out. There are also several other chapels built in caves inside the mountain that connect with the main sanctuary.
Though a Coptic church, it has a definite Charismatic flavor as you can see in a video of a service below as the congregation sings “Emmanuel”:
So who attends this church?
Most of them are Zabbaleens, literally “garbage people.” They etch out a living pouring through Cairo’s (population 6.8 million) massive garbage dumps.
The Zabbaleens were originally farmers who came to Cairo in the 1940s as a result of crop failures. However, the community which today numbers between 60,000 to 70,000, quickly found out that they could make more money sifting through Cairo’s garbage dumps.
In 1975, the governor of Cairo ordered the expulsion of the “garbage people” out of Cairo into the area around Mokattam mountain because they were despised Christians and garbage collectors.
The Zabbaleens eventually created a community in a former quarry on Mokattam, that was quickly given the name by locals of “Garbage City.” Seven other Zabbaleen communities also popped up, but with 30,000 inhabitants Mokattam is the largest.
With the growing concentration of Zabbaleens (of which 90% are Coptic), a church was started at the monastery in 1975. After a fire destroyed the first church, a second one was built into a cave in the mountain.
Today, through these cave facilities, they offer education, kindergarten, vocational training and even a school for the deaf.
After sifting through the garbage dumps looking for recyclable materials, the Zabbaleens haul the garbage by half ton or donkey cart to a central location in their main villages, where it is sorted and sold to middle men.
They even collect organic material to feed their pigs. It is estimated they are able to recycle nearly 80% of the garbage they collect.
However, Muslim authorities are now threatening the Zabbaleen’s way of life. They have contracted garbage collection to three large waste corporations that now compete directly.
“Garbage City” is also under threat as the government is considering relocating the city to a site in the desert, 25 kms away.
But as we read the Bible, we see God always had a heart for the underdog.
When, Philip told Nathaniel about Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel asked if any good thing could come out Nazareth (John 1:45-46). Some scholars believe his statement was an idiom used to describe anything considered worthless.
God chose Bethlehem, a small obscure village, as the birth place of Jesus (Micah 5:2).
The Lord also reached out to the despised of society. He was willing to touch and heal the lepers who the Jews considered unclean and punished by God (Matthew 8:3).
- Cave church in Egypt attracts 70,000 Christians weekly to worship Jesus: Gospel Herald
- A cave turned into a church to worship Jesus in Egypt, 70,000+ gather every week to worship: Christiansvoice
- The Cave Church of the Zabbaleen in Cairo: Amusing Planet
- Zabbaleen: Wikipedia