Working in Cairo this week, I got back to my hotel room late Tuesday evening, I found a large bouquet of flowers and a bowl of fruit, and wondered why the hotel had given me that? The card that came with the flowers told a different story: it was a welcome gift from the Stephen’s Children ministry: I had arranged to meet one of them on Friday, to hand over the check representing Restoration’s Easter collection. I thought of King David when three of his warriors fought their way into Bethlehem to fetch him some water (2 Samuel 23), and David was awestruck by the generous spirit of these men, putting themselves at risk to bless David. Perhaps not quite the right analogy, but such a generous gift from a ministry working with the poor – I almost cried, and felt very humbled!
Today, I had the privilege of visiting of the many ‘garbage cities’ on the outskirts of Cairo– of the 90 or so locations where the Stephen’s Children ministry runs schools for the poorest of the poor. This ‘city’, home to perhaps 900 people – predominantly Christians – is in a dusty, stony hollow away from the road. Nothing grows there – there is no soil. None of the buildings has more than one level: the materials they are made from would not really support more. There is no electricity. Running water was made available about a year ago (this has attracted more people to move in). In the school room perhaps 40 girls aged 6 to 15 sat in rows on benches, learning the alphabet with great excitement. Nearby, I visited a study group for boys. Half a dozen squatted in the shade of a rusty corrugated iron gate as myriad flies buzzed around, and listened to the story of the cripple who had sat by the pool for years, waiting for a miracle. The back yard was buried in rubbish – plastic bags mostly, which are burned down to produce a hard black mass that can be sold for recycling (an adult and four children scavenging can earn perhaps $1.50 a day doing this).
Stephen’s Children employs around 1,500 staff to run kindergartens, and now one school, for some 30,000 children, visiting them weekly in their homes to support a holistic ministry of education, teaching on basic health and hygiene, and the bible. Many of the children, and some of their parents, are not officially registered, through ignorance and discrimination.
This was not a miserable place to visit. The children were happy as they learned. A little girl smiled broadly as the teacher washed her feet (this is done to teach hygiene, and to check for cuts and infections in little feet that at best have flip-flops to wear). Adults were welcoming. The ‘motto’ of the ministry is: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (phil 4:13). The children and their families are being given hope, not just once or in theory, but day by day, week by week, year after year. I am lost for words, but full of admiration, and very blessed to have seen God at work through his people in such a way.