I’ve just come back from a brief visit to Cairo. Of all the places I’ve been it probably takes the prize for the most ‘creative’ driving!
One of the highlights was to visit the celebrated Cave Church cut into a cliff that seats thousands of worshippers. But what interested me most was how you get there. You turn off the highway outside the city into the Mokattam area. And suddenly you’re in a completely different place - an evidently Christian place. You see crosses everywhere; the women’s heads are uncovered - and apparently you can even buy pork.
Mokattam is not a luxurious place. In fact it is very smelly. The people who live there are known as Zabbaleen - which means ‘garbage people’: they make their living by collecting and recycling rubbish.
You can only get to the Cave Church as you pass through this area. When we finally arrived at the security gate my colleague had to show the guard the cross he has tattooed high up on his arm. But I realised once we were inside that most Coptic Christians have a cross tattooed very visibly on their wrists.
I found both the place and that fact very striking. Both spoke to me of the cross of Christ. Jesus himself was crucified outside the city on a rubbish dump. The cross was a symbol of degradation. And yet these Copts, living a marginal life as a minority under threat of persecution wear it indelibly as a mark of their identity. And they wear it as a badge of pride.
Would I be willing to live in such a place and pursue such a trade? Am I willing to be marked so indelibly with the mark of my discipleship? Many of the people we in Church Mission Society are in partnership with globally live lives that are no less precarious, marginal – and faithful. But as a relatively rich westerner although I can visit such a place, I do not have to stay. But the Christians there have no such choice. Instead they live in this place, pursue their smelly trade - and worship their crucified Lord.
My prayer is that I too might be willing to be indelibly known as a follower of Jesus’ wherever that may lead me.
Canon Philip Mounstephen, Executive Leader, Church Mission Society