Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 11, 2014

Beyond the Filth

Helwan, Egypt

Those who know me well will tell you that Don Quixote is at the top of my list of favorite stories. Written in 1605 by the Spanish novelist and playwright Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote is considered to be one of the world’s greatest literary works. In a nutshell, Don Quixote is the story of a man who saw the world differently than other people. When the Man of La Mancha, dubbed the Knight of the Woeful Countenance, meets a common prostitute named Aldonza, he looks beyond the filth in her life. This unusual man is somehow able to behold the possibilities buried deep beneath the strata of abuse Aldonza has suffered. By the end of the story, his belief in her changes her life. Aldonza finally becomes Dulcinea, the woman the Man of La Mancha envisioned she could become.

I thought a lot about Aldonza during this week that we have spent serving the children of the Zabbaleen, Cairo’s garbage people. The kids have faithfully come to our little campus every day to listen to Bible stories and to play games. To say that they were unruly at the start of the week would be an understatement. Most of these kids have never attended school and don’t understand what it means to be reasonably still and to respect the person who is teaching. Fights among the kids broke out a few times. And because they have never played sports, being a team player or sharing sports equipment was a totally foreign concept. More than once I felt as though I was trapped in a bad Zabbaleen version of “Lord of the Flies.”

Car Kids
As the week progressed, however, we all began to notice a difference in the kids. Many were actually able to sit still through our Bible lessons. The sports thing still needs some work but many of the kids started to understand that it’s ok to share a soccer ball or a frisbee. Our partners here are very encouraged by the progress made by the kids. They understand that it will take a long-term investment in the lives of these kids in order to help them realize their potential. We are committed to working together to make that investment and to see that kind of transformation come about.

Boys and Dogs
At first glance, it’s easy to be distracted by the filthy little faces of the kids, by their lack of discipline, by their aggressive behavior to hold on to something they think they might lose, and by the desperate environment in which they live. In order to bring help and hope to these kids, we must learn to look beyond the filth — beyond the actualities of their lives in order to behold the possibilities in their lives. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed at Bethhsaida (Mark 8:22-26), we must depend on Jesus to help us see people clearly. And we must understand that changes will not happen overnight. Every investment requires time in order to mature and yield benefits.

Trash Truck Boy
We have our work cut out for us as we serve the Zabbaleen kids living in filth outside of Helwan. I am convinced, however, that our investment will pay off and that one day many of the kids we met this week will realize a better future. In order for that to happen, we must have an incarnational presence among them. In the coming weeks we will finalize construction of our modest school and community center. We will also enlist workers who will invest in these kids every day of the week — folks who will be the hands and feet of Jesus, washing filthy little faces and feet. Exciting things are still to come in this difficult place. Don Quixote would certainly agree.

Dirty Feet


  1. What a great reminder for us all that we need Jesus to not only love others but to see clearly. Those children are beautiful and can’t wait to hear more from the team about what they saw and learn.

    • They are indeed beautiful kids. It will be great to see how God works in their lives and ours as we develop this strategic partnership to serve the Zabbaleen.

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