I rode that thing until the wheels fell off, literally. Fast forward a few years, I ended up at a BMX race in Richmond, Virginia, and entered the event with a borrowed bike. I won a race in my class, and from that day on, I was obsessed with racing bikes. I joined a race team, and on a trip to Tennessee, I saw a guy grind a handrail outside the venue. I remember thinking, “That was the coolest thing I have ever seen.” I slowly became disinterested in racing, and my mind was captivated by the freestyle aspect of riding. From jumping bikes to getting clips and shooting photos, it’s been 15 years, and I’m still out here doing the same thing. Through God’s grace, my love for bikes has been repurposed. My bike has taken me to places I would have never imagined, not because of my ability to ride or small bag of tricks, but because He has called me to serve Him and make His name known.
The invitation to travel to Egypt served up both nerves & excitement. Upon booking my flights, I realized my passport was expiring within six months, a fairly significant ‘no go’ in international travel! Taking a deep breath and relying on prayer, I knew it was time to get to work. With less than two months before we were supposed to leave, and after several money orders and a handful of other expedited passport fees, I was still quoted 4-7 weeks for my renewal. There were a lot of prayers said, and to be honest, some nervously chewed fingernails, but it became clear that God wanted me on the trip. In typical divine fashion, in less than three weeks, I received my new passport, and I was boarding the same flight as the boys; Cairo bound!
In the eloquent words of my home church pastor, “Bro, Egypt seems kinda gnarly”; I’d be lying if I said the same thought hadn’t also crossed my mind. Don’t get me wrong; the lure of visiting the Pyramids or riding a camel as a casual tourist sounds exciting, but to travel with the intent of sharing the Gospel in a predominantly Muslim country, especially as a westerner, is an entirely different ballgame. I have had the chance to travel with the Palau Association in the past and have been a part of events with them in other countries hostile to the Gospel. I have also had the added benefit of witnessing firsthand how well they handle security & all that goes into such endeavors. So, in that respect, I wasn't too nervous, yet still, I found thoughts of being a westerner proclaiming the name of Jesus in the Middle East leading my mind down unsavory alleys. When I reflect on my time in Egypt, I struggle to pinpoint a single experience that aligns with the preconceived notions that traditionally accompanied my western view of a middle eastern country. I have asked myself, “Where was my trust?” Matthew 8:26 and 27 came to my mind often; “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith…even the winds and waves obey Him.” The reality of the situation was this; Egypt was epic on so many levels.
The Lord was at work in the hearts of our entire team, myself included, and the thousands who gave their lives to Christ over the three-day ‘Count It Right’ festival.
Situated roughly 2 hours southwest of Cairo, El Wadi was the selected location for the ‘Count It Right’ festival. The festival was founded in 2001 and continued to run annually until 2017, but due to covid and other unforeseen factors, it had remained dormant until now. On average, the festival would draw crowds ranging from 25,000-40,000 people. To successfully pull off an event of this magnitude, as you can imagine, requires quite literally an army of believers. With over 130 churches & upwards of 1,500 volunteers, it is a remarkable representation of the Body of Christ coming together to share the Gospel. Attendees of the event have a vast array of shows to catch their attention. Everything from movies, to freestyle motocross, to strong men pulling buses and bending pans, and of course, skating & BMX. The facility where the event was held was home to one of only two skateparks in the entire country of Egypt! Each day we had the opportunity to lead two 45-minute shows, one mid-morning and one in the afternoon. Within each, we were allotted a 10-minute opportunity to present the Gospel and share our testimony. We were a small part of a bigger plan and honored to play a role in it all.
After the festival, we had the opportunity to experience the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner, also known as ‘Cave Church.’ This incredible complex is carved into the side of Mokattam Mountain in southeastern Cairo, in an area known as ‘Garbage City.’ The monastery was constructed with beautiful art, and depictions from the Bible engraved into rock, an amphitheater boasting a capacity of nearly 20,000 people, and a room (again carved out of stone) full of wheelchairs that people have left behind after receiving miraculous healings. I have goosebumps even writing this! God’s presence was so real within those walls I could have sat there for days soaking it all in. Honestly, I think Cave Church should be as high on the list as the pyramids.
Equally fascinating was the community surrounding Cave Church, Mokattam village, dubbed ‘Garbage city’’ and its inhabitants, the Zabbaleen, meaning “garbage people.” Garbage City is a community of around 50,000-60,000 individuals living at the base of Mokattam Mountain. The city finds its origins in the descendants of farmers who began migrating down from upper Cairo in the 1940s when they saw an opportunity to flee poor harvests and build a new life serving their city with a floundering garbage infrastructure. This well-meaning community, made up of nearly 90% Coptic Christians, set up shop and began venturing into the city with donkeys, trucks, and bicycles to collect garbage and bring it back to their makeshift homes. Sifting through their trash, they would resell items of value for minimal profit, fix up their homes, or feed their livestock from the organic waste; but most of all, even still to this day, nearly 80% of what they bring back, they recycle. As a point of reference, Europe's average municipal recycling rate is around 32%! Driving through “Garbage City” hits all your senses. The smell is heavy, and the sight is bleak for untraveled eyes. The sound of young and old sorting through garbage is a drum most ears aren’t attuned to hear. The most ironic part is that you have to drive through Garbage City to get to one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. Indeed, there are some profound truths to pull from that depiction. They have taken it upon themselves to literally go out and pick up their country’s trash, a need that most people would turn a blind eye to. As a result, the Lord continues to bless them. Their blessing might look a lot different than many of us envision. The Zabaleen don’t serve their community as a way to gain recognition or to receive special favor; they simply walk in communion with God and serve those around them.
This trip utterly shifted my worldview and is still hard to fully articulate. To walk in such an ancient land and reflect on all that has happened throughout the ages, to see, feel, and experience firsthand how the Holy Spirit is still alive and active, makes it hard not to believe that the Lord still has much in store.
Til’ His Kingdom come, His will be done; I pray He continues to call me to these faraway places…til’ the wheels fall off.