Saint Samaan
The Tanner Monastery



Teaching and Vocational Training

Father Samaan did not promote trusting in 'the power of the Lord' among the zeballeen without also developing the mind. He doesn't subscribe to the idea that if God's Spirit works, there is no need to think: 'we eliminate ignorance: the whole aim is to overcome ignorance and the people learn - learn to read and write, learn to live, learn to read the Holy Bible.' Father Simaan and his pastoral team believe in fighting ignorance with all the resources at their disposal, but at first these were all too few. They had taken the first step of faith in the direction of educating the local children in 1975. Then Farahat's wife Su'aad had opened a tiny school of one class, containing two girls and three boys. It began to grow gradually, but lacked funding.
In 1986 a stranger was driving down the main road that goes past the Muqattam district. Although he was used to the unpredictable nature of Cairo traffic, he hit a rubbish cart. The impact threw a girl traveling in the cart on to the side of the road. The driver immediately got out of his car, attended to the girl - who wasn't badly hurt - and asked her where she lived. She directed him and he took her home. When he saw what conditions were like in the zeballeen area, it was a real eye-opener for him.

This newcomer turned out to be executive director of the Patmos Foundation, based in Helsinki, Finland. He tried to find out for the girl's sake what her community needed most, and the project he hit upon was a school. The Patmos Foundation then decided to build it and provide all the equipment, textbooks and exercise books.
They planned the building to form part of an enclosure around the church below the mountain. By the time it opened in 1993,400 boys and girls were enrolled in general education classes. The building had five storeys to begin with, but the school eventually added a sixth level, and the number of pupils grew to around 500.

A reception department for pastoral care and instruction of children aged three to six helped them get used to being at school. Some families were without identity cards or official papers, so their children did not legally exist. This partly explains why they were not at government schools, but the higher profile of the newly built church school drew the government's attention to their plight. Within two or three years of its opening, the zeballeen found they could also get their children into government schools.

The role of the church school was to 'raise the children up out of the rubbish heap' - both spiritually and materially, Once they learnt to read and write they would then get help in reading the Bible. This was the priority. The secondary aim was to help them improve their standard of living.

The school includes a department for pastoral care and instruction of the deaf and dumb. There is also a department for the elimination of illiteracy, which can take children too old for regular school. This equips both boys and girls to read the Bible and join vocational training classes. Vocational training includes classes for domestic science, sewing, knitting and commercial fabric work for girls and for carpentry, ironwork, electrician's work and leatherwork for boys.
For the older children vocational training is combined with spiritual training. The aim is that while they learn a craft, they also bond with the church, on the principle that 'those who bond with the church come to know God'. The aim is to strengthen each child's relationship with the Lord. Every week the younger children get a full 'spiritual day' that includes storytelling, Christian films and singing.

The St Samaan Patmos Hospital

In fact the building of a hospital for Manshiyat Nasir was already under way, again with help from the Patmos Foundation. In 1993 a Finnish lady who was a field director for Patmos came and spoke with Dr Samweel, Father Simaan's son-in-law. She wanted to know if he would like to start a hospital. Next the executive director came. He handed Dr Samweel a blank sheet of paper and a pen, and asked, 'What are the things you would like to have in the hospital?" So Dr Samweel wrote down what he needed contacted Finland, and the next day they told him they had agreed to all the equipment he asked for. Everyone was delighted.

They planned the hospital, like the school, to form part of an enclosure around the church below the mountain down in the populated area. While the work on the hospital got under way, up on the mountain the conference hall that had been taking shape since 1991-2 was nearing completion. Beneath it was the Church of St Mark, which opened for worship in 1994.

On 12 April 1994 the Finnish ambassador, also Finnish Minister of Development and International Cooperation, came with the Patriarch to open the St Simaan Patmos Hospital. The zeballeen had done all they could to clean up the streets. They had covered them with sand and put up decorations everywhere. As the motorcade came by, doves were released in front of it; and when it came to a halt, the crowds around the Patriarch's car were so pressing that he couldn't get out of it for a quarter of an hour!

The Patriarch, the ambassador and other VIPs were shown around the new hospital building attached to the church below the mountain. They saw the out-patient clinics equipped with a laboratory for medical analysis, a diagnostic X -ray unit, and a theatre for major operations. As is usually the practice in a charitable institution in Egypt, there were both first- and second-class wards for in-patients. The patients in the first-class wards would pay more to help subsidize those who could not afford the full cost of treatment. The care of all patients was to be supervised by a team of specialist doctors.

Health and Refreshment
Related Projects

The distinctive needs of the district began to shape the approach of the Patmos Hospital ministry. Taking the Good Samaritan as a role model, Dr Samweel's team sought to meet the needs of the zeballeen as they found them. They soon discovered that there were distinctive needs that needed special attention. The first was traumatology: people transporting rubbish are often involved in accidents and collisions. The second group of problems could be called summer diseases, which cause diarrhea and dangerous levels of dehydration in children.
A third problem that proved to be typical of the area was tuberculosis. This disease spread all over the district between 1994 and 1997 it was known. They have spread worldwide, but in Muqattam the pre-conditions for it Were not only rife, but also exacerbated by air pollution.

This problem stems from what Dr Samweel calls 'the real rubbish'. After you have taken out the plastic, the cardboard and the food, and everything else that is useful, the final, irreducible rubbish that cannot be recycled is still there. The zeballeen used to burn it and that caused the air pollution. If they don't burn it, there are huge quantities of 'real rubbish' lying around. If you put it in a big hole in the desert, for example, natural gas would come out of it causing spontaneous explosions. The zeballeen try as much as possible to remove what they cannot recycle. This is often industrial waste. There are vehicles that takes it away, but a small minority still prefers to burn it and this is very detrimental to the people.
Not only is the air pollution very bad, but also the living standard of the people is dropping again. Even if there were no air pollution, poverty and malnourishment would still create the pre-conditions for tuberculosis. Even people living in good accommodation grow weak if they can't afford to feed themselves properly.

Currently the living standard of the people is dropping because all their money is going on vehicles. Back in 1990 the Cairo governorate proposed a programme to mechanize the collection and transport of household waste. Lorries and pick-up trucks began to replace carts pulled by animals. For poorer people just making ends meet, this extra expense can tip the balance. They become significantly more susceptible to the illnesses which Dr Samweel finds in the area. This is not universal, but it is a recurring pattern.

For the first few years of its work the Patmos Hospital was just providing treatment, but from about 1996 they have been giving food as well. Day after day malnourished people are given milk, eggs, chicken and other meat. This has brought much better results, since usually it's not just the patient who needs treatment but the whole family. They all suffer from malnourishment and illnesses linked to it.

►The hospital's change of emphasis towards dealing with chronic and long-term conditions has also involved it in work with the handicapped and with old people. The opening of an old people's centre in turn led to the inauguration of a programme of summer camps. This was widened to include all age groups. Every fortnight over a period of four months at least 500 campers go on summer conferences - a total of 8,000 people per year. At first they used a place belonging to the Coptic Daughters of Mary, which is at Abu Sultan, near Fayid. This is in the Bitter Lakes region in the southern sector of the Suez Canal.
But with increasing numbers coming on summer camps the church began to pray and plan for its own plot of land, near the Mediterranean coast west of Alexandria.

- The site is 150 meters from the sea, at a place called Abu Talaat (near Al-Agamy).
The planned site can take about three hundred people.
To give some idea of the scale of the need, we need only to take one example. A team of volunteers from more salubrious suburbs of Cairo organizes an annual school camp that runs for about twelve days. About four hundred children aged between four and fourteen take part. This is on top of their monthly outing, which might be to the pyramids or the zoo. It is a spiritual ministry, not just a trip. The volunteer team teaches the children songs and stories about Jesus and show Christian films.

To understand the effect of this work we have only to think of Azaz, the twelve-year-old who lost his family in the landslide. He is growing up fairly normally, but there are times when very deep sadness within comes out in various forms of anti-social behavior. When this happens, one of his uncles or the leader of his youth group takes him under his wing. He gets extra attention and, when necessary, discipline. In this way, the close-knit zeballeen community acts as a wider family for him. But sometimes he just needs to get away. For three summers in a row, from 1994 to 1996, he has gone with the school children on the summer camp. Each year, his friends on the team have found him more at peace with himself. They are praying that he will soon know Jesus, who can heal his inner wounds 'in a way that the world's greatest psychologist could never do'.1

Ministry on the Mountain

Much effort went into drawing out the potential of the mountain as a base for ministry. On a flat, rocky shelf halfway up the mountain the team planned to add a retreat centre for training the lay-workers. They called it the deir (monastery), although there were no monks.
It included buildings for auxiliary ministries as well as churches.
The first site on the mountain to be used without interruption as a place of worship was a converted cave. Worshippers sat in a bank reaching up to the cave's mouth. When it opened in 1986 it was small and its facilities very basic. Yet the site had the potential to be greatly enlarged. They called it 'the cavern'. Plunging into the cavern to do his share of the building work was for Father Samaan a welcome opportunity of being incognito for a while. Once he'd been at it for a short time the black dust of the mountain covered him so thickly that it was extremely hard to recognize him. Since he wore a long black galibeyya and black cap, you often couldn't make out his face from his clothes!

Yet even those who did recognize him didn't necessarily recognize the value of what he was doing. Sincere believers would come up to him and say, 'Are you serving the stones?'    Some people close to him rebuked him for not spending more time in personal work. 'Do stones matter more than souls?' was their question. Father Samaan gave no glib answers. He hardly understood better than they did why God wanted them to do all this construction work. All he knew was that there was a vision driving him on that God was going to fulfill. What the outcome would be, he didn't know. What mattered was that God was leading him.It was hard to fathom the need for so much construction work partly because it was so difficult to persuade people to come and use the existing church facilities. At that time the main public meeting was on Tuesdays. Lay-worker: would meet for pray~ and then go round the streets in pairs, inviting people to come. Most people they met said 'Oh yes, I'm coming, I'm coming' - and then didn't. Egyptian culture does not encourage directly refusing a request and so words are not necessarily an indication of intention. It was like the parable of the son who says to his father, 'Yes, I'm going to the vineyard', but doesn't go (Matthew 21.30)

The Mountain Amphitheatre

A vast auditorium, took the same name as the humble church that had been built there in 1986. Since then they had been gradually widening the mountain site of the original 'cavern' church - it had been a very simple structure when it opened in 1986. Now it covered an area of 10,000 square meters. They had gouged a great limestone amphitheatre out of the cliff face. Its deep beige walls were shot through at irregular intervals with lighter, sandy-colored strata. The roof soared up 20 meters or more before opening out on to the sky.

The Patriarch and his entourage once found themselves standing on a semi-circular platform in the heart of the great cavern, which acted as a focus for preaching and leading worship. The seating in front of them was fixed on semicircular steps that radiated upwards away from the stage, making it look like a Roman theatre or a stadium.  Since many meetings would be held in the evening, each step was sheathed in polished wooden bleachers fitted with foot-level lighting. The congregation rose in terraced ranks up to the cave mouth, where they sat etched against the stars.

To the congregation on the highest level, the visitors on the stage appeared as tiny figures. But they were not looking down but up, towards a gantry built out from the rock overhanging the stage into the centre of the auditorium. Suspended from it was a giant screen from which upwards of 12,000 spectators could follow the picture and voice of the Patriarch. What a transition from the early days of the church!
One visitor described the effect of this projection on the worship:
I noticed above the stage a giant TV screen on which was projected the faces of the celebrants so that their words could be better heard. When the liturgy was finished, a band and a singing group came on stage and we started into songs in modern Arabic. Then, would you believe, we were getting computer projection of the songs on the TV Screen. I could see the operator using his mouse and finding the words of each next song before it came full size on the screen. The people sang from their hearts.

Everyone was there: old, young, men, women, rich, poor. It was their place! It was modern! It was ancient! It was splendid! It was right on top of one of the poorest parts of Cairo


Our Vision: To equip challenged people to be independent.

The ministry started in 1995 in the garbage village of Mokattam in east Cairo as a ministry of the church of St Simon the Tanner. At that time, it was shameful to show that you had a handicapped child or to let him or her go outside the house. But the ministry started when a friend visited from west of Cairo and talked about the disabled ministry he had there. We prayed together and asked a priest about establishing a disabled ministry. He asked us when we wanted to start. Mahrous, his brother and sister, and some other brothers and sisters from the church formed the core team. We started with 6 members of the church and 3 disabled children. We started by visiting the houses we knew had disabled children, though the parents usually denied that they had a disabled child because of the shame. Sometimes they felt that it was because they are sinners that God would give them this defective child. This is the traditional belief within the society. Also, when a disabled child or person would walk in the streets, children would run after them, harass them, stone them, and say very bad words against them. At that time, it was very difficult to start a ministry like that among the garbage collectors because of their ignorance, even though they are believers (poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, disability) work together to start the ministry. It was very difficult at that time to convince these people that a disability was not a punishment from God because of their sin. After a year of training the volunteers, and of ministry and service to the disabled children and their families, the parents began to allow their children to go to church without feeling fear and shame.

In 1996, we added to the ministry the deaf and mute. Some of the team went to a center in north Cairo to learn sign language, which has really enriched the ministry for the lay people and the people we serve.

In 1997, we added to the ministry also a new set of people with chronic diseases like rheumatoid, hepatitis C, and diabetes, and also the youth who are disabled.

In 1998, we began arranging retreats for the disabled, and this has transformed the ministry. Spending four days with the disabled outside the house is a great relief for their families and a great recreation time for the disabled. After that, parents started to come and tell us that they had disabled children and the society started to accept these people

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