Tony* arrived in Egypt just after the 2011 revolution, as a wave of artists across the country began communicating thoughts and principles through art. During that time, he realised that the arts in Egypt is strong.
“The local artists tried to express themselves through street art, but the message was about revolution and about war,” he recalled. “I had the idea to do the same but with a message of love and a message of peace.”
For one group of street kids, this message of love is revolutionary in and of itself:
“Usually they are just sent out. People tell them, ‘Go away. We don’t want you because you don’t behave how we expect,’” Tony’s wife Linda* said.
To explain the concept of personal value to these kids, Tony began volunteering with an organisation that teaches them to transform scraps of wood they find on the street into products they can sell.
Taking wood from the streets and making it into new things helps the kids realise they can also transform their own lives. Influenced by the culture, which limits opportunity to change one’s social status, these children need this tangible picture of restoration.
The wood restoration project involves the kids with the whole process: going to the street, collecting wood, bringing it to the centre and physically transforming it.
Once the kids have completed the process with the wood, Linda and Tony tell them something special: “With you, it’s the same thing. You were on the street. You came to the centre. We are working with you. You are learning new things. You can be changed by God.”
Because the kids understand how transformation works with the wood, they can believe it for themselves, Linda said. Working closely with the kids over time also gives the couple opportunity to build relationships and, ultimately, share God’s Word with them.
When Farid* came to the centre – 17 years old, homeless, aggressive, addicted to drugs – Tony and Linda struggled to relate to the troubled teenager. Nevertheless, they worked with him day by day, listening, loving and teaching.
For Linda’s birthday, Farid used money he’d earned from the recycled wood project to buy her a small gift.
“It’s not just [from] a kid that was on the street. He still lives on the street,” Linda said, tears in her eyes. “When he leaves the project centre, he waits for the shop next door to close, then he lies down there and sleeps.”
Sometimes, Farid cries too, undone by the couple’s faithfulness. According to the project overseer, Tony is the first foreigner Farid has ever listened to.
It’s not easy for Tony and Linda. Tony’s not naturally affectionate, but he has to be prepared for Farid’s exuberant hugs. Linda wearies from trying to teach him the same thing over and over and over. Tony has to reprimand him, too.
“I’m like his father. I need to tell him when he did something wrong, but I will never give up on him,” Tony said.
Through this steady commitment, Tony and Linda hope to help Farid understand God’s love. Even though Farid’s still on the streets, he’s become more polite. He now also showers and cuts his hair.
“Everybody came to tell us, ‘Oh, he’s really different,’” Tony said. “The difference in his life is definitely the relationship and the way that we are working [with] him.”
Pray that the wood restoration project in Egypt will help Farid and many more street kids to understand God’s love for them and become children of God.
OM Egypt’s Arts Ministry started in March 2013. It seeks to equip local Christian artists to use their gifts to praise God and serve people, to transform public spaces into areas reflecting God’s beauty and creativity, and to communicate God’s love and hope through personal relationships.
Nicole James is an internationally published freelance journalist, ESL teacher and adventurer. After visiting the OM Near East Field with a Transform team and writing multiple feature articles for OM International, Nicole is excited to be back on the field as an OM MENA Communications Intern and looks forward to telling the stories of how God is moving throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Area.