When I was in Egypt, I visited a little girl named Reda. She lives in a tiny home with 3 rooms. One room is a makeshift store, the other are tiny, dirt-floor rooms with cement walls where she and her family live. She is the youngest of four girls, and because of the conservative, small-town, honor based culture she lives in, she's considered a very dishonorable because she was her parents last chance to have a boy. Despite the weight that would weigh on a person, she was one of the most joyful kids that we met. She said her favorite Bible story was the story of Moses, her favorite color was purple, and her favorite thing to do was to go to school and study. The translators said she was the top in her classes. When we asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said an engineer.
That's about the point where I had a full blown meltdown. This little girl, in a tiny village where people are going blind because the water is so bad, where cows live in people's homes, where a child's own parent's feel dishonored by her existence, has goals to be an engineer. Talk about privilege.
In Egypt, Americans get a sort of "celebrity treatment". People want to take your picture, kids want to feel your blonde hair, people ask you to kiss their babies, the whole nine yards. Every metal detector I walked through was set off, and every time, they waved me through, just because I was a white American. The Egyptian women right behind me did not get the same benefits. If I dropped a fork, someone would run over with one before I could even look up. It sounds exaggerated, but it's true, and honestly a lot of that is just the wonderful, kind people of Egypt.
If I wanted to become an engineer, I could literally sign up for classes tomorrow and become an engineer. My parents are so glad that I'm a girl, they celebrate me. My home is warm and my water is clean. Reda faces the opposite, but she's just like me. She's a little girl with dreams and goals. I have a voice, I have endless opportunities, I have the world at my fingertips.
Reda does not.
I struggled with that for a long time. I've been a mess since we left the village. I keep asking God why am I me. Why don't these kids have what they need. Why are they living in poverty. Why is their water making them sick. Why doesn't she have all the things I have.
Another thing that ripped me up was the laws on Christianity. I knew there were restrictions, but I didn't understand. It's not illegal to be a Christian in Egypt, but it's illegal to convert to Christianity from Islam. Your religious affiliation is on your identification. When you're born in Egypt, you take on the religion of your father. So, if your great, great, great grandparents were Christians, and your father was raised a Christian, you would be born a Christian. If your great, great, great grandparents were Muslim, you would be a Muslim. You could not legally convert to Christianity. If you are muslim, your children would be raised Muslim. Christian women can marry Muslim men because their children would be raised Muslim, but Christian men can't marry Muslim women, because the children would be raised Christian. If they want to marry a Christian, they have to legally convert to Islam before it's legal to marry. Christians face religious discrimination, persecution, and martyrdom regularly.
I kept asking why. I got so frustrated at God. How could He let this happen. Why would He. These are His people, they love Him, they want to follow Him, and their lives are on the line for it.
In Cairo, there's a part of the city called "Garbage City" where thousands of Christians have been pushed out by the Muslim community. They live in houses similar to the village, except they live in garbage. Piles and piles of it. In the streets, in their homes, where they eat, where they sleep. They bring it in on trucks, because it's the only means for them to survive. They sort through garbage to find pieces of glass and plastic for money. To survive. That's how they feed their families.
Why would God let that happen.
How could He.
And then I remembered this whole year. God has over and over and over reminded me that I have a voice. And not only do I have a voice, but I need to use that voice. I have to.
Not for me, not for myself, but for people who don't have a voice. For people who don't have my privilege. For people who aren't treated as well as I am, just because of where I'm born and because of the color of my skin. I have to speak for Reda. I have to speak for the people I met. I have to speak for the disadvantaged and broken and forgotten. It's not a choice. I have to.
I'll never understand why I was born here and Reda wasn't. I'll never understand why I'm so privileged. But God took me half way across the world, through breakdowns, airports, deserts, camel rides, hole-in-the ground toilets, and little girls in villages to help me understand why I need to use the benifits He's given me.