Culture At Large

Life lessons from Egypt's Day of Cleaning

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

I’ve been inspired by the passion and dedication of Egypt’s protestors as I follow the news and learn new things about what they are doing and what’s at stake for them. It was so exciting to see President Hosni Mubarak resign and watch the celebrations on CNN. I was especially inspired when I learned that the protestors had returned to Tahrir square the day after they achieved their goal with brooms, dustpans and trash bags. One report said men had signs pinned to themselves that read “pardon our mess, we’re rebuilding Egypt.”

People who knew more about the protesters weren’t surprised that they turned up to replace stones and sweep up dust, but I was impressed. It’s brave enough to risk your life railing against a dictatorship; it takes even more wherewithal to start trying to make something better.

I know Christians in Egypt are a minority, but there was something profoundly Christian and apocalyptic about the Day of Cleaning. It reminded me of Revelation 12 where God tells John, “Look, I make all things new.” I hadn’t thought of the new Jerusalem teeming with volunteers with dustpans, but after looking at pictures of Tahrir square, I think of it that way now.

My surprise when I read these headlines taught me something about myself, though, too. I am a little surprised when people want to do something to end a bad situation, but I really don’t expect people to show up when something new needs to take its place. I realized I had low expectations of people. Of course, we know that whatever government Egyptians choose will be imperfect. The famous quotation about democracy, after all, is that it’s the worst kind of government except for all the other kinds. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to build something better than what they had before.

I think many Christian churches do this same thankless, kingdom-building work, but it doesn’t get as much press as the protests and complaints about the sin we see in the world. Churches do a lot of cleaning up, literal cleaning and other kinds of work that are just trying to make things better, and more like God’s kingdom. I think of people at my own church who work with programs to feed the hungry and offer friendship to students from foreign countries. I’m going to start asking myself what I could be doing to start cleaning up.

Only time will tell what the long-term results of Egypt’s revolution will be, but I’ve been so inspired by images of people caring for each other, praying and supporting each other amid chaos and sometimes violence. I hope that we can all bring that kind of dedication to our service to each other.

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