Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A very worthwhile job

Maggie Gobran is a Coptic Christian. She was brought up in Egypt, the daughter of a wealthy physician. She had maids, wore the latest fashions, holidayed in Europe, bought clothes in Paris. She had a good education, and became a marketing executive and a college professor.

In her mid-thirties, with a husband and two children, Maggie felt the need to choose between living the rest of her life in self-pleasing and doing something more worthwhile. She felt the call to full-time service.

In Cairo there are garbage villages. Fifty thousand people live in them in shacks among piles of rotting garbage, some seven or eight to a room, many with no water or sanitation. They are known as garbage people.They collect the garbage from Cairo's residents and exist off what they find among it.

They live in sewage, disease and overpowering stench. Almost half the children there will die before they are five years old. Many of the people are illiterate; some have never travelled on a bus or slept in a bed. Violence and sexual abuse are commonplace.

Mama Maggie, as she is known, began to visit the garbage villages. In 1989 she founded Stephen's Children, a charitable organisation. Now hundreds of workers and volunteers help with food, clothing, free medical treatment, education and vocational training.They serve 30,000 poor families every day. Mama Maggie builds kindergartens, schools, community centres, children's camps and homes for boys and girls.

She rises to pray at 3am. During the day, you will see her in a garbage village. washing children's feet and assuring them that they are loved. Often, she disappears to a monastery in the desert to seek God's face on behalf of the children.

"I want to go on with our work for the poor more and more, until it spreads all over Egypt, the Middle East and the whole world, to make a better place for humanity - especially the children," she says.

"This is the real love story. The one that lasts for ever."

In recent years of political turmoil in Egypt, churches have been burned to the ground. Christian homes and businesses have been torched. Christians have been killed. Many have been kidnapped for ransom.

One man's house was surrounded one dark night by a mob with long knives challenging him to come out so they could kill him. The man stepped out into the street. He focussed on one young man in the mob. "Why do you hate me?" he said. He looked the young man in the eye. "I don't hate you," he said. "I love you." The mob slowly melted away into the darkness.

Mama Maggie has been advised to leave Egypt for her own safety. "Jesus would not leave," she says. "He would stay with His people. I must do the same."

Mama Maggie's story is the subject of a new book, Mama Maggie: The untold story of one woman's mission to love the forgotten children of Egypt's garbage slums, by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn. Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson Books, 2015.

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