The world was horrified by news of the savagery wreaked upon Coptic Christians by Islamic State militants in Libya last month. Thirteen of the 21 men taken captive and beheaded as "infidels" were Egyptians from a Coptic congregation in al-Our, Egypt.
"The life we live is but numbered days that will quickly pass, the Bible says," the preacher proclaimed at a memorial service on Feb. 16 for the 13 men who were declared martyrs for their faith. Coptic Christians make up approximately 10-15 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million.
About 150 miles to the north on the outskirts of Cairo, a soft-spoken Coptic Christian woman serves as the very antithesis of the Islamic Radical's hateful, vicious creed. For more than a quarter-century, Maggie Gobran has shared the love of Christ, ministering to the needs of the poorest of the poor --- the zabareen, or "garbage people." They inhabit sprawling, stinking "garbage villages," struggling to eke out a meager existence by sifting through rotting food, dirty diapers, broken glass and worse for items to sell or recycle. Disease-carrying rats and human excrement is everywhere, but water is hard to find, and clean, bottled water is a little-known luxury.
Those who know and love her affectionately refer to her as Mama Maggie. In her Stephen's Children charity, she doesn't hate those who worship differently than her, like ISIS does. Nor does she discriminate, proffering humanitarian aid and spiritual comfort to the desperately poor, whether Christian or Muslim. For her, "co-exist" is more than just a bumper-sticker slogan. And that's no small feat in the context of a Mideast milieu that is volatile and, all too often, violent along religious lines.
Raised in jet-setting affluence, Mama Maggie in her early 40s gave up a life as a marketing manager and college professor in 1989 to answer God's calling. It was hardly your garden-variety midlife career change. She forsook her fancy cars, designer labels and expensive accessories in favor of a long, white skirt, long-sleeved shirt, shawl, head covering and socks with well-worn sandals.
Referred to by some as the Mother Teresa of Egypt, Mama Maggie has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her compassionate leadership. But now in her second quarter-century of selfless, sacrificial service to others in concert with a life of humility, prayer and communion with God, she remains largely unknown outside of Egypt.
Mama Maggie was inspired by her Aunt Matilda, who saw the poor not as a distant group or unfortunate social responsibility, but as distinct individuals, each with needs, insights, dreams and dignity. When Matilda died, Maggie sensed that God wanted her to follow in her aunt's footsteps. She heard God telling her, 'Leave the best, the smartest, and go to the poorest of the poor.' "
Today, more than 25 years later, Mama Maggie's work involves leading her staff as well as volunteers, about 2,000 people altogether. More than 20 percent of the workers come from the very slums they now serve. From modest beginnings amid squalor and grinding poverty inconceivable to most Americans, the effort now is faithfully working in about 100 locations in the Middle East, bringing hope to the hopeless in the form of food, clothing and medicine, schools and job training centers, and summer camps. While the goal is to teach loving thy neighbor, be they Muslim, Bhrisitan, or Ba'hai, her staff have learned that lending an ear and drying a tear are sometimes the way to model that love.
"We can choose to do nothing or be a hero. If you want to be a hero, do what God wants you to do," Mama Maggie explains. "He will let you know what that is, as long as you are open to finding out." Mama Maggie is no Jesus, as she would be the first to tell you, but the fact is, some people on this earth are like Him ---- loving, giving, sacrificial --- and she is one of them. People say that what's intriguing, alluring and magnetic about Mama Maggie is the same thing that drew people to Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago; namely, unconditional love.
That came as an eye-opening epiphany to Joe Cope, a foreign businessman, who when in Cairo saw the ministry's work up close and personal. "In my day job, I'm a wealth advisor," he said, "But real riches are a lot more than what is in your portfolio. Real wealth has to do with giving to others."