Mama Maggie Gobran honoured by Biola University in California
On 14 March 2018, Biola University in La Mirada, California, conferred on “Mama” Maggie Gobran the Charles W. Colson Conviction and Courage Award during its 89th annual Missions Conference.
In 2014, Biola University established the Charles W. Colson Conviction and Courage Award to recognise individuals who demonstrate commitment to the word of God and a willingness to carry out its message, whatever difficulties and hardships arise.
With about 3,000 students filling the Biola University gymnasium, Mama Maggie floated onto the stage in simple white attire to receive the award from University President Barry Corey who listed the justifications for granting her this annual award. Mama Maggie humbly accepted the award, presented the audience with a short message of love and thanks, and invited Biola students to visit Cairo’s poor.
Loving the unloved
A few speeches during the day at Biola described Mama Maggie as the Mother Teresa of Egypt. Unlike Mother Teresa, she was a Cairene socialite, professor of computer science at the American University in Cairo, and a marketing executive for international companies. She gave up her glamorous life in order to love the unloved and give hope to the poorest of the poor.
Thirty years ago, Mama Maggie started Stephen’s Children, an organisation that cares for the forgotten children of Cairo’s garbage slums and the poorest areas in Upper Egypt. The organisation tends to over 30,000 families in a variety of ways. By providing meals, educational opportunities, medical services, and offering apprenticeships, Stephen’s Children seeks to nurture hearts, train minds and equip lives to practically break the vicious cycle of poverty in slums all over the Middle East. The organisation is named for the first Christian martyr whose story is told in Acts 6, 7, and 8. Seven of the 21 martyrs beheaded by ISIS in Libya in February 2015, were beneficiaries of Stephen’s Children and personally known to Mama Maggie.
In her 45-minute speech at the University’s chapel, Mama Maggie told the detailed story of the 21 martyrs to an audience of about 1,000 students. She emotionally recounted their determined sacrifice and the visions told by their families and even by their captors.
Cairene slums were created as a result of migration. Foreign populations were forced to leave Egypt in the 1950s and Upper Egyptians migrated north in search of economic opportunity and better living conditions. Islamists also forced many Copts out of their homes in Upper Egypt. Faced with a lack of affordable housing, the poorest among the migrants inhabited areas that were informally developed or developed extra-legally. These areas lack necessary services and institutions, resulting in poverty and squalor.
Mama Maggie received multiple Nobel Peace Prize nominations for her transformative work with the poor and needy.
On 21 March 2018, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi honoured her among others as “Mothers of the Year” in an elaborate ceremony in Cairo attended by Egypt’s first lady Intissar al-Sisi, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Dr Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, Pope Tawadros II, senior officials, and members of the National Council for Women. Mama Maggie thanked President Sisi and offered him a gift of a pendant that carried a turquoise stone—an emblem of good luck in Egypt that goes back to ancient times—which the President directly wore. She said: “I will carry on my mission with the children living in poorest areas”.
Mother Maggie told Watani that she appreciated that the honour comes as proof of the State’s eagerness to support development and charity work.
In May 2017, Mama Maggie was awarded, together with four others, the Arab Hope Makers prize offered by Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also Vice President, Minister of Defence, and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates in a grand event held at Dubai Media City’s Sound Stage to choose the Arab World’s most inspirational Hope Maker. Mama Maggie gave a word in which she said that a person is here on earth for a limited time. During that time, she said, one should realise one’s worth and one’s potential, and should use that to serve humanity and extend love to others.
While uncomfortable accepting accolades, Mama Maggie remains unwavering in her mission. At the Biola event, she encouraged students to pray and ask God what He would like them to achieve in their lives. She also encouraged them to daily spend time in silence, read, write, to do good deeds until it becomes a habit, to learn something new, and to be positive.
Mama Maggie’s official biography, penned by her nephew Dr Marty Makary alongside Ellen Vaughn, both New York Times best-selling authors, provides its readers with a detailed account of her personal journey and mission. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com.
In April 2016, Wataninet posted a feature in which Watani’s Lucy Awad talked to Mama Maggie, and reported on her life and extensive work.
Mary Ghattas is a PhD candidate in the Department of Religion at Claremont Graduate University and serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for the Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia
18 April 2018