Mama Maggie: The Untold Story of One Woman’s Mission to Love the Forgotten Children of Egypt’s Garbage Slums
by Martin Makary and Ellen Vaughn
Mama Maggie has been ministering to a people group known as the “garbage people” in Cairo since 1997. This biography, Mama Maggie, recounts how she grew up in an elite class in Egypt. She was privileged and comfortable, educated and successful. But she abandoned personal wealth and stepped down from a career in business finance in order to spend her days in the slums of Egypt where families live in shanties surrounded by the garbage they collect, sort, and re-use every day. Her ministry has expanded over time and is now called Stephen’s Children. Through camps, schools and outreaches every day on the streets, Stephen’s Children serves in very practical ways to help the poor.
I love Christian biographies and the example and challenge they offer. They give us a glimpse at radical faith and lives given over wholly to God. This biography was no different. Mama Maggie sets an amazing example of self-sacrifice and how to be Christ’s hands and feet in our world.
It read a little less like a biography at times and more like a speech praising her life and efforts, maybe even as a plea for her to win the Nobel Peace Prize (for which she has been nominated in the past). I didn’t walk away from the book getting a real sense of who she is as a person and that’s a little disappointing. I think one of the merits of Christian biographies is the reminder that God uses regular people to do extraordinary things when they are yielded to Him. In this book, Mama Maggie almost seemed so spiritual as to be unreal, untouchable, and ephemeral—like a spiritual shadow temporarily placed in a physical form. Maybe that’s what she’s really like! Or maybe the authors could have made her more tangible through their writing. It did seem like they were using “spiritual” terms to talk about Mama Maggie’s faith more than personal faith in Jesus Christ, which is probably the authors’ way of distancing themselves from anything too ‘offensive’ to readers who like good works but don’t want to be preached at. As a Christian reading this book, though, I’d have preferred something less ‘mystic-sounding.’
I did learn about the Copts in this book, who are at the center of Mama Maggie’s ministry. They are a Christian people-group in Egypt, who often identify themselves as Christian socially, knowing only that they aren’t Muslim, but not knowing what Christianity is all about. At the end of the book, the authors spend one quick chapter giving a political and social context for the ministry of Stephen’s Children, noting how the protests and overturned government in Egypt have impacted ‘the garbage people.’ The book also briefly discusses the way Christians are persecuted or shunned. This chapter was fascinating, and I wish they had given even more contextual information such as this. I’m going to keep reading online to learn more since the book only touched the surface.
All in all, the story is inspiring, uplifting, and heart-wrenching, too. We could probably all use the reminder that the church is bigger than America, bigger than our own personal communities and comfortable buildings with temperature control and padded pews. There’s an international community of believers who are sometimes desperately poor, abused, persecuted, and starving, and maybe even living in heaps of garbage. Mama Maggie decided to do something about it.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”