Umm Peter stood with dignity in the corner of her simple, cinderblock home. With an appearance weathered over the years, in grandmotherly fashion she spoke of the men of the village and the difficulties of life.
Half, she estimated, work in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh or Hurghada. There is little opportunity in her all-Christian village of 200 families, a three hour drive south of Cairo in the governorate of Minya.
Umm Peter was speaking to a group of six expats, visiting from Maadi Community Church (MCC). Gathered around were her ten-year-old son, Peter, and his only slightly looking older married sister. Peter is a sponsored child of Healing Grace, a ministry of Kasr el-Dobara, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East, situated at Tahrir Square.
MCC is a partner organization, supporting one of the villages within Healing Grace.
Umm Peter’s own husband is away only half the year, and currently. There is not enough work in the Red Sea either, and he is too old for the rigors of construction.
His age, she was asked. ‘Forty-eight,’ she replied, as if he was already elderly. In village years he might be.
But there is hope Peter might not age as quickly, supported widely through the generosity of donors and the community it helps create.
‘I want Westerners who come here, who live in an expat bubble, to see another side of Egypt and how people live,’ said Rev. Steve Flora, pastor of MCC. ‘Though they barely have electricity or water they are happy, and their lives are being changed for good by the Gospel.’
Flora, who has sponsored a child in the village for the past four years, appreciates Healing Grace for the opportunity to develop a relationship with him. The church arranges visits twice a year; on this occasion twenty expats split into three groups to visit only some of the 49 families who benefit from sponsorship.
Bassel, the sponsorship coordinator for Healing Grace, said the program focuses on three components: Jesus, education, and health.
Every sponsored child is visited weekly by village staff members, who disciples him or her in an age appropriate manner. Healing Grace works with local churches to host an AWANA Club, and sends each child to a weekend retreat once a year. Peter’s favorite Bible story is Joseph and his brothers.
The program pays all school fees, including uniform and supplies, and helps provide private tutoring if necessary. Peter’s ambition is to be a doctor.
Perhaps he has been inspired during his medical checkups, provided free of charge with all necessary medicines. Healing Grace also supplies a monthly package of basic foodstuffs and twice a year outfits Peter and his siblings with new clothes.
‘These kids are different now, the sponsorship gives them health, education, and Christian community,’ said Bassel. ‘Every child deserves a chance, and we want to help transform their lives.’
Since 2009, this has been a reality for 1,275 children in 21 villages. In some Healing Grace has also installed water filtration units in a local church, open to all.
Flora remarked that within Christian denominations Healing Grace is an example and catalyst for unity. In Umm Peter’s village the sponsored children are supported equally through the Orthodox, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches.
‘We thank you for this ministry that provides spiritual and educational needs in this village,’ said Rev. Emil of the Evangelical church, built in 1917. ‘Christianity is not about preaching only, but also serving and helping others.’
Umm Peter served tea to her guests, extending hospitality to those far better off. After praying together the group bid farewell, ready to visit the next family just down the earthen path.
Sponsorship costs $30 a month, all of which goes to support the children. Healing Grace’s overhead costs are raised separately, supporting a staff of 60 with an additional 100 volunteers. For more information about children available for sponsorship, visit healinggraceministry.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘The ministry of Healing Grace is transformative for the villages, and for us who go and see,’ said Flora. ‘We hope the comparatively wealthy expats in our own church can experience even a portion of the life change that goes on in the village.’
This article was first published in Maadi Messenger.