As the applause grows at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, her head falls. Eventually, it lies on the podium. People stand, and the applause increases. It is for Mama Maggie Gobran, a Coptic nun from Cairo. She is the Mother Teresa of Egypt. She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times for her work among the poor. She had fed thousands of people across the middle-east. As violence has errupted in Egypt, she has stood again and again for peace. As we applaud, she hides her old, yet smooth-skinned face. She becomes smaller, almost folds into the podium. As the applause finally ends, she has backed a bit away from the podium, her right hand now clutching the simple cross on the breast of her white Coptic habit. The room settles, is hushed to stillness. Quietly, she returns to the podium. A small, peaceful voice prays in broken English, “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I serve you. Jesus, I praise you. You are all. You are all to me.” She is small, but a presence hangs over her, as if she is larger than anyone I have ever seen on the Willow Creek stage. “I am the least,” she says. “I am the one who has been forgiven much, but loved little. Jesus is all. I am the least of anyone here.”
She speaks and no one moves. It is as if we have been bused from a huge auditorium, beyond screens and speakers, and are in a small chapel, a handful of disciples sitting at her feet, hanging on every syllable. Only it is not about her, but about her devotion to Jesus. She moves in and out of prayer as she speaks. Teaching, praying, teaching, praying. Her lesson is simple. “God wants to use you to do great things. You.” Oddly, we know she cannot–would not–willingly lie to us. We believe her. God wants to use us. Me. She continues, “But there are some things you need to do for him to use you. First, you need to call on Jesus. Call out to him. Seek him! Second, you must give up all, and follow Jesus. You must go where he goes. Finally, the hardest: have a pure heart and to get to know the Almighty, the Holy One.”
It is a simple message of whole-hearted dedication. “If you want to be a hero, to make a difference, to change the world, do what God wants you to do. Only that.” Her peace and affection are tangible, like a gentle rub on knotted shoulders. As she speaks, I find myself falling into her words like a serene, warm pool, drawn by her character and countenance. I feel deeply loved by her. I want to serve alongside her. I want to love like she loves. I want to trust Jesus like she does. And love him like she does. Lord, may I, please?
As she ends, she gently asks permission of the audience. “May I bless you? May I bless this place, and all who are connected to this place? May I bless your country? May I bless you, please?” Oh yes! Our hearts cry out, but we cannot make a sound. The room remains frozen. As a sign of this blessing, she kneels in the silence, and kisses the stage. Her face again is lost in the white of her Coptic shawl for a minute. If someone else did this, it would seem theatrical. But this is right, and we are hungry for her silent blessings. Her kiss carries her prayers, and the Bible promises that, ” the prayers of a righteous person have much power.” She remains on her knees longer than is comfortable for us, but we do not want it to end. It is a holy moment. For a long moment, eternity pours out on us.
She rises smoothly, as one who moves to and from her knees often. Applause rises, out of place, but we do not know what else to do. I feel like someone who has tasted what heaven will be like. My nose is running, and my cheeks are wet. I pray. Thank you, Jesus. I feel spiritually full, and painfully hungry.