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Signs of Hope

The church in Egypt rises again, reaching out to those on the margins

text by Magdy Samaan with photographs by Roger Anis

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Editors’ note: Through countless efforts across Egypt, the Coptic Catholic Church — although numerically small — works tirelessly to elevate lives and promote the flourishing of communities. The challenges are great, particularly when serving those who are marginalized. But some of the success stories offer inspiration and, in so many ways, signs of hope.

Fefi Abdel describes the home life of her youth with a sense of isolation and sadness. “My parents do not know sign language,” the 24-year-old says. “When I used to live in their house, I didn’t feel well; nobody understood me and I didn’t understand what was going on around me.”

When she goes on to say the Better Life ministry changed her life, it is easy to see why. The program, which addresses the needs of deaf and hearing-impaired Egyptians, has provided her not only with care, but also a sense of community.

“When I come here, I feel connected to the world. I’m very happy when I’m amongst them,” she says, signing her words faster than Mariam Nassif, the leader of the program, could translate.

Through this community, the young woman even met her husband, 22-year-old Dawood Milad.

“I liked him in secret for a long time, and he liked me in secret,” she says, face shining with a shy smile. “He proposed to me at a conference in Alexandria.”

Employed in a limestone quarry in Minya, a city south of Cairo, Mr. Milad works hard but earns little money — a limitation felt all the more acutely now, as the couple is expecting their first child.

“God has chosen Dawood for me,” Mrs. Abdel says. “We will live happily in peace, even with little money.”

Fefi and Dawood are just two out of about 100 hearing-impaired people who are served by the Better Life. Established by the Rev. Boulos Nassif — Mariam Nassif’s brother — the ministry has been serving the Coptic Catholic Eparchy of Minya directly for more than 20 years.

To the group’s members, the Nassif siblings are pillars — practically parental figures, as some say — always willing to discuss problems and share advice.

“The ministry here is not only spiritual,” Ms. Nassif says. “The families bring us their children early on and we become everything for them.”

Every Friday, two buses arrive at St. Joseph School in Minya around 11 a.m., after collecting participants from surrounding villages. The program begins with some recreational time, followed by group prayer. Finally, each age group is given a choice of workshops to attend in the various classrooms, where instructors — themselves often deaf — teach a variety of topics.

Through what the ministry receives in donations, Ms. Nassif says, it provides assistance to its members, including clothing, food, health care and school tuition. Furthermore, the program offers members translation services, which is particularly helpful when dealing with governmental entities.

Ten of its youngest members have received assistance to attend a primary school in Cairo for the deaf, as their local schools could not accommodate them.

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