The final day of Willow Creek’s 16th annual Leadership Summit included an emotionally moving talk given by a soft-spoken Mama Maggie Groban, who ministers to the children and families in the garbage slum neighborhoods of Cairo, Egypt.
Tens of thousands of pastors, ministry leaders and corporate leaders watching the two-day summit at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Ill. and sites across North America were treated to dynamic speakers from various business and social fields. However, it may have been the humble and often tearful Groban who made the most impact during the morning session Friday, the last day of the conference.
Groban is founder of Stephen’s Children, a ministry based in Cairo that matches home mentors with children, supports 80 preschools with medical clinics, and serves children from more than 25,000 families, all in the neighborhoods of the garbage collectors or urban poor. She is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and also known as the "Mother Teresa of Cairo."
After a brief introductory video about her ministry, Groban received a long standing ovation from those in attendance.
In a speech filled with compassion, Groban began by describing a time in Cairo when she was buying a pair of shoes for a young girl who asked that the shoes that were selected for her be exchanged to an adult size so that her shoeless mother could have a pair instead.
“That left me in shock,” Groban said tearfully. “I went back home thinking I could have been in this mother’s place. You know, we don’t choose where to be born, but we do choose to either be sinners or saints.”
The morning session was led by Willow Creek Church founder and pastor, Bill Hybels. He said the decision to have this particular session called, “Tough Callings,” was a difficult one. Hybels said he had to pray for confirmation. Compassion International President Wes Stafford was also a speaker during Friday’s first session.
Hybels opened the session by describing companies, groups, and people that are easy to interpret as success stories.
“It’s easy to romanticize leadership. We love to talk about the feel-good success stories: Apple, Microsoft, etc. We love rags to riches leadership stories,” Hybels said. “We need to be careful that we don’t get trapped into the idea that more success in leadership means more money, influence, etc.”
Then, Hybels began to ask questions.
“What if God was calling us to important work that was going to unlikely be a success? What if God was calling us to lead an organization that would require drastic self-sacrifice and no guarantee of success? Would you sign up for that?”
“I think it’s very possible that we can get hooked on the narcotic of growth and success,” he concluded.
Groban said she led a comfortable life before sacrificing all she had and following her calling in Cairo. She was the youngest daughter of a doctor, coming from a middle class family that enjoyed many of the finer things in life. She liked traveling, nice clothes, and jewelry, and thought that having these things is what it means to be elegant.
“Later, I found to be elegant, it (needs to) come from the inside. It is love and true love is to give. To give until it hurts,” she said.
Twenty-five years ago she heard her first calling from God and she said she never imagined what she was about to see unfold in her life.
Before starting her ministry, Groban taught computer science and lectured at Cairo University.
“I had the best students, the smartest in the whole country. When God wanted to promote me he said, ‘leave the best and the smartest, and go to the poorest.’ That moment I could not believe,” she said. “But that moment I found Him shining for me, waiting for me with a crown of love. It’s that moment when you die to yourself, when you discover the beauty and the power in you.”
Groban described the terrible hunger the children in the Cairo slums not only have for food, but for love.
“When I listen to a poor child speak, I am listening to the heart of Jesus beating for all of humanity,” she said.
At the end of her speech, Groban received another rousing standing ovation.
Hybels prayed after her talk and his words reflected the special moment at the conference.
“Dear Father in heaven, sometimes we are affected by the countenance and the presence of a leader. Mama Maggie doesn’t fit the description of what most of us have in our minds about a high capacity, high impact, courageous leader and yet we feel the impact of her presence.
“We feel the impact of her spirit and there are tens of thousands of children in Cairo that feel the impact of her strong leadership. She brings hope and help to that very difficult environment...,” Hybels prayed.