The brutal beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS terrorists shocked the world. But almost as worldview shattering was the strong faith of the victims, even in the face of certain death. Now we know where their faith may have came from.
Her name is Mama Maggie. She's a Coptic Christian who, though she has never taken formal vows, is known as the Mother Teresa of Cairo. For two decades she has served the children in Egypt's slums through her organization, Stephen's Children, named after the first century Christian martyr.
Seven of the men who were beheaded came out of her schools. Five of them she knew by name.
In an interview on FoxNews.com’s “Spirited Debate,” the diminutive Mama Maggie said that when those young men were children growing up in her schools, she ate with them and prayed with them.
"Yes,” she said, “they are my boys."
The men were in Libya, looking for work to support their families in Egypt, when they were captured. As they faced death, they were said to have called on the name of Jesus. Mama Maggie explained how these simple men had such faith.
"From Him, firstly, because they experienced a real touch of love."
Then she pointed out the stark contrast between those who were killed and those who did the killing — and how their demeanors spoke volumes about what they believe.
“If you look at the picture you find the one who is trying to kill is covering his face,” Mama Maggie said. “He's afraid to face the world with who he is. And [the 21 Copts] have their identity, their self-respect and self-esteem clear. And they are looking up knowing they are going to live forever. I think it's a huge difference."
Unlike Mother Teresa, Mama Maggie came from upper-middle-class beginnings. Born Maggie Gobran, she became a professor at the American University in Cairo, a socialite and a successful businesswoman.
But she gave up her career after she saw children living in abject poverty and decided to help them, said Dr. Marty Makary, co-author of a biography on Mama Maggie.
"She visited a young child that was the same age and looked like her own daughter,” Makary said. “She couldn't sleep, and over months began to go back on her own and bring friends and sell some of her own things to generate money to help this child.”
"When the child took her back to the child's family, Mama Maggie saw the home and eight other kids living there, she realized she got more happiness out of serving that family than she did her job and traditional wealth."
Now 65 years old, Mama Maggie has served and educated some 30,000 low-income families in overwhelmingly Muslim Egypt, where Coptic Christians struggle as second-class citizens.
Stephen's Children is named after St. Stephen, one of the deacons of the early Christian Church whose martyrdom was not unlike today's Copts. When he was stoned to death for his beliefs, he was said to have looked calmly toward the heavens and saying he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. As he was dying, he's said to have uttered the words, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit."
"He fell to his knees and begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him."
But Stephen's story didn’t end there, and perhaps the same will be said of today's Coptic martyrs someday. Among those encouraging the stoning of Stephen was Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, who was a zealous persecutor of the early Christians. Later, Saul would encounter a risen Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and be transformed into Christianity's chief witness and teacher — Paul, who wrote nearly half the books of the New Testament.
If there turns out to have been a Paul among the Sauls of ISIS, Mama Maggie may have had a hand in it.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996.