Barnabas invests in hope by funding small business ventures that enable poor and marginalised Christians to become financially independent. Although some initiatives are simple and small, the impact they have on individual families is enormous.
“Ruth”, a Christian mother living in a poor desert area of Egypt, gives thanks to God and Barnabas Aid for giving her family “hope and a new beginning”.
She had no means with which to support her family after her builder husband was paralysed in a fall at work. Only a monthly allowance from their church spared the family from destitution.
Now Ruth can support her family with her own income, thanks to a small business that was set up with funding from Barnabas.
Ruth and 15 other impoverished Christian women – the majority of them widows – were each given a stock of new slippers and shoes to sell.
The women used the profits from sales to buy more stock and their businesses “have grown step by step”, our project partner says.
Each of the women earns enough to provide for herself and her family, and they no longer need to receive financial support from the church.
This is just one example of how Barnabas is helping impoverished Christian women and young men, who frequently struggle to find work in Egypt, to become self-reliant.
Since January 2023, Barnabas has helped more than 310 Egyptian Christians to escape grinding poverty by enabling them to start up 289 small businesses.
Market stalls provide income for 23 Christians
Twelve Christian widows and seven young men are now making a living from Barnabas-funded market stalls that can easily be moved from location to location. We provided each seller with a start-up stock of sweets, mixed nuts, chocolates and seeds, all bought in bulk to reduce costs, which was then packed into smaller bags.
Sellers set up their stalls outside transport stations, schools, clubs and churches while some have made deals with established grocery stores and kiosks to sell their products.
In addition, we trained four Christian women to bake cookies and cakes from home for sale on the stalls, which enabled the four women to earn an income as well.
One of the stallholders, “David”, had been devastated when he was made redundant from his sales job, which left him without an income to support his wife, his three children and his sick mother. He now makes a good living from his stall and no longer has to ask his church for money to buy his mother’s medicine.
Believers share benefits of transport enterprises
Barnabas funded the purchase of 12 second-hand three-wheel trucks. Each vehicle is shared by two young Christian men, one working the morning shift, the other the evening shift, to transport goods and products.
The men have established a good reputation in their villages for their services. Some have even secured contracts with small factories, transporting their products to shops or wholesalers.
Additionally, they give free transport services to local churches.
“Michael”, a young Christian man, is due to marry his fiancée in 2024, but didn’t have enough money to provide a home for them both. Thanks to the income he receives from working the evening shift on the three-wheel truck, he is able to save money to afford a home for when the couple are wed.
In another new transport venture, four young believers are sharing in pairs two tuktuks (small vehicles used as taxis, sometimes called auto rickshaws) funded by Barnabas. Tuktuks are the main form of passenger transportation in villages, and each vehicle is in use around 17 hours a day.
“Francis” struggled to support his sick father and younger brothers, especially after his mother passed away. Now, with the money he earns from his tuktuk shifts, he is able to pay for his father’s medical treatment and look after his family.
Carpenters given tools to think big
Barnabas also funded the purchase of additional tools and machinery for five carpentry workshops. This enabled the young men we supported in the workshops to produce heavier furniture such as cupboards, chairs and beds, and increase their earning potential.
Carpenter “Matthew” couldn’t afford the transport costs needed for his daughter to travel to school.
“Today with this expansion at work,” he says, “I’m receiving more orders and making more profit and my daughter goes to school every day.”
Businesses targeted to meet demand
All the small enterprises are targeted to meet local demand.
Nine widows and seven young people were each provided with a second-hand photocopier as well as a stock of stationery supplies to sell, such as notebooks, pens and pencil cases.
Each business is located close to a large customer base, such as a university, school, educational centre or government office.
In another venture, seven young car mechanics were supplied with the tools to repair batteries and helped to set up businesses close to main roads where they were on hand to help drivers in the event of a breakdown.
One of the mechanics, “Paul”, and his widowed mother were having to live at his uncle’s home after their house was destroyed in an accidental fire. Thanks to the income he earns from battery repairs, Paul can now afford to rent a room where he and his mother live happily.
Another enterprise saw four young men provided with a stock of water filters and spare parts to sell in villages where the water supply is unclean, and the demand for water filters is high.
This has come as a relief to villagers who now have access to clean water, as well as to the impoverished young Christians supported by Barnabas.
One of the sellers explained that he had been desperate to find work to end his poverty and learning that he was to receive a grant to start up a business was the answer to his prayers.
He said, “A week before taking the project grant I was crying in the church asking God for His favour to help me in my time of need to find a job, and He replied to me with the project grant.”
“I remembered the Bible verse when Jesus said, ‘Ask and it will be given to you’,” he added, referring to Matthew 7:7.
2,000 years of Christian persecution in Egypt
Christians in Egypt have faced persecution for much of the past 2,000 years. Believers endured persecution under Roman rule in the first century, and this intensified with the arrival of Islam in 640AD. The new Arab rulers relegated Christians and Jews to a second-class status, forcing them to submit to a raft of restrictions and humiliating regulations.
Christians today make up around 10% of the population of Egypt. They remain subject to hostility and discrimination by the majority Muslim society. This is especially the case in rural areas where violence occasionally erupts against Christian communities and churches, and believers struggle to find work.
The threat from Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) has diminished in the 2020s, compared to the previous decade when IS atrocities included suicide bombings at two churches in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday 2017 that claimed at least 46 lives.
President supportive of Christian community
Christians say their situation in Egypt is now better than it has been in living memory.
The country’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has been swift to give verbal and practical backing to the Christian community whenever anti-Christian incidents occur.
Al-Azhar University now controls most of the mosques so that the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, has become less influential.
The government of al-Sisi introduced the 2016 Law for Building and Restoring Churches, which mitigated laws dating from 1856 and 1934 that made it almost impossible for churches to obtain a licence, forcing many congregations to worship illegally.
At the time of writing, 3,189 of the 3,730 churches or church-affiliated buildings that applied for registration have received licences granted under the 2016 law, leaving 541 applications remaining.