When Khouria Manal aka Mimi arrived in Toronto nearly a year ago, I knew immediately there was something special about her. A self-described “shark” she is both a passionate, determined woman, as well as an absolute sweetheart. A transplant from Houston, by way of Alberta, she and her husband, Fr. George, were the much-needed support for our growing Orthodox community.
Fr. George and Khouria Mimi are an interesting, engaging couple, both active and faithful servants of the Lord. Though sweet and softspoken, she is a woman of strength and courage who honors the Lord in impressive, even unimaginable, ways, inspiring all who meet her.
Unfortunately, Khouria Mimi has been battling cancer since January 2017; her cancer is aggressive and unrelenting – but so is she. She suffers with a smile, unwilling to give up on God.
Today, I am humbled to have the honor of sharing her story. Her faith, courage, and trust in the Lord have inspired me in so many ways. I have no idea how or why I have been blessed with such a task, but I am truly touched to have been welcomed into the heart and mind of one of the most amazing women I know.
Jessica: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where were you born and raised? What’s your family like?
Khouria Mimi: I was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1970, and baptized into the Coptic Orthodox Church. I spent the first 8.5 years of my life in Alexandria before immigrating to the United States. I am the oldest of 3, I have 2 siblings, a sister who is 3 years younger than I, and a brother who is 7 years younger than I. We are all married and each have two children. My mother is alive and well, but my dad passed away 9.5 years ago from a brain tumor. He also miraculously outlived all of the doctor’s expectations, but he suffered a lot the last 7 months of his life.
Jessica: It seems like you had a very close relationship with your dad. Were you a daddy’s girl?
Khouria Mimi: Oh, too much! Until my brother was born and then forget it, the golden child of the family – the boy – was born. But no, my dad loved and treated all three of us equally, but of course, I was the first child, and the first grandbaby so yeah, I was spoiled rotten.
My dad was a very strong, powerful, oldfashioned Arab man who didn’t apologize to anybody for anything – his word was the authority of the house. The most beautiful thing about my dad was when he knew his time was coming, he called every single person he’s ever had a misunderstanding or quarrel with and asked for their forgiveness. That was pretty profound.
Jessica: At what age did you get married?
Khouria Mimi: When I got married, I was pretty young. I tell my kids I was 17 but I was actually 16 and 10 months. It was the culture I grew up in, especially in the Middle East, that was just the tradition back then. My parents are oldfashioned people and getting married at 17, 18, even 20, was pretty normal. I was, of course, still in high school, and I remember my friends telling me, at that time, I was absolutely crazy and insane, but thank God, I proved them all wrong.
Jessica: Were you ready to get married at 16?
Khouria Mimi: I’ve always been more mature than my age. A couple of weeks before I met Fr. George another man came to ask for my hand in marriage and I was infuriated! I was yelling at my parents and told them, “What are you people thinking?! I’m too young, there is no way I’m going to get married now, I still want to live my life.” And then, within a couple of weeks, I met Fr. George.
Jessica: How did you and Fr. George meet?
Khouria Mimi: Fr. George grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, and when I met Fr. George, he was studying all his life with the intention of becoming a priest – a celibate Catholic priest, mind you. So I met him because of the fact that his uncle and my dad were best friends, so he came to visit his uncle in New Jersey where I was living at the time.
A month later, I don’t know what happened, he asked for my hand in marriage, and I said, “Absolutely.”
Jessica: Really? How did you know he was “the one”?
Khouria Mimi: I just knew that he was my soul mate. We just connected right there from day one. I don’t think he envisioned he would ever get married. A couple of weeks before he had attended a friend of his uncle’s wedding and everyone said to him, Aabelik meaning “You’re next” in Arabic, and he said, “Oh no, I’m never getting married” and then it just happened.
I truly believe – and I don’t know that this is theologically correct – but I believe in my heart of hearts that when we are born our soul is split into two, and when you reunite with your missing soul, you just know it. When I met him, I wasn’t initially attracted to him, but his ideology, his intellect, his maturity, his love for Christ, his yearning to serve God, really spoke to my heart because I’ve always been very religious, and very close to the Church. I just knew that he was the kind of person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with – even though I was only 15 when we met. He was 24. There is a 9-year difference between us, but my maturity level was right at his. He also started to change his feelings about the celibate life and wanted a life partner. It was just the right time.
Jessica: So logistically speaking, how did it work with a to-be Catholic priest now – unexpectedly – married?
Khouria Mimi: The first 10 years of our marriage, Fr. George, honestly, had a very hard time, because when you hear the calling of Christ from when you are 8 years old till the age of 24, all of your focus is in one direction – to become a priest, and serve Him and dedicate your whole life to Him. Suddenly now, you find yourself married, then you have a baby and then you have a second baby, and then you have to work and put food on the table, it was a completely different lifestyle. I remember him crying tears, so many nights, he felt like, maybe, he made a wrong decision. He was a great husband and father, but he had his own personal struggles.
By the grace of God, little by little, in the Melike Catholic Church, his eyes started to open to the Orthodox Church. He then started studying Orthodoxy, and eventually, he started to convert himself spiritually. After lengthy conversations, we decided we wanted to go back to our roots. So one morning, we crossed the freeway from the Melike Catholic Church to the Orthodox Church. We never looked back. We have been very committed to the Antiochian Orthodox Church since then.
Jessica: What was it like having your kids when you were so young?
Khouria Mimi: I had Andrew when I was 20 and Mary when I was 22 so I felt like in a way I grew up with them. We would watch Saturday morning cartoons and go play together – I was their mother but it also allowed me to have my childhood with them, we bonded and we became very, very close. I was also blessed that the first 10 years of our marriage I was able to stay at home and raise my children, I never once sent them to daycare, I took care of them. Money was tight, I had to do babysitting while I was at home taking care of my kids. We didn’t live in the most extravagant house, but that was not a problem for me because my whole world was my children.
Jessica: How do you view your role as a Khouria? What does being a “Khouria” mean to you?
Khouria Mimi: When Fr. George was ordained, I was used to having him with us 100 percent of the time, so it was a shock to me when all of a sudden now, I had to share him. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m losing my husband.” But then I realized that his ministry and his service to God was my ministry. It took me a little while to realize that this is going to be my life; I either accepted, loved and embraced it or I was going to have a very hard time, but I love it and I embrace it.
What it means to me personally is to lay down my life for my ministry, and to put Him first, to put God first. To put God before my own children even, because I needed to take care of things that needed to be taken care of. Our children learned to be very strong and committed to God – everything else is secondary.
Jessica: So how did you, a couple from Houston, Texas, end up in Toronto, Canada?
Khouria Mimi: Father George was an assistant priest at St. George in Houston and, at that time, my business and career had really taken off. We had a very successful catering business because that was my passion, I’m a chef, and I loved my business. I’ve been operating my business for 15 years and God has blessed us financially.
We were in church one morning and I’m like, “Thank you, God, you’ve really blessed us, we have everything we need,” but at that time the calling came: Fr. George was needed in Calgary, Alberta. They needed a priest who spoke both Arabic and English as they were foreseeing that they’ll be a lot of new immigrants, so our Bishop pretty much asked us to go to Calgary.
So I went to church that morning thinking there’s no way I’m going to leave my children and go start a brand new life in Calgary, there’s no way, we’ve worked too hard to get to where we are.
Within 2 weeks, we had literally just left everything and went to Calgary in January 2015. I walked out on my children, my business, my home, my car. Leaving my children was really the hardest thing, but I put God first, before my children. We went to Calgary and we were there for 2.5 years. We left a luxurious lifestyle to start all over again, but you know, I would not change it for the world because by putting God first, God has blessed us. He took better care of my children through other people than I would have ever dreamed of, so yeah, putting God first has always been what I do. I don’t deserve God’s blessings and everything He’s given to me but I’m grateful to Him.
Jessica: So now that you’re here in Toronto do you have any insight as to why you were called to move and start all over again?
Khouria Mimi: Honestly, we were so comfortable and settled in Calgary that we fought it [moving to Toronto], we really did not want to come here, but when Fr. Iskander needed an assistant, I don’t know how or why Fr. George was chosen. I was already diagnosed with cancer 7 months and I was settled in my hospital treatment. My health was stable and we fought it, honestly, but we didn’t know the heaven that was waiting for us here.
That very first Sunday we were here, we knew this was home. We had no idea the magnitude of love, warmth, and affection we would receive here, the incredible reception, but it’s funny, sometimes you fight something yet God’s will is far greater than anything you could ever envision. Another blessing was the hospital and the medical system here. Princess Margaret is a really good hospital so God had this plan in mind because He knew on many levels this was the blessing we needed.
Jessica: How do you feel about your current battle with cancer?
Khouria Mimi: I was diagnosed with cancer in January 2017 while in Calgary. I was very active in the Church, and then I started to feel certain ailments so I went to my doctor and I was diagnosed with cancer. I am, unfortunately, in a position right now, where the chemo I am on has become ineffective [I have done 22 rounds], so I need to move on to a stronger chemo, which is much more toxic with greater side-effects. They just recently discovered my cancer is so aggressive that it actually moved to my liver. I’m starting my new chemo this week so we will see how that goes.
Want to hear the funny thing, though? Ever since I was diagnosed in January 2017, they told me I had a maximum of 3 months to live, maybe chemo would buy me another 1.5 to 3 years if I’m lucky. But I had this inner peace in my heart that was so profound, I just knew I was going to be okay.
My humanity takes the best of me, and I break down and I cry, and I say, “Why me? Come on, God, heal me already, what’s taking you so long? You promised to take good care of me, you promised to listen to my prayers.” I fight with God. I’m no angel. This cancer has made me feel so weak and so angry, and I try so hard to rise above it and be strong, but I suffer a lot through chemo. At Church, I smile a lot and I’m happy because I’m with my family, but when I go home, I’m in pain and I’m scared, but the crazy thing is I still have inner peace in my heart that God will heal me. I can’t explain it. It’s like I have an inner struggle within my soul, I know I’m going to be okay, yet I’m still suffering, and I’m crying because of my suffering.
When I was first diagnosed it was in one location, which was just colorectal cancer and I was stage 2 at that time. They told me there could be surgery, and eventually, I’d stop with my chemo and move on with my life. Then, they did a bone scan and realized it had already spread to my bones, my lymph nodes and my skull. So right away I went from stage 2 to stage 4. It took me by surprise, I lost it completely. How could this happen in such a short period of time? Now, there is no healing for me, I’d just have to be on maintenance chemo for the rest of my life. But you know, in hindsight, God was protecting me from drastic surgery because when my healing comes, my body will be 100 percent, it will be intact, I’m going to have all my organs together. And when my healing comes, when my miracles comes, I’m going to be restored.
Things look bad right now, and the cancer is aggressively growing, but God has a plan for me. And in His divine wisdom, there is going to be a miracle for me, there is no doubt in my mind. In the meantime, I just have to be patient. In fact, every time I pray to the Theotokos She speaks to me, and says, “Be patient. Be patient.” I’m going to listen to Her. I’m also human, and I know that I have some struggles ahead of me, but I will wait on the Lord, I will wait on Him to bring me my miracle. In the meantime, I’m going to be a bright and cheerful person, and I’m going to serve my community to the best of my physical ability.
I feel like my story is like the story of the paralytic when his friends carried him through the roof of the house to the feet of Christ. I feel like this community are those friends, you are all, by your prayers, bringing me to the feet of Christ. Your prayers are what’s sustaining me.
We are all going to celebrate this miracle together, of course, I hope it’s sooner rather than later, but we will see God’s timing. This cancer is not until death, but unto the glory of God!
For me, the most inspiring element of Khouria Mimi’s life and story is her joyfulness. In all her struggles and tribulations, she somehow remains joyful, always able to inspire and uplift others. Honestly, sometimes when I’m with her, I forget she has cancer. I forget she is in pain fighting for her life because she always manages to rise above.
I humbly ask that you please keep her in your prayers, offering any words of kindness, support, and encouragement as I know she and her family could use them at this time. Any emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org will be forwarded to Khouria Mimi directly.
May God and the Theotokos continue to strengthen and uplift you, Khouria Mimi, because like you said, “There is going to be a miracle for me, there is no doubt in my mind. In the meantime, I just have to be patient.”
From your lips to God’s ears! We are all here for you and cannot wait to celebrate this miracle together!