Lillian’s Legacy


Lillian Trasher
Lillian Trasher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Located around 375 kilometers from Cairo, on the banks of the Nile is the city of Assiut.  At a glance, Assiut’s facts are not  impressive but there is a place in Assiut that has had world-wide impact since 1911. Lillian Trasher orphanage, the largest orphanage in the world and home to roughly 800 children of every size and every age. It can without hesitation be described as a “Light of the world and a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden“.

Lillian began the orphanage on February 10th, 1911. The story goes that this young woman, engaged to be married, felt a ‘calling’ to go overseas and help. She had previously worked in an orphanage in North Carolina and through a missionary talk at her church developed a deep compassion for people who lived thousands of miles away in desperate situations and circumstances. 10 days from her wedding day she defied all social norms of the time by breaking off her engagement and informing a non-supportive family that she was going to Egypt!

In all of Egypt there were no orphanages and after living there for no more than a few months a  man came to her with a little baby girl, asking her to care for this child whose mother was dying. The word “child-saver”  was given to her as more and more would come with the same request. This began what would turn into a home for over 1200 orphans by the time of her death in 1961.

So why tell this story? In the midst of the chaos in Egypt, the Centennial Celebration for Lillian Trasher was  scheduled for this week, today to be exact.  Feeling it was unwise to hold the festivities given the unpredictable events in Egypt, the Centennial is now cancelled.  George Assad, who was raised in the orphanage, is the compassionate and gifted director of Lillian Trasher Orphanage and earlier this year sent out a world-wide message as well as a notice on the web site asking former residents of the orphanage to send any messages that they wished to have read at the event. People had purchased tickets from all over the world to head to Assiut to celebrate the memory of this woman and the legacy of her work and the orphanage.  Practically speaking, adoption is not legal in Egypt.  The government has strict laws governing any kind of adoption arrangement and stiff penalties for trying to go around the law.  That is where this orphanage steps in as a refuge and community, giving food, shelter ,and best of all, peace.

With a shoe-string budget and against all odds, the orphanage has survived and thrived.  It prides itself on operating as a large family, not as an institution. The current director and his wife, George and Fathiya, open their hearts to orphans on a daily basis, and and their home to visitors whenever they come.  They raised a family of five- four girls and one boy who are now adults living in Egypt, the United States and New Zealand.  The family is beautiful both inside and out.  I’ve rarely seen so many good-looking people in one family!

Our family has the privilege of knowing the Assad family and call them our friends. We have been treated to the hospitality of the orphanage several different times and their son, Joseph, was a lifesaver to us as my husband’s assistant in the Middle East Studies Program that he began many years ago.  My now adult children have great memories of weekends away from the crowds of Cairo, participating in a field day and enjoying great food cooked especially for us by Fathiya. An especially fond memory is that of our 3 oldest at the ages of 10,8, and 7 singing Jingle Bells in Arabic to a room full of Egyptian children, residents of the orphanage and drinking the home-made wine for communion that had the potential to turn them off of alcohol forever!

Although mass protests and unrest may stop a formal celebration, the enduring legacy of “Mama” Lillian and the faith that sustained her and gave guidance will never stop.  The Assads and others at the orphanage continue to live out a love for God and care for widows and orphans. It will continue having an eternal impact throughout Egypt and the world.The words that guided Lillian when she first left for Egypt are just as compelling today as they were 100 years ago.

I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.

9 thoughts on “Lillian’s Legacy

  1. Hi Marilyn,
    We have listened to Lillian stories several times from the Christian Heroes Then and Now Series. I was looking for a way to donate to Lillian’s still operating Orphanage. Can you please let me know how I would go about doing that?


  2. Marilyn Dear,
    I was ‘thrilled’ when I saw this tonight. My several visits to the orphanage were ‘highlights’ of my life in Egypt…I must agree that George and Fathiya are an amazing host and hostess. My first time there was with ‘Dwight and Anita Dobson’.
    I had not seen a photo of Lillian or heard exactly ‘when’ the orphanage began so am so thankful for this information. It was one month after my dear mother was born in 1911.

    That you so much, Marilyn, for sharing….


  3. US Congressman Joe Pitts addressed the US House of Representatives on 11 February with attached message about the orphanage. Amazingly, the orphanage day coincided with two other events, the removal of Hosni Mubarak as president of Egypt, and the 40th day anniversary of the bombing of the Coptic church in Alexandria. The congressional address was well-deserved for this great work over 100 years and the witnesses (read: Marilyn) who continue to broadcast this story of hope in the midst of Egypt. For the first time in decades, Egyptians are proud of their country and have a hope for the future.

    Please see below link:

    Thank you Marilyn for posting this beautiful story, and I will not convey the wine-comment to the orphanage, because they actually believe that they make fine wine in Upper Egypt!


    1. Joseph – one of my favorite people in all the world! Thank you so much for reading and for this comment. Thrilled to see the youtube clip. And I am so sorry about the wine comment….I think it’s because they were little ha! I’ll take that out!! So wonderful to hear from you – please give your parents greetings and congratulations on Egypt’s wonderful example to the world of peace in protest.


  4. Hi Marilyn,
    it’s so wonderful to read about the orphanage and to hear of its great legacy! We so loved getting to know Joseph while he was there at the CCCU and we are thankful that the family is celebrating such a milestone. 100 years is an incredible history and God has surely blessed so many people across the globe through this organization. Thank you so much for the update. Praying for Annie as well, and please tell her I enjoyed her first-hand account. She was certainly close in our hearts and prayers as all this unfolded in Cairo.


    1. It is so good to hear from you Jeri and thanks for reading. I was remembering our families and the wonderful memories and time together when Cliff forwarded Ron’s email to me. Would so love to get together when you are in the area. Lots to catch up on. Thanks for praying. It’s a country that gets into your soul, doesn’t it? It is actually so wonderful in so many ways having Annie there. Thanks again so much for reading and commenting!


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