‘A Real Show of God’s Love’ — Ben Marcos Recalls Serve to Learn (Application Deadline April 15!)

Ben Marcos and new friend demonstrate how to relax, Serve to Learn 2005, Matay.
Ben Marcos and new friend demonstrate how to relax during Serve to Learn 2005, Matay.

The last day to apply for Serve to Learn is April 15!  This is an opportunity to be part of an inspiring and life-transforming experience serving God’s children.

Serve to Learn is our unique summer program that brings people from all over the world to Egypt to teach kids basic English through fun activities. This year, it’s July 4-26. Arabic and teaching skills are helpful but not critical. Respect, kindness, and high energy are key!

The people who’ve actually done Serve to Learn are the best ones to share what it’s like. So in addition to interviews with Kirollos, Mariam, and Alex, I’m glad to add this one with Ben Marcos

Ben, who was part of Serve to Learn in 2005 in Matay, is a Sydney native who now calls Melbourne home. He had these thoughts to share:

For you, what was the most moving or life-changing part of Serve to Learn?

Basically, for me —  it was all about the welcome!

There is something very special about being able to do ordinary things and seeing extraordinary outcomes. We were a group of young people — with little to no experience teaching in any country other than our Western homes. We went there aiming to teach the alphabet, some English songs, classroom games and some crafts — hardly deep academia. But one would never have thought teaching something so simple would mean so much to people on the other side of the world — people that could have been me or you. While there was so many good memories, I will never forget the welcome we got from the good people of Matay.

We finished our orientation Cairo and got on a bus to drive four hours down the Nile to our base in Matay. We ended up arriving about 10:30pm. As we were arriving at our destination we saw some lights off in the distance and we could vaguely make out that there was a heap of people there. We thought there was some celebration or something going on and one of the youth on the bus pointed to it and said, “Look, there must be a wedding on or something.” We all thought it was some sort of massive celebration. To our surprise, we got closer and realized the light was the entrance to the church and the massive group of people were there to welcome us! Old people, kids, youth, all of them were there to welcome a bunch of volunteers who bothered to spend three weeks with them. It was such a humbling experience and a real show of God’s love from people who had never met us before. It was a real-life example of God’s love for His fellow man.

Did Serve to Learn deepen your understanding of Egypt and your roots?

Absolutely! I left Egypt when I was two years old and I’ve only visited there twice since then. Both trips (as with most people that go back to visit) were filled with tourists sites, family visits, and, of course, food! Funnily enough, my family never wanted to take me to the poor parts of Egypt, the raw parts of Egypt… the real Egypt and how most of the population lived.

Egypt is a place of vast contrast… spending three weeks in Egypt filled with City Star, Zamalek, the Pyramids, and rice pudding is very different to spending three weeks traveling through the Matay regions, visiting the poor in their homes and riding a donkey. The Serve to Learn experience gave me a much deeper understanding of how the majority of the poor and disadvantaged lived. What their challenges were and how they overcame their struggles.

The amazing thing was that my family was originally from Upper Egypt, not far from Matay, in El Menya. For some reason, God allowed me to grow up in Sydney while people my age grew up struggling in Upper Egypt — we had the same blood and the same forefathers. My grandparents grew up around here. To appreciate your roots and gain an understanding for who we are as Egyptians allows you to understand your identity, connect with those who you consider your fellow countrymen, and have an appreciation of God’s grace.

Given the chance, what would you have done more of during the program?

I am a very “hands on” person — I love getting involved with the local people and immersing myself in their daily lives and challenges. This may not be for everybody, but I would have loved to get involved in a wider community initiative. This may take some coordinating, but exposure to a community challenge that they may be facing, and the opportunity to work with locals to help find a solution or just give a helping hand, would have been great. Anything from helping them come up with a localized enterprise, helping to build something, or even just giving a hand with cleaning something up would have been a great experience and give you a priceless experience in further developing your connection with the people of the area.

Serve to Learn is already a pretty intense time, so I’m not sure how it can be managed — but perhaps we could teach in the morning and do this work later in the day, or maybe alternate days between the school and community work, or even run it as a separate program. I think a variety of things people can do would really resonate with the young people of today.

What advice would you give anyone considering applying for Serve to Learn?

Do it! God sometimes likes to meet you outside of your comfort zone. He likes to take you away from your regular routine and the hustle and bustle of daily life to talk to you and reveal Himself to you in a way you would never expect. But this can only happen if you are open to Him and are willingly happy to “leave your father and mother” to serve Him. Serve to Learn is not comfortable or easy — but one thing is for sure — God generally doesn’t reveal himself to you when you’re in a comfortable or easy environment. Leave the indulgent tourist holidays to when you’re old and grey — you’re young… Do something crazy for God!

Apply now for Serve to Learn; the April 15 deadline is practically here! If you still have questions, you can learn more by reading the Serve to Learn FAQ, or by writing to us directly at info@copticorphans.org.

Also, you can “see” Serve to Learn through our Serve to Learn video (courtesy of co-geniuses Fady Hanna and Mark Yacoub—thank you!) or learn about the “Top 5 Myths Why You Can’t Take Part in Serve to Learn Debunked.” 

PS  If you have a moment and want to help the cause, please go to the top of this post and hit the “Like” button. Or if you’re already post-Facebook, please push out this link thru whatever social media you use. Thanks!

About Nermien Riad

Nermien Riad founded Coptic Orphans in 1988 after volunteering for an orphanage in Cairo. When she saw that most of the children had living widowed mothers who simply couldn’t afford to feed them, she gathered family and friends to sponsor children in Egypt. Today Coptic Orphans works through a network of 400+ church-based volunteers in Egypt, who visit fatherless families in their homes and make sure they get everything they need to unlock their full potential. That way, they don’t have to get married off as child brides, work as 10-year old family breadwinners, or go to live at an institutional orphanage.