‘Simply Go to Love and Be Loved’ — John Eskandar Reflects on Serve to Learn

  His Holiness Pope Tawadros II held a special meeting with the volunteers, commending them for teaching children in Mallawi and Assiut.
John Eskandar poses with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II during a July 12, 2014 meeting with the Serve to Learn volunteers.

I’ve been interviewing our Serve to Learn volunteers so that everyone can hear about the program from those who’ve done it. Today, I’m proud to share the reflections of John Eskandar, who took part in Serve to Learn 2014.

For those of you who don’t know, Serve to Learn is a challenging, life-changing, three-week service trip to Egypt. (By the way, you can find your application for the July 3-25 2015 Serve to Learn trip here!) Young people from all over the world answer their calling to make a difference in the world by signing up to serve. Once in Egypt, volunteers are immersed in the life of the community as they teach basic English to the children. Arabic and teaching skills are a great asset for volunteers, but what’s more important is to be ready for some hard work, lots of love, and to be forever changed!

John Eskandar is a Serve to Learn all star! He has attended Serve to Learn four times in the past five years and can’t seem to get enough. John lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his family. He graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) with a chemical engineering degree and currently works as an environmental construction engineer to provide sanitation to his city. His goal is to use whatever education and experience he can gain to glorify God’s name wherever He needs him.

If you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with GabyMina, AndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle.

Here’s what John had to say about Serve to Learn 2014:

1. What are some things you admired about the families and people you served with? What do you think you learn from them?

The families I served with [as part of Serve to Learn] are extremely hospitable. They definitely think that visitors are saints. When the servants come to that (false) conclusion, they then treat the visitors as if they are kings and queens. This taught me a great deal of humility. They only see the good in people, and humble themselves to the lowest levels, when really they are saints.

2. Coptic history in Egypt shapes who Copts are today. While you were on Serve to Learn, did you see where some of our traditions come from?

I recently gave a presentation on Serve to Learn at St. Marks in Washington, D.C., in which I talked about how much this trip has made me appreciate being a Copt. Our trip to Ansena was one of my most memorable trips. Seeing how many martyrs died for the sake of the faith showed me how important it is to keep that faith preserved. While we were on the tour in Ansena the guide opened one of the tombs and gave me a cloth full of blood off of one of the relics. The fact that the ground is still literally holding onto the blood shows how much the blood is saturated into the soil,  that after 1,700 years the cloth is still holding on to the blood.

3. Were there children who especially touched you with their story, love, humor? Can you tell me about them?

There were two siblings, a girl and a boy who had lost their father recently. I believe their language of love was touch, and right when I entered that house during visitation they were hugging me so hard and holding onto my neck. This really touched me for some reason, I am not sure why, but their hugs were so innocent and pure, they just left me full of joy.

4. What advice do you have for us while we plan next year’s Serve to Learn trip?

I thought the trip covered many great aspects. It helped me appreciate my Coptic Church more than ever (even though I grew up in Egypt). It helped me feel the importance of service. I also felt extremely loved by the kids, and I also learned how to function with love with a group of other servants. The only advice I would have is to add a spiritual aspect to the trip. Maybe add in the schedule a prayer time, or a tasbeha time, or maybe a Bible study from the abouna present.

5. Is there something you want to say to others interested in coming on the trip next year?

My advice for future volunteers is to leave any expectations at home, and simply go to love and be loved.

 Apply now for Serve to Learn’s July 3-25 trip in 2015! 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 this video of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II’s comments or read “Top 5 Myths Why You Can’t Take Part in Serve to Learn Debunked.” 

PS  Please go to the top of this post and hit the “Like” button, then share the post, tweet it, email it to everyone you know, print it out and pass it out to five of your friends, and finally, go (cautiously) stand in the middle of a busy intersection with a megaphone and shout it out!  

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.