‘Serve to Learn was EASILY the Greatest Experience of My Entire Life’ — Ryan Wasson

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Ryan Wassom with the drawing he created for Mahsoub.

Dear Friends,

This January, 12 Serve to Learn volunteers visited Egypt for three weeks to serve children in the village of Armant… and the friendships that sprouted are worth blogging about. Here’s one in a series of posts based on the idea that “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” I asked each volunteer to choose a photo that got to the heart of their Egypt experience, and to jot down what came to mind about it. Above is the image chosen by Ryan Wasson, and below are his 1,000 words… plus a few more, for which, along with his service, we’re grateful!

— Nermien 

I have a lot to say and 1,000 words isn’t enough, so I’ve been letting a few pictures marinate as the decision was clear from the beginning… my relationship with Mahsoub. There were hundreds of rich and beautiful moments captured during the three weeks I spent in service with the monastery, but only one image that encapsulates my gratitude towards the Serve to Learn experience this well.

Mahsoub was an all-around laborer at the monastery; if there was a job to be done, he was sure to be involved in it. He worked six days a week for well over 12 hours a day. He had given up his life in service to God, the monastery, and supporting his family back home. That’s what made Mahsoub stand out to me, his hard-working character… but even more so, the warm smile he allowed to shine through his seemingly endless workload and sometimes difficult living conditions.

This picture was taken of Mahsoub and me moments before boarding the bus to the airport on the final day of the program. I’m presenting him with a drawing I made of him showing my gratitude towards our friendship and his incredible character, hospitality, service, work ethic, and faith in God.

Due to the dynamics of my life and Serve to Learn, I applied to the program with multiple goals in mind:
-to lose my “self” in the service of others
-to step as far out of my comfort zone as possible
-to transcend my ego, self-defined limits, and my judgement towards myself and others
-to radiate love, light, comfort, and hope through despair and difficult circumstances
-to develop a sense of gratitude for the things I take for granted
-to allow my purpose, passion, gifts, and talents to rise to the surface
-to break language barriers and just “be” with someone from another way of life
-to strengthen my relationship with God

My relationship with Mahsoub allowed me to achieve all of these goals and so much more. Mahsoub never stopped showing me gratitude for my presence from the second I set foot in the monastery. Although I couldn’t understand his Arabic and he couldn’t understand my English, that never stopped our appreciation for each other from blossoming into a beautiful friendship.

Mahsoub restored a sense of gratitude for my God-given gifts and my ability to bring joy to someone through simple presence alone. At first, neither of us even knew each other’s real names. He was Mahsuul, the tea man, and I was Jimmy.

The days were long and packed with activities in Armant and we required lots of tea, coffee, sugar snacks, and energy to get by. Almost upon the mere thought of, “Man, I could really go for a tea…” Mahsoub would appear out of thin air with a tray of hot tea and sugar already prepared and waiting for me. Literally. This happened multiple times.

I never asked for anything… he just knew. It became clear he was just thinking of me throughout his days. He would go out if his way and even busier days to find me and make sure I was accommodated the Egyptian way.

Our conversations grew through translators and we fell further in sync as I realized everything he was talking about related to the present moment and the emotions created by the tasks and situations at hand. I learned some simple Arabic words but most of our one-on-one talks went by smiles, hand gestures, and awareness of each other’s mood and presence.

Mahsoub’s overwhelming presence, hospitality, and gratitude inspired me to offer all I had (aware attention) in reparation since I couldn’t express it through words. I was forced to dig deep for an ability I had to communicate sincere gratitude beyond language or money… and it was art.

I had been suppressing my artistic abilities due to a personal sense of expectations for myself… through schooling at Columbus College of Art and Design I had raised the bar for my artistic capacity and never lowered it when I fell out of practice upon graduating and not being able to find a job. I was afraid to become a starving artist and forced into a non-artistic job to pay the bills and common living expenses. I got caught up in my day-to-day tasks and the sometimes unhealthy release required to cope with my bottled and shelved passion… eventually I became frustrated and intimidated by my expensive and quickly rusting talent.

It took five years and my travels to Armant to finally buff off some of that rust. Here, in Armant, due to the sometimes scarce sense of external love and commodities, people are extremely grateful for whatever they can get… attention, food, toys, education, it’s all a blessing. I finally set my pride and expectations aside and just drew free of judgement.

At first I tried to keep the drawing a secret, working on it late at night when Mahsoub would be busy preparing rooms for the various guests who would be passing through the monastery. Eventually and naturally, I got caught up in the details and the drawing demanded more of my quickly fading free time. Mahsoub found me working on the drawing one night and his face lit up with joy… for days. My frustration and lack of pride quickly transferred into a great source of pride for Mahsoub and an appreciation for my artistic abilities grew with it.

I worked on the drawing until the very last minute (naturally). In my eyes, the drawing was incomplete, and I don’t like loose ends so it seems I’ll have to come back to put the finishing touches on it  : -). To wrap up the piece, I inscribed a message which quickly and organically flowed through me as follows:

Mahsoub,

May the smile of God shine through you and pass into Eternity.

Ryan Wasson

Done!

At last, the long-awaited moment was upon us… the presentation of the finished drawing. I handed it to him while a few anxious volunteers had their cameras ready and we captured this beautiful moment. I bottled my emotions until now, while Mahsoub was immediately overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.

If there is one thing I hope people could understand from this photo it would have to be the scope of the universal language of love. That selfless love needs no language to give, receive or even be recognized.

Picture or no picture, this blossomed experience is one that I’ll never forget.

Serve to Learn was EASILY the greatest experience of my entire life. It was the culmination and collection of so many radiantly beautiful souls and experiences animated in just three short weeks.

It will truly take me a lifetime to repay my respect and gratitude towards the program, its volunteers, the children, and the unbelievably kind, loving, and strong people of Egypt.

I WILL be back and I WILL continue pursuing and sharing my artistic passion with the world.

With all of my heart,
Ryan (Jimmy) Wasson

Interested in learning more about Serve to Learn? Check out our page and our new video, which gives a snapshot of the program! Time is running out to apply for our July 3-25 session, and spots fill up fast, so please get your application in by the April 15 deadline. 

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

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.