‘I Saw God’s Hand Clearly Working in My Life’ — Serve to Learn Contest Winner Julianne Youssef

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Julianne Youssef, Serve to Learn essay contest winner and volunteer.

Dear Friends,
Good news from Egypt — Serve to Learn is happening right now, in classrooms and homes in Egypt! To give you an idea of the volunteers’ motivations, today I’d like to share part of a winning submission to our essay contest by Julianne Youssef.  She’s an artist who wants to share her passion for art with the children, and one of two eloquent people who won a free trip to Egypt. Today, she’s part of the 26-person team from around the world that is serving in Egypt and feeling the children’s love! We’re very proud of them, and we’re thankful to all the people who submitted essays. We’re also grateful to the generous donors who supplied the two “scholarship” trips to Egypt! By the grace of God, let’s keep educating our kids! 
— Nermien Riad

Having grown up in the Coptic Orthodox Church, I ventured out to explore what I can learn about God outside of my comfort zone. In 2011, I was going through a particularly tough time after my favorite and closest aunt, my dad’s youngest sister, passed away of breast cancer. She was like an angel in my eyes. I was devastated for a long time and I remember praying to God earnestly, asking Him to please guide me out of my heavy grief. I knew that if I focused all my attention on helping others, that I’d have no time to contemplate my own pain. As I searched the internet for different avenues, I came across a mission trip departing exactly one year from the day of my aunt’s passing. I received it as a sign on where God wanted me to go—rural Argentina.

There were many challenges throughout this experience. One was that I didn’t speak the language, and second, I had never evangelized anywhere to anybody. But it was through that journey that I saw God’s hand clearly working in my life! I witnessed Him and felt His presence more as a stranger in a foreign land because I was relying on Him completely. I was expecting the five other ladies that accompanied me to lead the way, especially because they spoke fluent Spanish. But to my surprise, the people we encountered were really interested in hearing from me, because I am Coptic.

It was an important time for me because, as I learned about the Argentinian people and culture, I also learned about myself and how I’m perceived in a different part of the world. There, I was not looked at as an American—I was looked at as a Copt. I felt the responsibility of representing the Copts in a place where no one had ever met a Copt before. My message was simple: be open and kind to others, and people reciprocated.

As an artist, I participate in events that help broadcast to the world what is happening in Egypt. My art becomes my voice. My theme is usually human rights and equality. It is my responsibility to speak out for those that cannot. The purpose of these events is to raise awareness of the Coptic minorities being persecuted in Egypt. One of the events I took part in, “I Am Egypt,” featured an art exhibit, which over 300 people attended.

For me, preserving my heritage is a very real, tangible goal, fearlessly using my art and talents as catalysts to bring peace and understanding in a land where hostility is bred. This is the true meaning of my Coptic identity, dare I say, my calling.

Since my inspiration comes from God, my role then becomes to listen and imitate Him, by evangelizing the Coptic word through my art.

In the words of Saint Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” As the body of Christ, we can reach far many people through love than by any other means. I am a Copt because we are Copts; it no longer matters if we descend from pharaohs. Together—and only together—can we preserve our heritage by using our talents and voices to spread the true meaning of being a Coptic: love.

If this essay excerpt inspires you to want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with ToniJohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle. You can also check out the other winning essay, by Crestin. You may also enjoy these video interviews with Nadine Roffaell and Peter Wassef. Any questions you’d like to ask a real human being? Call Mira Fouad, who runs Serve to Learn, at 703-641-8910.

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.