Category Archives: Coptic Church

You Reap What You Sew

Madame Nadia: widow, mother of a child involved in Coptic Orphans, B'edaya participant, and businesswoman.
Madame Nadia:  Minya businesswoman, widow, mother of a Coptic Orphans child, and B’edaya participant.

I’m always struck by how microfinance is truly one of those things where you get back what you put into it. That’s what makes it part of a transformational approach to development, as opposed to a “handouts” approach. This kind of approach is critically important when it comes to widows in Egypt. Historically, these women have experienced charitable approaches that have met their immediate needs without empowering them to break the cycle of poverty.

Every business-starting widow who takes out a loan with the B’edaya microfinance initiative commits to paying back the money so it can be ploughed back into the community. They also agree to save some of their profits to build a stable foundation for their family. In that sense, each entrepreneur is also agreeing to steer her own future, and that of her community. I’ve met these women, and they take these obligations very seriously.

Madame Nadia is one of the widows who’s taken out a B’edaya loan, and she’s out to prove that the headline of this update is not a typo. She’s a seamstress. For the past 20 years, Madame Nadia has been supporting her family and caring for her ailing husband using a small sewing machine that she operates on the floor. She learned her trade by sewing her children’s undershirts and eventually their clothing. When her neighbors caught on to her work, she began to accumulate customers and has been making clothing for others ever since.

When her husband passed away, Madame Nadia continued to be the main provider for her family. Life didn’t get any easier with the loss of her loved one, and since then she has been looking for ways to break the cycle of poverty.

That’s where B’edaya comes in. With her micro-loan, Madame Nadia has purchased a new and larger sewing machine, one with a table. She has high hopes that her small business will grow.

And of course she has high hopes – otherwise, she wouldn’t have taken out a loan of US$377, a large sum in her hometown of Minya in Upper Egypt. But this is the dynamic of B’edaya. It allows widows without any capital to mobilize resources for business projects that would otherwise be out of reach. It allows them to aim for a better life, in defiance of a world that arrays immense forces against them.

She’s showed that she works hard and is not afraid to take calculated risks. Those are key ingredients of a successful entrepreneur, so I’m confident that Madame Nadia will reap what she sews.

I’ll be visiting Egypt this month. I’ll be sure to ask how Madame Nadia is doing, and keep you updated. 

‘Religion, Pure and Undefiled’

140616 Pure Religion

Dear Friends: I’m glad to have another opportunity to share the insightful writing of Stephen Kopalchick, who this spring traveled with Coptic Orphans to Egypt to observe the challenges facing ordinary people. This post originally appeared on the blog of the The St. Charles Institute, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan human rights agency dedicated to providing information and analysis on anti-Christian violence and persecution, and to promoting religious freedom and human rights around the world.  — Nermien Riad

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27 ESV)

I remember receiving the dreadful call from a weeping family member as if it was yesterday.

“Stephen. I don’t know how to tell you this. But… your dad has died.”

In 2008, my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. To many he was a picture of health. To me, my father was a rock and a covering that I could always run to for safety and comfort.

I was 31 when my dad went to be with the Lord. I remember the feelings of vulnerability and insecurity that accompanied that moment. To this day, particularly when times are hard, I still long to hear his voice of strength. He taught me what it was to be a man. He taught me how to be strong in the face of great adversity.

While it’s never easy to lose your father, I struggle to imagine what it is like to lose your father in your youth. Even more difficult for me to comprehend is what it must be like to lose a father in a country such as Egypt, where decades of social, cultural and legal pressures have left many Christians strong in faith but often victims of marginalization and persecution.

During a recent trip to Egypt, I saw first-hand the obstacles that orphans in Egyptian society must overcome. Not only have these families lost their fathers, the patriarch of their family, they’ve also lost their social covering. Many of these children’s mothers lack the skills, training, or education needed to work or find employment. Culturally, it’s not really acceptable for them to remarry. Many are poverty stricken.

Yet during my time in Egypt, I was privileged to observe and witness first-hand how one dynamic ministry was empowering widows and orphans to overcome these challenges.

Since its founding in 1988, Coptic Orphans has provided a powerful covering for Egypt’s fatherless orphans by serving over 30,000 Egyptian Christian youth who have lost their fathers through either death or abandonment. Today, through their Not Alone program, the organization uses their network of over 400 highly capable volunteers and mentors to help meet the educational and practical needs of over 10,000 children and their families. These volunteers invest their time and concern in each individual child and family so to help them rise to and achieve their fullest potential.

The results of the Not Alone program speak for themselves. Students who could have been defined as merely “orphans” are being transformed into successful, confident children. Some go on to college and gain the skills they need to land a job. Recently, one young student who had been a recipient of Coptic Orphan’s love and support received a full scholarship to American University of Cairo, a significant accomplishment for anyone.

The mothers of these children receive support, too. They participate in trainings to help them sharpen their parenting skills. They receive financial assistance to help meet their basic needs and manage their home. Some may receive help in repairing their home or starting a small business to help strengthen the household.

And the benefits of the program don’t just stop with the families being served. Volunteers are finding joy in serving Christ through serving children. One volunteer expressed how the Not Alone program had become such a central, life-giving aspect of his walk with God.

One evening, shortly after my arrival in Cairo, I journeyed through the center of Egypt’s capital to arrive at the village of Ezbet El Nahkl. I was there to see the work of Coptic Orphans up close. As I walked into the simple meeting space, I saw a group of about 15 women, dressed in mostly black and engaged in what clearly was a process of deep learning and reflection. These widows being served by Coptic Orphans were engaged in a lively discussion with two volunteers. Though the volunteers had families of their own,they had come to invest their time, wisdom and understanding to help these women hone their abilities as heads of household..

The night’s topic of discussion was “The Five Love Languages.” The mothers were there to discover how they might better communicate and connect with their children. Each woman shared her personal joys and struggles that had come with raising children on her own.

I noticed one young boy, Fadi, sat quietly while the discussion was taking place. After the program had ended, I introduced myself with a handshake and a smile. Fadi came alive as he found a new opportunity to practice his English. He rehearsed with me his English ABCs, and made me laugh with his best Donald Duck voice.

It quickly became apparent that Fadi was not just a forgotten orphan. Fadi was a confident young boy who, with the help of Coptic Orphans, was developing the skills he needed to be successful – both now, and in the future.

The challenges facing the Church in Egypt are significant. If you are like me, you often wonder, “What I can do to truly make a difference?” In James 1:27, we receive perhaps one of the most tangible action steps in the entire Bible that any of us can take.

Coptic Orphans is so much more than a human development organization. It is more than an organization that provides a helping hand to widows, or teaches kids to read.

Truly, the work of Coptic Orphans is love in action. It is a hope preserved.

In every way, it is religion pure and undefiled.

 If you would like to sponsor a child through Coptic Orphan’s Not Alone Program, click here. Sponsorship of a child through Coptic Orphans provides the resources these children and families need “to break the cycle of poverty and the courage to become change-makers in their communities: all according to each individual child’s need.”

The Persecution of Christians and the Prayers of the Saints

"Paintings of Christ and his apostles were quickly marred by black smoke and fire."
“Paintings of Christ and his apostles were quickly marred by black smoke and fire.”

Dear Friends: I’m glad to share with you a piece of excellent reporting and reflection by Stephen Kopalchick, who recently traveled with Coptic Orphans to Egypt to witness the situation there first-hand. His words originally appeared as a post on the blog of the The St. Charles Institute, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan human rights agency dedicated to providing information and analysis on anti-Christian violence and persecution, and to promoting religious freedom and human rights around the world.  — Nermien Riad

Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ wake up to daily threats of intimidation, violence, and hardship. During my recent trip to Egypt, there were moments where I was able to see first-hand and up close the results of anti-Christian violence and persecution.

El Diabiyya is a small Egyptian village that sits on the banks of the river Nile. The vibrant river and constant sun turn Egypt’s desert into some of the most fertile lands on earth, making lush the simple farms that surround the village.

In many ways, arriving at El Diabiyya seemed to take me back in time, a far cry from the frenzied pace of American life. After countless turns and delicate maneuvers, our taxi navigated the village’s narrow alleys and dirt roads to arrive at the Church gate marked by the cross of Christ. We entered the Church quickly, along the way passing a picture of the great warrior angel Michael. It was fitting, given the tense yet quiet struggle that wages for the soul of this village.

In August 2013, El Diabiyya was the site of a violent attack on Christians. A dispute between neighbors quickly escalated into violent conflict.

Extremist Muslims in the village banded together. They blocked the streets to prevent police and fire fighting vehicles from entering the village and began throwing Molotov cocktails at Christian homes and businesses. Six homes of Christian families were burned, and soon, the attention of the attackers turned to the village church.

An angry and violent mob rained Molotov cocktails down on the simple structure of St. Michael’s Church. Two out of three altars were burned, and paintings of Christ and his apostles were quickly marred by black smoke and fire.

The only thing that saved the church from further destruction was when one of the firebombs hit the incense that was used in the church’s worship. An overwhelming cloud of sweet-smelling incense engulfed the church. This incense cloud was so thick and the fragrance so powerful, the attackers could no longer breathe and abandoned their efforts.

In evangelical America, the structure of a church building is often insignificant. Increasingly, services are held in school cafeterias or empty warehouses.

In Egypt, it’s different. The church building is very significant. Since Christianity is the minority faith, churches signify the presence of Christ and His active work of the Gospel in the community. It is a place where God is worshiped and Christ is lifted up. It is a place for refuge from the intense pressures many believers face, a place to come together with fellow Christians to receive love, encouragement, and to have fellowship with one another.

Church Kopalchick

I met Father Rizkalla, the priest of the church in El Diabiyya. Despite carrying the burdens of pressure as a peacemaker in the village, the joy of Christ radiates from him. As I listened to him share about the attack of last August, my heart was burdened and blessed at the same time.

I was burdened because I could see a man who was carrying the weight of an entire community on his shoulders.

I was blessed because I could tell he didn’t carry the burden alone: Christ was walking with Father Rizkalla.

I asked him what my friends and I back home could do to help him and his community. I wanted to do something, and I was quite sure I had friends who would want to do something too. Without blinking an eye and with a joyful nod of his head, he said, “Pray.”

His wife joined in. “And please, share our story.”

Pray. And share their story. That’s it.

As I have considered these requests many times over since, I’ve come to conclude that Father Rizkalla knows something that I struggle at times to fully understand.

Father Rizkalla knows the power of prayer.

He knows that prayer is a direct line of communication to the God of the universe. He knows prayer changes the events of history, that prayer opens a door that no man, no persecutor, or any force is able to shut.

In the great heavenly scene as depicted in Revelation 5, incense signifies “the prayers of the saints.”

Father Rizkalla understands the incense that miraculously forced the attackers to flee is the same incense that God will respond to and give protection to him and his community. It is the prayers of the saints.

Please join The St. Charles Institute in prayer for Father Rizkalla and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in Diabiyya, in Egypt, and throughout the Middle East.