I just arrived in Egypt. Not long after my plane touched down, I received an email with this quote:
“Coptic Orphans has always been near and dear to our hearts. We admire the work of Coptic Orphans and in our small way, we look for opportunities to partake in this blessing. We want to raise our children with a spirit of giving. While Fady is still too young to have any idea what’s happening, we hope that in the future we can show him by example what a blessing it is to give others. We chose to give a donation in lieu of a favor for our son’s baptism because we think it’s a great opportunity to introduce a wonderful cause to our guests and we simply love the work of Coptic Orphans.”
I love what this says about the people who have Egypt and the children in their heart. We all like to think our children will have the best things in life: a great education, a happy career, a wonderful family. I can tell that Fady’s parents want all of those things for him. And more — enormous, important things that are at the heart of our Coptic life: a love for his sisters and brothers in Christ, compassion for those in need, and generosity.
It makes a huge difference when people act in this way, choosing to support Egypt’s families out of the bounty God has given them. Choices like this have allowed us to serve and empower 30,000 children, making sure they are better housed, fed, educated, and above all treated with love and respect.
It’s incredible, and… well, I don’t know what else to say, except a huge “thank you” to Fady and his parents. I promise we’ll do our best to see that every child we can reach in Egypt has the kind of love you’re giving to your own child.
PS I changed Fady’s name to protect his privacy (it’s too early for him to become a celebrity). His photo and the quote are used with permission from his family, of course.
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.
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.
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!
One of my heroes is H.G. Bishop Samuel, who departed from this earth in 1981 after a lifetime of great accomplishments for the Coptic Church in Egypt and around the world.
Did his story end in 1981? Far from it; you and I will spend 2015 benefiting from his foresight and hard work. Today, I’d like to offer a reminder of Bishop Samuel’s achievements, and suggest one way we can keep his legacy strong.
First and foremost, Bishop Samuel helped lead the Sunday School movement that revitalized the Church in Egypt. I’m sure you’d agree that in 2015, the energy and vision of that movement is still felt powerfully in our congregations, in our homes, in our spiritual lives.
I’m fond of saying we should all try to make a difference in the world. How did Bishop Samuel make such a huge difference?
Born in 1920 as Saad Aziz, he forsook his law career and was consecrated in 1944 to serve the underprivileged and poor.
In 1948, he became a monk with the name Fr. Makary El Suriany. In doing so, he became the first university graduate to choose the monastic life, inspiring many others to follow in the Coptic revival of monasticism.
In 1954, his participation in the second general Assembly of the World Council of Churches helped end the 1,500-year isolation of the Coptic Church that began with the Council of Chalcedon. As a World Council of Churches leader, he brought millions of dollars to projects that enriched lives in Egypt.
He was the secretary of Pope Kyrollos VI, and his 1962 ordination as “General Bishop of Social and Ecumenical Services” made him the first head of a new bishopric with no geographical boundaries.
He established the Diakonia Program to serve areas without priests, and he set up services for the needy nationwide called “The Brothers of the Lord.” Instead of giving handouts, he created programs that trained people to be self-sufficient. His ideas in this field continue to influence how we think about what is possible when we approach “charity” work. Here at Coptic Orphans, we owe a debt of gratitude to Bishop Samuel for pioneering ideas that underpin our mission of transforming generations by empowering the fatherless.
But Bishop Samuel’s influence went even farther, and continues to 2015. We in the Coptic diaspora lead lives that are especially molded by Bishop Samuel’s hard work. In the 1960s, he set up U.S. Coptic centers that were the seeds of future Coptic churches. With the blessing of Pope Kyrollos VI, Bishop Samuel pioneered the establishment of the first churches in North America, Australia, and Europe. Can you imagine how different your life would be if those churches had not been set up and taken root?
It befits the memory of this great man—a pioneer, a visionary, and a warrior for Christ—to establish a fund in his name that helps people in Egypt who face poverty to achieve dignity and self-sufficiency for years to come.
I’d like you to know that you can help carry on Bishop Samuel’s legacy. The Bishop Samuel Endowment will use your donation to ensure that this great Church leader’s vision lives on. Your generous gift, which you can make by clicking here, will support university scholarships for students who show leadership and commitment to Egypt and the Church.
I think it’s important to close any discussion of Bishop Samuel’s achievements with the observation that he was deeply humble. He considered himself a mere servant of God and the people, fulfilling the Biblical verses, “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; ….” (Matt. 25:35, 36)
I’m grateful that H.G. Bishop Samuel left behind such a strong legacy for all of us, and I pray that we will all show his courage and commitment in 2015 and beyond.