Category Archives: Serve To Learn

Would You Call Yourself a Copt?

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Two Copts take a break during Serve to Learn 2014 in Egypt.

Not long ago, many of the staff here at Coptic Orphans sat down to talk about what it means to be a Copt. We also tried to figure out how Copts and our identity are intertwined with Egypt. As you can imagine, we talked a lot about molokhia.

We started from the premise that we weren’t trying to define a Coptic identity, because that’s for theologians and other people far more knowledgeable than we are. We ended with a deeper appreciation for the rich religious and cultural heritage that we have, as Christians rooted in a land where Jesus walked.

One thing we learned is that, without a doubt, “Lots of people have lots of opinions.” In fact, as often as we tried to throw something into the basket of things labeled “Copt,” someone would try to grab it and throw it out. That was true, for example, with the idea of Coptic language. Some saw knowing Coptic as a critical aspect of being a Copt. Others found that idea mysterious.

Actually, the more we looked at the word “Copt,” the more we realized that there were people using it in multiple ways. There was certainly the religious meaning — that was indispensable. But there were also cultural meanings. And even if we managed to group all these elements in an orderly way, who were we to decide who was a Copt and who was not?

In fact, the more we talked, the more we realized that we weren’t even sure how many people saw themselves. In a few cases, we wondered if the simplest thing wasn’t simply to ask people, “Would you call yourself a Copt?”

For we who are not theologians, this makes all kinds of sense. First, because it’s not up to us to judge. And second, because the unfolding of the Coptic diaspora has created people whose complex backgrounds don’t fit neat definitions.

It’s no longer that you’re simply a Copt from Minya or Sohag or wherever. An Ethiopian Copt living in the United States considers themselves just as Coptic as the Copt from Shobra. Another person may be Australian born and bred, without the faintest conception of Egypt, yet they come to the word “Copt” by way of conversion. And then there are people who see themselves as Christians within One Body in Christ, whose Coptic roots come with their Egyptian heritage.

In short, we have a lot of thinking to do, together. It’s not an abstract conversation, though, because it has real-world consequences. We discovered this the other day when we posted the rules to an essay contest connected with Serve to Learn. Probably with much less thinking than was merited, we wrote: “To apply for one of these two free trips you must be of Coptic ancestry.”

“Coptic ancestry.”


So we’re going to have to revisit those two words, or at least better define what we were not talking about. With apologies to anyone who might have felt excluded. In using the words “Coptic ancestry, ” here’s what we, non-theologians and non-social scientists that we are, were trying to convey:

Would you call yourself a Copt?

If so, please take part in the essay contest. We’d love to have you enter.

That leaves the question of why we’d limit the contest to people who think of themselves as Copts. There are a few reasons.

The first is that the contest prizes — essentially, scholarships to take part in Serve to Learn for free — were donated by supporters who asked that they be designated as such, as tools to help tie future generations to Egypt.

The second is that we’re trying to make these scholarships accessible to young people whose families arrived not long ago from Egypt, and who may be facing the same financial challenges that most new immigrant families face.

And third, we’re looking to make the scholarships more accessible to people who already have a cultural or religious tie to Egypt that they’re trying to strengthen — because, let’s face it, there aren’t any other resources out there to help them connect with that heritage.

So, with that in mind, and in good faith that we’ve done a better job communicating this time, we’re looking forward to some amazing essays.

Win a Free Trip to Egypt!

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Serve to Learn is a chance to build personal relationships of love with children in Egypt!

I’ve just received great news: Through the grace of God, two generous donors are offering to send a pair of volunteers on our Serve to Learn trip to Egypt — for free!

These donors have agreed to cover the program fee and airfare for two volunteers to take part in the July 3-25 session of Serve to Learn, our unique initiative to connect volunteers from around the world to Egypt.

To qualify for this opportunity, you’ll need to do two things. First, submit an application for Serve to Learn by the April 15 deadline. Second, enter our essay contest about strengthening and preserving our Coptic identity (details below)!

Free trip or no free trip, if you take part in Serve to Learn, you can count on having a life-changing experience serving God’s children! Here’s how your three weeks in Egypt will look:

  • First, you’ll see the real Egypt, because you’ll stay in a village along the Nile — Manfalout, Matay, Gerga, Abnoub, Tema, or Barsha — and live among the people.
  • Second, you’ll have the area’s bishop on your side — he’ll provide you with hospitality and watch out for your safety.
  • Third, you’ll make a difference in the lives of kids in the diocese by teaching them basic English skills through fun, interactive games and activities.
  • Fourth, and most importantly, you’ll visit the children at home, learn about their lives, and build deep, loving relationships with them.

Serve to Learn is also an opportunity to connect more deeply with the Church. Last year, the volunteers were also blessed to be called to a special meeting with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, and they received a spiritual orientation from Abouna Dawood Lamey.

Are you ready for this life-changing experience in Egypt? Returning volunteers say Serve to Learn really transforms the way they look at the world. Join Serve to Learn, and you’ll come home changed in ways you could never predict.

But remember, the April 15 deadline is coming fast, so apply now, because spots are limited!

Essay Contest Rules:

To qualify to win one of these two free trips you must:

  • Be of Coptic ancestry
  • Apply for the July 2015 Serve to Learn trip by April 15
  • Submit the essay on Coptic heritage to by May 1, 2015

Please write a 1,500-2,000 word essay answering the following:

The Coptic identity developed in an environment of persecution which nurtured a unique and tenacious Christian faith. For millennia, Copts have been able to maintain their identity and faith in spite of those hardships. Why is preserving our Coptic heritage so important? Where do you see your role in preserving that unique identity?

PS: Want to hear more from people who’ve been part of Serve to Learn? Check out the reflections of two people who served this January, Peter Wassef and Mary Loka:


You can hear His Holiness speak on the importance of serving in Egypt in this video, which gives a snapshot of the whole Serve to Learn experience:

‘The Love These Kids Give Is Indescribable’ — John Wassef Reflects on Serve to Learn

Serve to Learn volunteers say good-bye to the children in Armant.
Serve to Learn volunteers say good-bye to the children in Armant.

Dear Friends,
In January, 12 young people from around the world  spent three weeks in Armant, a rural village near Luxor, teaching children basic English skills and offering them character-building mentoring. They went to Egypt as part of Coptic Orphans’ Serve to Learn program. The volunteers came back bursting with stories… hence this series, based on the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Each volunteer is sharing a photograph from the trip, accompanied by a few words about why that moment moved them. Today, I’m proud to share John Wassef’s words and photo. If you enjoy them, I invite you to read the “1,000 Words” posts by Ryan Wasson and Phoebe Azer. And just a reminder: The deadline to apply for the next Serve to Learn trip is April 15. We’d love to have you with us!
— Nermien

Who’s in this photo?

One of the kids from our class (Michael) and me.

Where was it taken?

Just outside of the school doors.

What’s happening here?

This was on our last day of school after a massive water fight. As I said good-bye to all of the kids in the courtyard, he came running towards with me a massive smile on his face. As usual I would walk to the gate and say good-bye to the kids and tell them to make sure they came the next day. I put my hand over Michael’s shoulder and told him I’d miss him as we were walking. Just then he started crying uncontrollably and wouldn’t let go of my arm. As we got to the gate I gave him a massive hug and he didn’t want to let go. I just kept telling him that I’ll be back as soon as I could to see him again.

How were you feeling when this was taken?

The feeling I had during this particular moment was really overwhelming. I never thought that the shy boy from day one who wouldn’t talk or want to answer any questions would have changed so much in three weeks. I could tell from the first day that his level of education was poor and he would be too shy to answer any questions. By the end of our time there he was so eager to answer every question and wouldn’t stop smiling. We brought these kids into an environment they had never really experienced before. During their school holiday if they don’t have a job they’re out on the streets with people who aren’t a good influence. During this moment it really started to dawn on me that these were our last moments together. The love these kids give is indescribable. So, I guess it was a moment of happiness and sadness. To know that we could have this effect on these kids and in return the massive impact they made on us. To sum up I felt happy, loved and so touched.

Why do you want to remember this moment?

I want to remember this moment so I can remind myself of how much love all these kids showed me. We gave so little but were rewarded with so much in return. It’s also a memory that I never want to forget.

If you could help people understand one thing with this photo, what would it be?

Our main purpose travelling to Armant was to teach the kids English. In return they taught us how much a smile can change your whole day. All day we would hear the “Thank God” from the youngest child to the oldest adult. It really puts into perspective how appreciative these people are with the little they have. It was a really touching experience that is so hard to put into words.

The people in Armant are amazing. They appreciated our time with them. They have so much to offer even though they have so little. Something I learned looking back on my time there is that we really did make an impact on these children. Our daily program there was a safe haven for them. Somewhere they could laugh, play and learn in a safe environment. These people have no one to look after them so we need to do as much as possible to help. Some one said to me before I went to Armant, “You’ll learn more form these people than you’ll teach them.” It could not have been any more accurate than that. You really do serve to learn. They need to be reminded that the world hasn’t forgotten about them. I have been telling everyone from the moment I arrived home, if you’re thinking about serving go to Egypt. It was something that changed my life and I can guarantee if you go, you will have life long memories. The people in Armant will always be in my heart and I will definitely be back as soon as possible. In the words of his H.H. Pope Shenouda, lll “Remember those who have no one to remember them.”

*Names changed to protect the privacy and dignity of the children


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.