Serve to Learn is now under way in Egypt! To celebrate, today I’d like to share with you part of a winning submission to our essay contest by one of the Serve to Learn volunteers. The writer, Crestin Andrews, is one of two talented people who won a free trip to Egypt. Today, she’s one of the team of 26 people from around the world who are serving in Egypt and feeling the love of the children! We’re so proud of them, and thankful to all the people who submitted great essays. And also to the generous donors who supplied the two “scholarship” trips to Egypt! By the grace of God, we’re eager to keep educating and being transformed by our amazing kids!
— Nermien Riad
Because I am Egyptian and we are all one body in Christ, I feel a tremendous sense of solidarity with my fellow Copts in Egypt. We are all the same but have been dealt different hands in life. While God has granted me abundant blessings, my fellow brothers and sisters in Egypt have faced countless hardships and continue to struggle to survive. Sometimes I feel guilty because it’s not fair. I know that God grants each one according to His will, but I feel a sense of responsibility to help them, just like I feel a sense of responsibility to take care of my own family. I want them to have everything I have, and I want to share my blessings with them. As Egyptians, I believe it is important to maintain our loyalty to our church and our country and serve those in their times of need.
Coptic Orthodoxy is more than just a religion. It has an extensive history, with traditions that are rooted within me. Being an Egyptian is an enormous part of my identity and being part of the Coptic Orthodox community has been the single most influential factor in shaping my life. Although I live in the United States, my identity is that I am a Coptic Orthodox Egyptian. It is easy to say that I would not be the person I am today without my culture, religion, and society that comes with being a Copt. For me personally, I equate being Coptic with being Egyptian. I could sit here and write for days about how much I love Egypt. I think it’s the most amazing country in the world, not just because it has so much history, but also because the Egyptians are such an amazing people. Every time I visit, I am blown away by the amount of blinding hope they have for a better future, even when it seems like there is not much to hope for. I’ll never forget when my grandparents and I accidentally got stuck in traffic in Tahrir Square during the riots and I was able to witness some of that raw burning zeal for life in the eyes of all that were there. Or when I visited a poor Christian village with my uncle and saw real humility and appreciation for every small act of compassion.I learn so much about myself and about how to actually live a life of Christianity every time I visit; Egypt truly is a land of miracles and blessings.
Egypt has given me so much and my only desire is to try to give back to it in what little ways I can. I want to be with my fellow Copts to teach them and learn from them. This is where I see my role in preserving this unique Coptic identity. While my efforts are definitely tiny and insignificant in comparison to the innumerable sacrifices made by my ancestors and by those like the 21 martyrs, I believe I can still be a part of making change happen through my service. I want to be a part of carrying on the traditions that our ancestors passed down to us, and I want to have a hand in instilling the love of Coptic Orthodoxy in others. The bible tells us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace inits various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). God has granted me countless gifts, like the gifts of education, time, and above all, love. I am called to use these gifts in service, and I consider it the very least I can do to use these gifts in the service of Copts in Egypt. The way I see it is that through this service, I can be a part of the continuation of the efforts of the martyrs to preserve our Coptic heritage.
I think I finally understand what my parents were trying to tell me about the 21 martyrs. They were trying to say that they are not only just like the martyrs in the history of our faith, but they are just like me. They are just like all of us who call ourselves Coptic Orthodox Christians. We all bear their sufferings and we are all obliged to continue their fight. By fearlessly proclaiming their faith they sent a shock wave throughout the world, that furthered people’s awareness of our religion and its ongoing tortures. They, like every one of us at some point in our lives, were called and chosen to make a difference. Whether it be in the life of just one child, or in the lives of the countless souls affected by their actions, we can all make a difference. We owe it to them, to ourselves, and to our faith to never forget their sufferings. We owe our service to our homeland that has been nurturing our heritage for centuries,and we owe it to each other to teach, grow, and learn from each other’s experiences. I want to make a difference and be a part of preserving our Coptic heritage, and having the opportunity to serve my brothers and sisters in Egypt would be the greatest honor in fulfilling that calling.
If this essay excerpt inspires you to want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with Toni, John, Gaby, Mina, Andy, Veronika, David, Ben, Kirollos, Mariam, Alex, and Mirelle. 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.