Tag Archives: orphans

The Faith We Have in Common With Those About to Die

A ship overloaded with migrants drifts in the Mediterranean. Photograph: Italian Navy/AP
A ship overloaded with migrants drifts in the Mediterranean. Photo: Italian Navy/AP

Flying over the Mediterranean this week, it was hard to forget the sight of the 21 martyrs’ blood mixing with the sea as they gave up their souls to Christ.

During this Feast of the Resurrection, I was struck by another sea image. It was one of a boat, which I saw with this headline: “Record number of migrants expected to drown in Mediterranean this year.”

Nearly 500 people have drowned already, I learned, trying to reach a dream of work and safety in Europe. Thousands more will die as 2015 goes by.

Later, I came across another article — this one by a researcher who says Copts and other Christians are among the unlucky people who attempt this dangerous journey.

Reading both articles, I was struck by how the sea, already red with our blood, could turn redder. And I understood what I have in common, besides our faith, with those about to die:

My family, too, journeyed across the sea.

The journeys weren’t the same. Not at all. By God’s grace, my family didn’t travel in an overcrowded boat that capsized. We didn’t struggle with choking waves that finally closed over our mouths.

We flew. We passed over the water. Perhaps your family’s story is the same.

So when I read that a record number of precious human lives will disappear into the sea this year, and contemplate the fact that Copts may be among them, I’m haunted by this question:

Did we do everything we could to save them?

It’s not an unfamiliar question to me. In response to a deep, aching need to be able to answer such questions “yes,” I founded Coptic Orphans over 25 years ago.

And I wrote, not long ago, that desperation is driving millions of Egyptians abroad to earn a living for their loved ones. This new Exodus is born of a lack of bread to fill a hungry child’s stomach.

It’s a crime that these Egyptian men end up dead, because they aren’t lucky enough or wealthy enough to secure a visa to work abroad, and because they love their families enough to risk their lives.

I wish I had been more aware of the people who are about to drown. And I wish we could use more of God’s gifts to save them.

By that, I mean that there’s more we could do — we who live in the diaspora, surrounded by abundance and success, enjoying lives we owe to Him who spared us from the waves.

What more could we do? To begin with, we can mobilize our diaspora’s wealth. What could our collective millions do if invested wisely in Egypt’s development? We could be fueling for-profit enterprises that create jobs and non-profit projects to improve education. In the long term, our engagement would enable many fathers and sons to choose life at home, rather than death abroad.

We could also recognize that we ourselves benefit from taking part in Egypt’s development. We could be taking service trips to Egypt — trips that not only help transform communities, but also reconnect us and our children with our Church and our rich heritage.

Yet, all across Egypt, more work remains. The same people who will drown this year are the same people who await our extended hand. Will we reach out to capable, hard-working Egyptians before they’re drowning?

Or will we continue as things are now: Our brothers and sisters in Christ sinking in the water, as we watch from the safety of the shore?

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” — I Corinthians 12: 26,27

Easter Rebirth in Egypt


When darkness falls, as it did in Libya, I’m amazed at how God sends reminders of His love.

This Easter, I’m reminded of that love by the story of Verena, a mother so depressed she was ready to end her life — and yet, she found a new beginning.

Verena began suffering from sadness when her husband died, leaving her alone with a debt of 25,000 Egyptian pounds (US$3,000) and two children to feed.

She slipped deeper into depression when the bank took over her small monthly widow’s pension, and still further when other creditors hauled away her furniture.

Verena was completely exhausted when Shenouda, one of our Church-based volunteer Reps, showed up at her door in El Marg. She asked him to look after her children, saying she no longer wanted to live.

Rep Shenouda got to work right away. In a sense, he took over the family, starting with the children’s needs. Once he was sure that basic necessities such as food were covered, he focused on education.

Verena’s children had been out of school for some time, because their mother was so filled with despair that she hadn’t managed to get them enrolled. Dropping out had created a huge obstacle in their path.

Shenouda not only gathered and organized the documentation required for Verena’s children to enroll, he also provided them with private tutoring so they could catch up on lessons they had missed.

The dedication, love, and care that Shenouda showed to the children brought back Verena’s hope and rekindled her devotion to her family’s future. “With Coptic Orphans, I was reborn,” she told us.

The bottom line is, this is what your support is making possible: People like Shenouda, serving in their own community, caring for children they really know — and acting out of their faith in God.

Verena’s story shows what we can achieve when we care for each other as One Body in Christ. This Feast of the Resurrection, thank you for being our partner in this story of rebirth.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3


* Names changed to protect the privacy and dignity of the children and their families.

‘These Kids Began to Love Education’ — Phoebe Azer Recalls Serve to Learn Stories

Phoebe Azer’s students linger after class. “These kids never wanted to leave the classroom without us.”

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 Phoebe Azer’s words and photo. If you enjoy them, I invite you to read the “1,000 Words” post by Ryan Wasson.
— Nermien

Who’s in this photo?

From left to right — Mary, Mira, Michael, Mark, Yousef, Samuel and Kirollos*

Where was it taken?

In the classroom.

What’s happening in the photo?

This was after class one day. These kids never wanted to leave the classroom without us and so would wait until we had packed up and would walk down with them. Some of the best times in Armant were with these kids hanging out after class.

How did you feel when it was taken?

So happy! I just love these kids!

Why do you want to remember this moment?

Because it is a reminder of how much love we were shown by the people of Armant, in particular the kids of Armant.

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

Only one of the seven kids in this picture has a decent level of education. Three of them couldn’t read or write Arabic. However, throughout the Serve to Learn program, these kids began to love education and show an incredible amount of eagerness to learn.

Mary couldn’t read or write Arabic. However, this did not stop her from trying her hardest in class. I was so impressed with her determination and the confidence she had by the end of the program. It was also so incredible to see her become inspired by the program, as Serve to Learn not only introduced Mary to English, but also encouraged her to dream of becoming more. This proved true as she looked at me almost awestruck as we discussed dreams and opportunities.

Mira also had a very basic level of education despite being in year seven. At the start of the program, Mira refused to speak out loud in class and to interact with any of the boys in the class. However, by the end of the program she was confident enough to join in and was even laughing and hanging out with the boys!

Michael is such a loving boy who every day would insist on a photo with myself and his younger brother Michel. He is one of the kids in the Coptic Orphans program and I had the absolute pleasure of being welcomed into his home where we played pickup sticks, laughed, and drank the most delicious fruit cocktail made by his mother Marina. The love shown by his family and other families we visited with the volunteer rep, Mama Senaa, was immense. They even gave us gifts on the last day and just welcomed us with so much love into their homes.

On the second day of class I had asked the kids to write a sentence and I had instructed that those who knew how to write the sentence in English should do so and if they didn’t then they were to write that same sentence in Arabic and then beneath it I would write it in English. Mark then exclaimed, “Marafsh aktab araby wala english ya miss” (I can’t write in Arabic or English ya Miss). Mark, however, was never limited by this and was always the most excited student in the class. In our first week we were learning how to ask “What is your name?” Mark ended up taking over the class and started clapping to a beat and repeating “What is your name?” In no time the whole class, including Andrew and I, had joined in, and thanks to Mark, these kids in Armant will all know how to ask you what your name is in English.

Yousef and Samuel were always eager to get involved, especially when there was the incentive of a sticker. They, along with Mark and Kirollos, were the class clowns. When looking at the world map one day, Yousef asked us to show him where Kuwait was. When we pointed it out he excitedly exclaimed, “So that’s where my dad is.” I soon learned that a lot of the fathers in Armant have all gone to Kuwait for work to earn money for their families — another challenge these amazing kids faced.

Kirollos was one of the most loving humans I have ever met. He would come an hour before class to wait for the volunteers and leave at 3pm even though class ended at 12pm. He also came on the last day before we left and waited three hours to see us off. He was always smiling and loved class. Kirollos always bought joy to the volunteers and I learnt so much from his love and his joy.

*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.