Tag Archives: Serve to Learn

‘Serve to Learn was EASILY the Greatest Experience of My Entire Life’ — Ryan Wasson

Ryan Wassom with the drawing he created for Mahsoub.

Dear Friends,

This January, 12 Serve to Learn volunteers visited Egypt for three weeks to serve children in the village of Armant… and the friendships that sprouted are worth blogging about. Here’s one in a series of posts based on the idea that “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” I asked each volunteer to choose a photo that got to the heart of their Egypt experience, and to jot down what came to mind about it. Above is the image chosen by Ryan Wasson, and below are his 1,000 words… plus a few more, for which, along with his service, we’re grateful!

— Nermien 

I have a lot to say and 1,000 words isn’t enough, so I’ve been letting a few pictures marinate as the decision was clear from the beginning… my relationship with Mahsoub. There were hundreds of rich and beautiful moments captured during the three weeks I spent in service with the monastery, but only one image that encapsulates my gratitude towards the Serve to Learn experience this well.

Mahsoub was an all-around laborer at the monastery; if there was a job to be done, he was sure to be involved in it. He worked six days a week for well over 12 hours a day. He had given up his life in service to God, the monastery, and supporting his family back home. That’s what made Mahsoub stand out to me, his hard-working character… but even more so, the warm smile he allowed to shine through his seemingly endless workload and sometimes difficult living conditions.

This picture was taken of Mahsoub and me moments before boarding the bus to the airport on the final day of the program. I’m presenting him with a drawing I made of him showing my gratitude towards our friendship and his incredible character, hospitality, service, work ethic, and faith in God.

Due to the dynamics of my life and Serve to Learn, I applied to the program with multiple goals in mind:
-to lose my “self” in the service of others
-to step as far out of my comfort zone as possible
-to transcend my ego, self-defined limits, and my judgement towards myself and others
-to radiate love, light, comfort, and hope through despair and difficult circumstances
-to develop a sense of gratitude for the things I take for granted
-to allow my purpose, passion, gifts, and talents to rise to the surface
-to break language barriers and just “be” with someone from another way of life
-to strengthen my relationship with God

My relationship with Mahsoub allowed me to achieve all of these goals and so much more. Mahsoub never stopped showing me gratitude for my presence from the second I set foot in the monastery. Although I couldn’t understand his Arabic and he couldn’t understand my English, that never stopped our appreciation for each other from blossoming into a beautiful friendship.

Mahsoub restored a sense of gratitude for my God-given gifts and my ability to bring joy to someone through simple presence alone. At first, neither of us even knew each other’s real names. He was Mahsuul, the tea man, and I was Jimmy.

The days were long and packed with activities in Armant and we required lots of tea, coffee, sugar snacks, and energy to get by. Almost upon the mere thought of, “Man, I could really go for a tea…” Mahsoub would appear out of thin air with a tray of hot tea and sugar already prepared and waiting for me. Literally. This happened multiple times.

I never asked for anything… he just knew. It became clear he was just thinking of me throughout his days. He would go out if his way and even busier days to find me and make sure I was accommodated the Egyptian way.

Our conversations grew through translators and we fell further in sync as I realized everything he was talking about related to the present moment and the emotions created by the tasks and situations at hand. I learned some simple Arabic words but most of our one-on-one talks went by smiles, hand gestures, and awareness of each other’s mood and presence.

Mahsoub’s overwhelming presence, hospitality, and gratitude inspired me to offer all I had (aware attention) in reparation since I couldn’t express it through words. I was forced to dig deep for an ability I had to communicate sincere gratitude beyond language or money… and it was art.

I had been suppressing my artistic abilities due to a personal sense of expectations for myself… through schooling at Columbus College of Art and Design I had raised the bar for my artistic capacity and never lowered it when I fell out of practice upon graduating and not being able to find a job. I was afraid to become a starving artist and forced into a non-artistic job to pay the bills and common living expenses. I got caught up in my day-to-day tasks and the sometimes unhealthy release required to cope with my bottled and shelved passion… eventually I became frustrated and intimidated by my expensive and quickly rusting talent.

It took five years and my travels to Armant to finally buff off some of that rust. Here, in Armant, due to the sometimes scarce sense of external love and commodities, people are extremely grateful for whatever they can get… attention, food, toys, education, it’s all a blessing. I finally set my pride and expectations aside and just drew free of judgement.

At first I tried to keep the drawing a secret, working on it late at night when Mahsoub would be busy preparing rooms for the various guests who would be passing through the monastery. Eventually and naturally, I got caught up in the details and the drawing demanded more of my quickly fading free time. Mahsoub found me working on the drawing one night and his face lit up with joy… for days. My frustration and lack of pride quickly transferred into a great source of pride for Mahsoub and an appreciation for my artistic abilities grew with it.

I worked on the drawing until the very last minute (naturally). In my eyes, the drawing was incomplete, and I don’t like loose ends so it seems I’ll have to come back to put the finishing touches on it  : -). To wrap up the piece, I inscribed a message which quickly and organically flowed through me as follows:


May the smile of God shine through you and pass into Eternity.

Ryan Wasson


At last, the long-awaited moment was upon us… the presentation of the finished drawing. I handed it to him while a few anxious volunteers had their cameras ready and we captured this beautiful moment. I bottled my emotions until now, while Mahsoub was immediately overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.

If there is one thing I hope people could understand from this photo it would have to be the scope of the universal language of love. That selfless love needs no language to give, receive or even be recognized.

Picture or no picture, this blossomed experience is one that I’ll never forget.

Serve to Learn was EASILY the greatest experience of my entire life. It was the culmination and collection of so many radiantly beautiful souls and experiences animated in just three short weeks.

It will truly take me a lifetime to repay my respect and gratitude towards the program, its volunteers, the children, and the unbelievably kind, loving, and strong people of Egypt.

I WILL be back and I WILL continue pursuing and sharing my artistic passion with the world.

With all of my heart,
Ryan (Jimmy) Wasson

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.

Visiting Egypt ‘Gave the Word Sacrifice New Meaning to Me’ — Toni Svonavec Offers Insights on Serve to Learn

Toni 2

Today, I’m proud to present the reflections of Serve to Learn superstar Toni Svonavec! She went on the summer 2014 trip, and we were very excited when she visited our Virginia headquarters just a few weeks ago to talk about her experiences!

For those of you who don’t know, Serve to Learn is a three-week service trip to Egypt to serve the world’s greatest kids. (By the way, you can find your application for the July 3-25 2015 Serve to Learn trip here!) Each year, people from all over the world come together in Egypt and teach basic English skills with their time — and hearts. It’s a life-changing experience, so brush up on your Arabic, get your arts and crafts supplies, open up your hearts, and get ready to be forever changed.

Toni Svonavec currently lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. where she works as a second-grade teacher in the Stafford County Public School System.

If you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with JohnGabyMinaAndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle.

Here’s what Toni had to say about Serve to Learn 2014:

After coming home from Egypt, did you see things in a different light than before you left?

Living short-term in a part of the world that the media often portrays as very dangerous gave me perspective on my own anxiety and fears. I learned that the only healthy fear is fear of the Lord. When you are following after Christ there are no fears in life. The only thing to fear is being disobedient to God’s plan for you.

Did you have any “Eureka moments” while you were on the trip? Something that helped you understand why Christians in Egypt do what they do?

Visiting Insina [a mountain where many Christians were martyred long ago] gave the word “sacrifice” new meaning to me. I learned what it truly means to suffer for your faith.

Did you meet anyone in Egypt who really impacted you? What was their story? How did it make you feel?

I was greatly impacted by all of the servants from the Church who ran the school and the visits to the homes. Their commitment to volunteer in their community was amazing.

What is the most powerful thing you would say to someone to convince them to sign up for Serve to Learn 2015?

I personally did Serve to Learn as a test for myself, to see what teaching in a foreign country would be like. I would encourage other teachers who have the summers off to try Serve to Learn. It’s an amazing way to serve and it gives you so much insight to education in other countries.

Apply now for Serve to Learn’s July 3-25 trip in 2015! If you still have questions, you can learn more by reading the Serve to Learn FAQ, or by writing to us directly at info@copticorphans.org.

Also, you can read “Top 5 Myths Why You Can’t Take Part in Serve to Learn Debunked.” 

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!  

‘Simply Go to Love and Be Loved’ — John Eskandar Reflects on Serve to Learn

  His Holiness Pope Tawadros II held a special meeting with the volunteers, commending them for teaching children in Mallawi and Assiut.
John Eskandar poses with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II during a July 12, 2014 meeting with the Serve to Learn volunteers.

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.

If you want to read other Serve to Learn stories, here are interviews with GabyMina, AndyVeronikaDavidBen, Kirollos, MariamAlex, and Mirelle.

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.

 Apply now for Serve to Learn’s July 3-25 trip in 2015! If you still have questions, you can learn more by reading the Serve to Learn FAQ, or by writing to us directly at info@copticorphans.org.

Also, you can “see” Serve to Learn through this video of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II’s comments or read “Top 5 Myths Why You Can’t Take Part in Serve to Learn Debunked.” 

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!