Building Bridges Between East and West: Coptic Orphans’ Serve to Learn Program

Last January, a “bridge” called Serve to Learn led a group of volunteers to the heart of Upper Egypt to serve orphans and widows through engaging camp activities, workshops, and home visits. One of our Serve to Learn volunteers was Ryan Wasson, a 30 year old Ohio native who had never set foot in the Middle East. Along with 12 other volunteers, Ryan was assigned to a service site in a small rural village called Armant.

The volunteers lived and served around the monastery for three weeks, getting to see firsthand the daily hardships of social ills such as illiteracy, child marriages, violence against women, as well as the systemic persecution the Christian minority faced.

The volunteer group included Americans, Brits, Australians, and Danish. Some could speak Arabic, some could only understand it. Ryan could do neither. Ryan is six foot two, with long blonde hair, blue eyes, and tattoo sleeves up both arms—he stood out in a small Egyptian village.

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One nun welcomed them to the monastery, and introduced them to a handful of workers who kept the small monastery open. One monastery worker was named Mahsoub, a gentle giant, ready to do any odd job the nun asked of him. When Mahsoub first saw Ryan he was mesmerized by the young man’s foreign appearance. He couldn’t pronounce “Ryan” so he called him the only American name he knew: Jimmy.

Everyday Mahsoub would come from his home to the monastery to spend time with the volunteers and see if his new friend “Jimmy” needed anything. Neither Ryan nor Mahsoub could understand each other, yet somehow, over time the two formed a deep friendship. Mahsoub would pop up during day and ask if Ryan wanted a cup of tea or a snack. All the volunteers got to experience the immense hospitality of the local people, the monastery, and especially Mahsoub. Ryan remembers one morning waking up and finding Mahsoub just standing at the door of his room with a hot cup of tea and a smile.20150130_163654 (1)smaller

One morning the two men were sitting in the dirt of the monastery courtyard, drinking their customary morning tea and talking away at each other. Ryan was going on about how he could bring Mahsoub and his family to Ohio and get Mahsoub a job as a construction worker, that Mahsoub would love America and he would be paid well and live a good life. Mahsoub sat there, unknowingly nodding his head and smiling. Mahsoub then tells Ryan that there’s a great girl in the village that he can arrange for Ryan to marry and settle in the farm near Mahsoub’s in Armant. Of course, Ryan just nods and smiles too. The two had become so close, had admired each other so much, and saw the good that they brought out of each other, that they each wanted to bring the other person back their world.

20150127_114504 (1)smallerBy the second week Ryan decided he wanted to give Mahsoub something that would thank him for his immeasurable kindness and deep friendship. After long days of serving the village children, Ryan would stay up till 3 or 4 AM to work on a drawing of Mahsoub. And he kept working on it right up until the bus came to pick up the volunteers and take them to the airport and back home. The two men, still communicating in gestures and smiles, could hardly hold their emotions back as they said goodbye.

Ryan later said in a blog post that his Serve to Learn experience was the most meaningful and life-changing he ever experienced. He thanked Mahsoub for changing his outlook on life and sharing Christ’s love without ever speaking a single word that he could understand. He signed the bottom Ryan Jimmy Wasson.

For more information on the Serve to Learn Program, visit our website The next 3 week service trip to Egypt is January 15, 2016. Application deadline is November 15, 2015.