Religion, Pure and Undefiled

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  (James 1:27 ESV)

I remember receiving the dreadful call from a weeping family member as if it was yesterday. 

“Stephen.  I don’t know how to tell you this.  But… your dad has died.”

In 2008, my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a massive heart attack.  To many he was a picture of health.  To me, my father was a rock and a covering that I could always run to for safety and comfort. 

I was thirty-one when my dad went to be with the Lord.   I remember the feelings of vulnerability and insecurity that accompanied that moment.  To this day, particularly when times are hard, I still long to hear his voice of strength. He taught me what it was to be a man.  He taught me how to be strong in the face of great adversity. 

While it’s never easy to lose your father, I struggle to imagine what it is like to lose your father in your youth.  Even more difficult for me to comprehend is what it must be like to lose a father in a country such as Egypt, where decades of social, cultural and legal pressures have left many Christians strong in faith but often victims of marginalization and persecution. 

During a recent trip to Egypt, I saw first-hand the obstacles that orphans in Egyptian society must overcome.  Not only have these families lost their fathers, the patriarch of their family, they’ve also lost their social covering.  Many of these children’s mothers lack the skills, training, or education needed to work or find employment.  Culturally, it’s not really acceptable for them to remarry.  Many are poverty stricken.

Yet during my time in Egypt, I was privileged to observe and witness first-hand how one dynamic ministry was empowering widows and orphans to overcome these challenges.

Since its founding in 1988, Coptic Orphans has provided a powerful covering for Egypt’s fatherless orphans by serving over 30,000 Egyptian Christian youth who have lost their fathers through either death or abandonment.  Today, through their Not Alone program, the organization uses their network of over 400 highly capable volunteers and mentors to help meet the educational and practical needs of over 10,000 children and their families.  These volunteers invest their time and concern in each individual child and family so to help them rise to and achieve their fullest potential.

The results of the Not Alone program speak for themselves.  Students who could have been defined as merely “orphans” are being transformed into successful, confident children.  Some go on to college and gain the skills they need to land a job.  Recently, one young student who had been a recipient of Coptic Orphan’s love and support received a full scholarship to American University of Cairo, a significant accomplishment for anyone.

The mothers of these children receive support, too.  They participate in trainings to help them sharpen their parenting skills.  They receive financial assistance to help meet their basic needs and manage their home.  Some may receive help in repairing their home or starting a small business to help strengthen the household.

And the benefits of the program don’t just stop with the families being served.  Volunteers are finding joy in serving Christ through serving children.  One volunteer expressed how the Not Alone program had become such a central, life-giving aspect of his walk with God. 

One evening, shortly after my arrival in Cairo, I journeyed through the center of Egypt’s capital to arrive at the village of Ezbet El Nahkl. I was there to see the work of Coptic Orphans up close.  As I walked into the simple meeting space, I saw a group of about fifteen women, dressed in mostly black and engaged in what clearly was a process of deep learning and reflection.  These widows being served by Coptic Orphans were engaged in a lively discussion with two volunteers.  Though the volunteers had families of their own,they had come to invest their time, wisdom and understanding to help these women hone their abilities as heads of household.. 

The night’s topic of discussion was “The Five Love Languages.” The mothers were there to discover how they might better communicate and connect with their children. Each woman shared her personal joys and struggles that had come with raising children on her own. 

I noticed one young boy, Fadi, sat quietly while the discussion was taking place.  After the program had ended, I introduced myself with a handshake and a smile.   Fadi came alive as he found a new opportunity to practice his English.  He rehearsed with me his English ABCs, and made me laugh with his best Donald Duck voice. 

It quickly became apparent that Fadi was not just a forgotten orphan.  Fadi was a confident young boy who, with the help of Coptic Orphans, was developing the skills he needed to be successful – both now, and in the future.

The challenges facing the Church in Egypt are significant. If you are like me, I often wonder what I can do to truly make a difference? In James 1:27, we receive perhaps one of the most tangible action steps in the entire Bible that any of us can take.

Coptic Orphans is so much more than a human development organization.  It is more than an organization that provides a helping hand to widows, or teaches kids to read.

Truly, the work of Coptic Orphans is love in action.  It is a hope preserved.

In every way, it is religion pure and undefiled.

 

If you would like to sponsor a child through Coptic Orphan’s Not Alone Program, click here.  Sponsorship of a child through Coptic Orphans provides the resources these children and families need “to break the cycle of poverty and the courage to become change-makers in their communities: all according to each individual child’s need.”