On Sunday, Coptic Orphans held a fasting brunch in Newark, New Jersey. The Copts have a tradition of eating only vegetables and vegetable products during fasting times, so it “fasting brunch” means that it was a vegan meal made as simply as possible.
I learned a lot, and really felt convicted to give with more generosity. Here are five things I took back home with me to Virginia after the event:
1. True prosperity comes not from having much, but from giving much. The poorer we feel, the less we give. But the more we give, the more our souls prosper.
2. Sometimes it takes stepping out in faith beyond our own means. Abouna (Arabic for “Father”) Yacob Ghaly from Virgin Mary and St. Pachomius challenged me most from among all those who spoke. Fr. Yacob told a story about Fr. Bishoy Kamel in Egypt. He asked anyone who had need to take money from his right pocket. One fellow priest took everything in the pocket one day, but felt bad about it afterwards. Then he saw that the poor continued to take money from the pocket afterwards, and realized that God had honored Fr. Bishoy’s faith and generosity with a miracle. Abouna Yacob invited us to give from our lack. And he walks his talk, for sure. Fr. Yacob came to speak on behalf of the widow and orphan of Egypt even though his own church is in a fundraising drive of their own to save the life of a young New York boy from cancer.
3. God comes through when we step outside our comfort zone. Abouna Yacob’s message also reminded me of something that I had found and shared from St. Basil the Great that evening. Throughout an entire famine, the widow of Zarapheth fed Elijah with a vessel of four and oil that always had just hardly enough for a single meal, yet never ran out. Basil says that “For the faithful, the grace of God zealously imitates those vessels, ever poured out yet never exhausted, returning double for what is given. Lend, you who lack, to the rich God.”
4. The way to be able to give more is to “taste the sweetness of Christ.” These were Fr. Yacob’s words again. He asked, how can we ever repay the Lord for his great love for us, in dying for us on the cross? I’ll be meditating on the Lord’s love for me some more, because in light of that a whole life is not enough to give in gratitude.
5. At the end of the day, it all comes down to love. Mariam Magar, a Serve to Learn volunteer from last year, told some powerful stories at the event. One story came from when she visited the homes of orphaned families in our programs, and those who were not. The families who were part of Not Alone, the flagship program of Coptic Orphans, accepted her gifts with joy and wanted to be with her. The others felt shame. They acted like beggars accepting alms, and wanted to avoid personal contact with her as much as possible. Mariam said that she felt the difference was the love that Coptic Orphans Reps and Sponsors share with families. You can’t underestimate love. The love of sponsors and volunteers changes the lives of those in need, as well as that of those who give.
The greatest thing I learned about giving wasn’t spoken at all on Sunday. I saw 120 people who braved 8 inches of rainfall in New York Metro area traffic give without reserve, for the love of Christ, for the sake of Egypt’s fatherless, and not for the approval of men. That challenged me most of all.