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Egyptian tea brings happiness to the guest.

I’m in Egypt now, seeing the faces of all our old friends. Their welcome is like the tea — it’s the warmest, it’s the sweetest, and it never changes. At the same time, the challenges facing our brothers and sisters in Christ are really evident wherever I turn.

I’d like you to imagine that we’re together today, sitting in this modest room in Sohag. It belongs to a widow, Niveen, who serves us tea. As she steps carefully onto her threadbare carpet, I notice it’s soaked dark with water. She explains, reluctantly, that the roof leaks icy rain in the winter. It ruins the rugs, it reeks, and it keeps her children awake at night.

Since her husband passed away, Niveen has had trouble feeding her kids. She’s supported through the Church’s beneficence, but it’s hard to make ends meet. Her biggest goal right now, besides fixing the roof, is to buy blankets to protect her children from the winter chill.

Hundreds of times, I’ve been in rooms like this in Egypt, sitting with strong, struggling mothers like Niveen. And without fail, they don’t dwell on the ice water in their lives. They focus on serving me the warmest, sweetest tea.

That’s the hidden meaning of Egyptian tea. It’s what goes unspoken, because of the host’s dignity: “Yes, my roof leaks ice water, but I’m going to bring you hot tea.” That’s strength. That’s our culture. I’m so proud of it, and I’m so proud when we can return that hospitality.

I’m telling you the story of Niveen because you can make a difference. Coptic Orphans has an Urgent Needs Fund that meets the most pressing needs of families like hers. In 2014 alone, almost 100 generous people collaborated with the fund, empowering nearly 270 families to deal with life’s most difficult challenges.

Here’s how the fund works: One of our 400 Church-based volunteers, or “reps,” notices a family facing a particularly dire situation. Often, the health of the children involved is at risk, and frequently, the missing piece for survival is housing or medical care. Other times, there is an educational need that could mean the difference between a child’s success or failure in life.

The rep carefully assesses what intervention can truly make a difference for the family in harm’s way. Usually there are material improvements — a roof that doesn’t leak buckets of water, a door that keeps out criminals, a floor that is clean and hygienic — that can meet the urgent need. Or an operation can save a child’s life, or help with tuition can bring a life-changing career within a young person’s reach.

The rep contacts Coptic Orphans staff with a description of the case, which is vetted for its urgency and the effectiveness of the proposed solution. If the case passes muster, it is posted online with a plea for a donor to support the family in Egypt.

Next, through the generosity of donors who see the case online, or hear about it through word of mouth, a donation is made that we channel into meeting the urgent need. All donors receive a report documenting the “before” and “after. ” It shows what’s been done in concrete terms, often with photos. Sometimes the donations come with amazing swiftness, and the suffering is alleviated quickly. That’s always a cause for prayer and joy for the family, the reps, and our staff.

Here in Sohag, Niveen doesn’t know if someone will step forward to help keep the winter rain off her kids. For my part, I know this: The Egyptian tradition of hospitality is alive in her. The tea she offers is our shared strength, and a starting place from which we can keep cold rain off a child.  At moments like these, when I am warmly welcomed in Egypt, I know that it’s part of working together to respond to the needs within the Body of Christ, of which we’re all one part.

To make an immediate difference in a family’s life through the Urgent Needs Fund, please click here.

PS Names and some details about the families aided by the Urgent Needs Fund are changed to protect their privacy and dignity.