*Names and images changed to protect the privacy of the child.
Today’s guest post comes from Mark Voss, Coptic Orphans’ Communications Manager. Mark joined our team last year, but his affiliation with Coptic Orphans stretches back to 2007 when he became a sponsor for Youssef, a then nine-year-old boy in Cairo. Mark studied Arabic at AUC where he fell in love with Egypt, and sponsoring a child was one way he chose to stay connected to adoptive second home and make a difference there. Every time he’s returned to Egypt, he’s made it a priority to make a visit. In today’s post, Mark shares how much meeting Youssef has meant to him.
Upon receiving my information packet shortly after becoming a Coptic Orphans sponsor, the only words that initially mattered to me were the thousand words conveyed by my child’s picture. As I held that photo of this little boy with a sheepish grin, it prompted a thousand questions I couldn’t wait to have answered. What’s his life really like? What makes him happy? What makes him sad? Does he like soccer? If so, is he Ahlawy? And on and on. But the most important questions I had were: who is this amazing little person behind these wonderfully soulful eyes, and how can I best support him and let him know how much he’s loved?
About a year after my sponsorship began, I had the opportunity to travel back to Egypt. The first thing I did after buying my ticket was to contact Coptic Orphans and ask, “How can I visit Youssef?” Now I had more questions, questions about logistics and transportation, about what were the best gifts to bring, what cultural norms do I need to follow, etc. I also had some worries. What if he doesn’t like me? Silly sounding, I know, but what if? What if the gap in age and culture prove difficult to bridge?
The staff at Coptic Orphans kindly answered all of my questions and quickly dispelled my concerns. Everyone I dealt with was friendly and professional, and they put me completely at ease. My contact in Egypt, Marina, advised me on what gifts were best: books, stickers, and school supplies; and then she made all the necessary transportation arrangements. Before I knew it, the day arrived, and we were on our way.
When we arrived at Youssef’s home, Magdy, Youssef’s volunteer Rep was there outside to meet me. A true servant of the Lord, this kind and caring man told me how well Youssef was doing in school, how much he loves going to church, and how he’s showing great promise. I was so glad to hear this, and I was thrilled when Madgy said Youssef was excited to meet me.
Standing in front of Youssef’s door, Marina asked me if I was ready. I took a deep breath and then nodded. She knocked. The door slowly opened…and there he was, this adorable little boy peering half-way around the door frame. “Ya Youssef?,” I inquired. His eyes were so wide I figured it was because he didn’t know what to make of me. I couldn’t blame him. He nodded his head, and I then reached out to shake his hand. He took my hand in his and smiled, and then his mother came to the door, greeted us warmly, and invited us inside.
Upon entering I met Youssef’s brother and two sisters, and we all nestled into comfy spots in the apartment. While Marina and Magdy caught up with Youssef’s mother, Youssef and I talked about his life, school, his favorite subjects (Arabic and math), his friends, his hobbies, and his favorite soccer team (Ahly after all!). His mother’s hospitality was incredible. We all drank tea, and I never ate so well in Egypt before. Within minutes I no longer felt like a stranger but indeed a member of this family, and we all chatted and laughed as though we’d known each other for years.
Our visit lasted a few hours, but it went by in a flash. Before I got up to leave, I knelt down to tell Youssef how much I loved him, how proud of him I was, and how important he is to me. But before I could give my prepared little speech, he just flung his arms around me and said, “I love you, ya Mister Mark! Thank you!”
Fighting back I tears, I said, “I love you, too, ya Youssef.” I think I may have mumbled a perfunctory “take good care of yourself, listen to your mother, and study hard.” I hope I said those things. I don’t really remember. I just remember being overwhelmed by his love and by my gratitude to God that this special little boy was healthy and happy.
Marina drove me back to my hotel, and I was silent for most of the ride. As the sunset-soaked streets of Cairo streaked by, I felt sad. I had only scratched the surface of getting to know Youssef, and now I had to leave. That’s it, I resolved. I’ll just have to come back.
By God’s Grace, I was able to visit Youssef three times over the years; and I had the privilege of witnessing him grow up into a fine young man. In that time I received a letter where told me that he was interested in photography. “How wonderful!,” I thought. I’m an avid photographer, and we grew closer exchanging letters about our shared interest. During my most recent visit in 2016, Youssef showed me his impressive portfolio, and his mother beamed that he was working part-time at a local portrait studio. I later learned from Magdy that Youssef photographed some events for Coptic Orphans and refused to take payment. I could not have been more proud. The answer to that question I had all those years ago, where I wondered who the little person was behind those soulful eyes (and now with a photographer’s eye), was crystal clear. Youssef is a kind, thoughtful, young man full of hope and selfless in spirit as well. I’m honored to know him.
Sponsoring a child is a wonderful blessing. Sending your support every month and exchanging letters full of love and encouragement are incredibly rewarding. However, nothing comes to close to the experience of actually meeting your child and having them tell you how much they love you before you can do the same. Christ’s love is palpably present in that moment, and it’s one that you will always carry with you.
Therefore, if you’re planning a trip to Egypt this summer…well, if you’ve read this far, you know what I’m going to say: schedule a time with Coptic Orphans to visit your child! A few hours face-to-face with him or her will mean the world to, well, both of you.
Thank you, Coptic Orphans, for making those unforgettable moments possible. I’m counting the days until I can visit Egypt and Youssef once again.