Photo Credit To Exodus Youth Worx | Debbie Armanious

Exodus: Taking Jesus to the Darkest Places

A Reflection on my Conversation with Debbie Armanious

Last Sunday, August 2, 2020, was a very special and emotional day. I had a unique opportunity to have a virtual coffee on my podcast with Debbie Armanious, the director of Exodus Youth Worx (EYW) over three episodes. Kiro Saleeb, the welfare manager at EYW joined the conversation in part 3. These three episodes will premiere starting on Wednesday, August 12.

Exodus | Debbie Armanious

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I have known Debbie since the 1970’s when she first joined the Church and she was baptized in my parish of St Mary and St Mina when she was 15. Debbie, as you will see in the podcast, has a very fair complexion with blonde hair and blue eyes, definitely not the features you would expect to see among Egyptian Copts. In fact, Debbie is not Egyptian but from an Anglo-Saxon background. Her ancestors were Irish English and Scandinavian. Yes, she turns heads every time she walks into a Coptic Church for the first time somewhere around the world, and the parishioners become confused and try to usher her to the nearest Catholic or Protestant church down the road.

Debbie chuckles and takes this in her stride and is not offended and gently explains that she is also Coptic Orthodox like them, which also brings stranger looks by the parishioners. In most parts of the Coptic world whether in Egypt or abroad, we still have this stereotypical attitude of what a Copt should look like. Typically, Egyptian or Sudanese. So, for many Debbie’s looks are confronting and confusing at the same time. Well, Debbie is certainly not your typical Copt in many ways. In fact, she is very striking in her confidence and exudes an aura of spirituality that is refreshing.

Exodus | The Sacrament Dwells

The first issue that left a deep impact on me about Debbie, was how deeply rooted she is in her Coptic Orthodox faith. Her deep knowledge of the meaning of the liturgy was striking, she said, “the word liturgy is the work of the people” and she goes on to explain that partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ is not a matter of ticking a box on Sunday morning, “but (the sacrament dwells) within us and we are sent out to the margins of communities and so addressing people where they are at.

In their brokenness, through your brokenness and understanding, your own weaknesses and the broken part of your life connects you somehow to those who are on the margins.” Very practical and yet a deep understanding of the meaning of liturgy to live by every day of our lives.

Exodus | He descended into Hades through the Cross

This brings me to the second striking feature in Debbie’s ministry which is also related to liturgy. The priest during the anaphora prays with crossed hands and embracing the altar saying of Christ, “He descended into Hades through the Cross.” Truly, Christ through His death on the cross went into the depth of darkness, into Hades to rescue those bound by Satan and resurrect them with Him. I love the image of the Coptic icon depicting this very scene with Christ holding by the hand, our first parents Adam and Eve and rescuing them from death and bringing them back to eternal life.

Debbie eloquently states, “We want to take Christ to the darkest places of the streets and communities. (We want) to be comfortable with the dark and not fearful and to set up shop and to walk with people, even if it takes forty years to the Promised Land.” This takes courage and resilience and also a deep love for humanity. It is very easy to judge others by their outer appearance and condemn them as evil or sinful people. However, to love others and understand them as God’s creation and to learn to wash their feet takes someone who imitates Christ in His teaching to love one another as He loved us.

Exodus: Taking Jesus to the Darkest Places

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A very moving story was related to our viewers and listeners in the second part of this three-part series. Debbie related how she had found out about 3 or 4 Coptic girls who became deeply involved in prostitution. She took Christ into the darkness of one of these brothels, and befriended the female owner, and did charitable work with her by bringing EYW branded bottles of water regularly and was able by the grace of God to gain access to this Coptic girl.

She began this wilderness journey with her until a breakthrough took place and after two long years, was able by the grace of God to bring this precious soul back to the bosom of Christ and His Church. Now, if that does not require guts and courage then I do not know what does? As St Paul teaches, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Exodus: Servant of Christ

The third striking feature of Debbie’s ministry has to be her meekness, she never accepts praise and all the success of EYW boils down to her staff and to the volunteers. When I asked her for a CV to preparing for the podcast, for example, she humbly responded, “servant of Christ.” I hope you are inspired by this ministry of EYW and that we can all learn how to walk with people from all walks of life into the shadow of the valley of death and fear no evil. Let us learn how to walk with people in their time of darkness, but most importantly we must bring Christ into these darkest places.

Why? Simply put, it is only Christ Who can pull us out of the darkness of our brokenness. Let us take courage and learn resilience, longsuffering and perseverance in dealing with our fellow humans. Especially during these days of Covid-19 where many are suffering, financial stress, struck by the virus, mental health issues, family violence and much more, let us learn compassion towards our neighbour. No matter their skin colour, faith, or socioeconomic status.

Walk that extra mile as Debbie and EYW do every day with people of all races and cultures and know that one day in your time of need that Christ will also remember you and will carry you to a harbour of safety. I hope you enjoy the conversation with Debbie and Kiro in the next three episodes. Until next time, be inspired by the Holy Spirit.

About Exodus Youth Worx

Exodus Youth Worx is a Not-For-Profit Community Organisation working with young people and families who are facing many challenges such as homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency, exclusion from school, unemployment, neglect and abuse. We also advocate for seniors and support victims of Domestic Violence and their families as they work to turn their lives around and overcome their personal challenges. Exodus Youth Worx | Exodus Missions ~ What We Do ~ Exodus Partners ~ Exodus Programs ~ Exodus Contact ~ Donate

About Coffee With Bishop Suriel

In our busy lives, finding a resource to answer many of our faith-related queries can be challenging. Each Wednesday join Bishop Suriel, a popular religious leader, thinker and writer as he presents a fresh perspective on Orthodox Christian faith with an emphasis on all things Coptic. Whether you want to learn more about the Christian faith, or delve deeper into Orthodoxy and spiritual life, then this is the podcast for you. Tune in for a new episode every Wednesday! Listen on Apple Podcasts ~ Google Podcasts ~ Overcast ~ Castro

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Exodus: Taking Jesus to the Darkest Places | Bishop Suriel ~ coffeewithbishopsuriel.org

About The Author

Associate Professor of Religious Education at St Athanasius and St Cyril Theological School. Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Melbourne. Ph.D. - RE, Fordham University. Author: Habib Girgis: Coptic Orthodox Educator and a Light in the Darkness.

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