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Coptic Christians Starve Exchange Student?

Jonathan McCullum, a 17-year-old exchange student from Maine, learned the hard way that travel isn't always comfortable

He was a healthy 155 pounds when he left for Egypt, but returned home weighing only 97 pounds after spending 4 months as an exchange student.

Jonathan McCullumJonathan McCullumIn an interview with the Associated Press, McCullum said he doesn't think it was a culture clash but rather a mean, stingy family that refused to communicate with him - or feed him it seems. He sometimes bought food, but resorted to stealing it at times.

"The weight loss concerned me, but I wanted to stick out the whole year," Jonathan said.

McCullum's parents first sensed something was wrong shortly before Christmas when they saw pictures of him on Facebook and he sent an email asking to be moved to another family. A teacher also sent an email to the parents telling them to get their son home.

The McCullum family contacted AFS (American Field Service), but were assured that Jonathan had seen a doctor and was doing fine. Parents are discouraged from contacting their children directly because it can be a distraction - so says AFS.

The Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, a nonprofit advocacy group, says exchange programs are out of control with abuse and neglect cases. "This is not an isolated incident. I'm aghast but I'm not shocked," the committee's director, Danielle Grijalva of Oceanside, CA, said.

Upon his return home, Jonathan was hospitalized for 2 weeks because doctors were concerned about a possible heart attack risk. He's since gained back 20 pounds.

The father of the family who hosted Jonathan says the boy lied and insists that special dishes were mad for him.

"The truth is, the boy we hosted for nearly six months was eating for an hour and a half at every meal. The amount of food he ate each meal was equal to six people," said Shaker Hanna.

The incident hasn't spoiled Jonathan's wanderlust though. He wants to visit Zimbabwe this summer as part of a volunteer program to build homes.

Tourist = going on a cruise for 2 weeks
World Traveler = Jonathan
Would you sue AFS if your child experienced this kind of treatment while on exchange?

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Regardless of what the issues were the AFS had a responsibility to intervene and send this teenager home after he supposedly was examined. It was obvious he had dangerous weight loss. So, let's stop blaming the teenager. With the lack of protein and fat in the diet his brain would not function properbly, making in difficult for him to process information.

Why!!!!!!!i think that this is soo wired i know the that all egyptian will never prevent food from anyone and even though they won't prevent it form a guest at there house, also he said that he stole , what?? he stole and he still staying at there house i think that if any one steel sth he doesn't deserve to be a kid anymore specially that he is sbd that this familly trusted to keep him at thier house with their kids and also he was starving right what about the picture that shows that has more than 6 plates in fromt of him and why his parents didn't talk or say anything while her was there and his egyptian teacher send her the email why all the exchange students that they are from us now want to say that he is lieing?? i just want to know why is this happening why this is parents are doing this in their sonand making his name soo bad all over the seas and i am pretty sure that the truth will appear and this familly that hosted them will be known that they hosted him the best way and he didn't deserve it bec simply he is a lier what ever lets pray for it and lets also pray for him too bec he might be a victim ofhis real family

Response on Behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Church to U.S. Student’s Claim of Starvation Due to Fasting <br><br> DIAMOND BAR, California–March 7, 2008–In response to a recent news story about Jonathan McCullum, a U.S. Exchange Student who claimed he was starved by a Coptic Christian family due to church fasts, the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii clarifies as follows: <br><br> Although the Church strongly encourages her believers to observe periods of fasting according to Apostolic Tradition, fasting is a voluntary spiritual sacrifice. The Church does not impose its fasting days on anyone. More importantly, and in accordance with the Canons of the Apostles, fasting is absolutely excused for those who are sick. <br><br> Indeed, the Church strongly emphasizes periods of fasting as periods of mercy. As the prophet Isaiah said, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7). <br><br> The Church offers its prayers on behalf of the Coptic host family and Mr. McCullum. <br><br> The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria was established by Saint Mark the Apostle and Evangelist in the middle of the First Century. The Church was instrumental in shaping Christianity through the contributions of its patriarchs, such as Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint Theophilus; its scholars and teachers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus the Blind; its saints, such as the three Saints Macarii, Saint Mina, Saint Maurice; and many more. The Church’s Catechetical School of Alexandria is the oldest catechetical school in the world. Monasticism was founded by Saint Antony the Great and exported to the rest of the world from the cradle of this ancient church. Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church is comprised of 12 million believers in Egypt and 4 million throughout the rest of the world. It is headed by Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark.

I think most Egyptians would starve themselves before denying food to a guest in their house. Something is missing from this story. And there's no way this kid should go to Zimbabwe if he doesn't have the sense to keep himself fed.

if it was a lie or if it was the truth still, there isa chance that the host didnt give or even feed him. host are supposed to do that even tho they are in a fasting season it doesnt matter because his not part of that culture. second you guys are right why didnt he buy his own food that he needed to steal to get something to eat? maybe this is because the host took his money? or treaten him if he tells his parents what was happeninng? cmon u gusys think aout it? why the heck would he starve himself to death? im telling u, his story seems convincing to me. i support everything they say, but not yours.

It is possible he's telling the truth but I'm skeptical. Firstly, Coptic Christians fast at most, about 200 days of the year (if they follow every fast rigirously) and its never enforced upon people who arent coptic or who dont want to fast. And by fast, all it means is that they follow a vegan diet. They do not eat less food, just different food. In fact, most people gain weight during a fast because its a heavy carb diet. Furthurmore, if he had gone to Egypt for four months around the christmas season, then the family would have only been fasting from November 25th-January 7th. So the family wouldn't have been fasting from Sept-late Nov of his trip, Secondly, it is very much a part of Egyptian culture to be hospitable and to offer food at every meeting and gathering. Not feeding somebody is counter-intuitive of Egyptian culture. Thirdly an American dollar is equivelent to 5 Egyptian pounds. He could buy himself an entire day's worth of food for a few American dollars. Fourthly, if they were starving him there would be no way in hell he would have stayed the whole time when he had the option of leaving. He probably got traveller's diarreah and a host of other diseases that he and the host family didnt bother to get diagnosed. Then he probably didnt want his parents to get angry at him and never allow him to leave home again so he lied and claimed he was starved rather than say he was being negligent of his own health. Or he wants to sue the exchange agency and get money for college.

but did you see Good Morning America? somebody's not telling the truth...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-FLvAsUCGw

I agree the whole situation is weird. Why didn't the parents call after they got the email from the teacher? Why didn't they demand to speak with the doctor? Jonathan admitted to stealing food, but he wants to be a doctor??? Not sure he's smart enough for med-school if he didn't realize what was happening. And what about the teachers or other adults with Jonathan? Did no one notice the kid had lost 50 pounds??? The father suggested his son may have had Stockholm Syndrome, but that sounds like too neat a way to avoid responsibility.

Communication is a MUST!!! I can understand that the parents didn´t want to interfere with their boy´s experience, but that doesn´t mean they have to stop being parents. Communication with their kid is vital, specially if he is away in Egypt!!!! If AFS said their son had seen a doctor, why didn´t they check with him too? You don´t have to call every day, but parents must make sure their kids are ok always!!!

@concerned: as the story noted, AFS discourages parents and exchange students from communicating.

Ummm he looks hot to me! At first I thought it was Aston Kutcher.

its kinda weird, egyptians are always hospitable and caring specially for visitors. but i guess it is possible. one thing i wanna know is why didn't he buy some food there? didn't his parents give him some money to spend in Egypt? 3 dollars can buy a whole meal from an Egyptian restaurant a big one too!

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