“I’m from Iraq,” Sara begins as she introduces herself on the first day of class. She continues, “I’ve been in America two years. My husband was killed by ISIS.” The room falls silent. What can one say to that?

“My father is in Syria. He has cancer, and today his hospital is surrounded by war.” That’s what Fatima told me in October, with tears in her eyes, as she registered for English classes. She left Syria three years ago with her husband and toddling twins. Now she worries about her father who not only has cancer, but it isn’t safe going to get treatment on any given day. Will she be able to bring her parents here to Philadelphia?

“My husband left me and went back to Egypt,” Eman said. Her two young children were playing out in the hallway. “I’m so sorry. What are you going to do?” I asked as a friend interpreted into Arabic. “I don’t know. I have nothing. I need a job. But I’ve never had a job before.” Her husband had worked and supported the family, now leaving Eman alone with practically no life skills. How will she pay rent next month? If she gets a job (without any English) who will take care of her children? From Egypt, Eman is here as an immigrant with a green card, so she discovered she has access to welfare. A blessing—she needs the food stamps and job skills training—but welfare will only get her so far as she starts out her new life. Who will take care of her and her children?

“Do you have a car?” “No.” “Do you have a washer or dryer?” “No.” “Where’s your husband?” “He works construction in Michigan for maybe a month at a time. He comes home for a week then leaves again.” “So . . . are you happy here in Philadelphia?” “Yes!” Maria is from Brazil, and here in Philadelphia, she says, she is happy because it is safe and there is peace. In Brazil she cannot walk down the street of her city without concern of being robbed at gunpoint. Her friends cannot own cars because they will inevitably be stolen, again at gunpoint. Maria went on to explain to me that she walks to the grocery store, asks friends to drive her to the laundromat, and walks 40 minutes to our church, if the weather’s not too bad. Northeast Philadelphia is safe compared to her country. She can walk to church without concern. She can buy groceries without worrying about inflation. I wonder . . . can I learn something from Maria’s contentedness?

These stories are directly from the students in the ESL ministry at GROW Northeast, part of Northeast Community Church in Northeast Philly. We share heart-wrenching stories because they move us. Who can touch hearts to empty the pain and refill them with peace and hope and love? Our God is mighty to save, full of compassion and abounding in love. And, much to our surprise and delight, he chooses his children (read: us) to share his story of salvation, compassion, and love with others. It is through him that there is hope.

The verse often strikes me, “How are they [Gentiles] to believe in him of whom they have never heard? . . . And how are they [believers] to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14–15). This is how GROW Northeast serves. We send Christians into the classrooms and lives of internationals to share spiritual hope through the good news of Jesus and earthly hope through English classes. Restoration comes from the body of Christ, made up of many people playing many parts.



Philadelphia will always be receiving refugees and immigrants. Many of them have never heard of Jesus Christ. Will you help us love our neighbors? We have many openings: helping a teacher in a classroom, playing with preschool- and school-age kids, serving as a board member, giving financially. Check out our website for more information and our schedule at grownortheast.org. Contact Jennifer Taylor Hogg with interest or questions.

Thanks, always, for your prayers and support of GROW Northeast and Northeast Community Church.

© 2024 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Jen Hogg. © 2024 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org