Our Story

Who would have thought  that a Vacation Bible School program for children would have anything to do with our present ESL program? It had everything to do with it, because that’s how it all started....
        In June of 2005 there was an eager staff of youth from New Life Northeast Church and their sister church in Dresher, PA, ready to run a week-long VBS program. Not many neighborhood children showed up the first morning, so Pastor Bob Willetts sent teams to distribute more fliers in the neighborhood that afternoon. Rachel Shields, one of the Dresher team leaders, noticed a number of children playing in the courtyard of St. John’s  Lutheran Church just up the street. She and some of the youth stopped to talk with the director of the program, Meri Barboni. Meri explained she was running a summer camp for the neighborhood Albanian children, as most of their parents had to work. Rachel invited them to join us, so Meri happily showed up the next morning with 30-40 children and 3 teenage helpers!
        God had been preparing the church for this kind of ministry. Previously that spring, out of the blue, Pastor Bob had asked church member Ginny Barnette to attend a training weekend for teaching ESL-the same training our teachers still attend now. She had her notes, and was enthusiastic about training teachers for ESL ministry.
        Meri and Ginny quickly teamed up in helping the church set up an ESL program. That Christmas they held a party for over 100 children that Meri had in her summer camp. By January they held training for interested teachers on two consecutive Saturdays and classes officially began in February, 2006. There were 4 morning classes that met Monday and Thursday, from 9-12.  Evening classes were held on Monday and Wednesday nights, meeting from 6-9. There was a large beginner’s class with over 120 Albanian adults enrolled, but as the winter progressed typically 40 came each night. The intermediate class had 20 enrolled, with 15  attending most often. Classes began with a Bible verse. 


Back then the city gave out 5 free books for each student. How surprised they were when they learned how many we needed! Most ESL groups started off very small.  Because of our size, they shipped only 3 books per student; mailing them  to our local library for pickup.
        In  January the church started an Albanian Sunday School. Martin Katro, Pastor Bob and Pepi & Meri Barboni took turns teaching it. Pastor Bob was praying that someday the church would see an Albanian congregation meeting concurrently with the English speaking one, and today this is true at Northeast Community Church! Meanwhile the ladies formed a Bible-storying group once a month, where they enjoyed brunch, then heard stories from the book of Genesis. There was a lot of excitement and support as the ladies came together.
        Pastor Bob and the elders had been praying for God to work in such a way that we could only respond by saying, “It is the Lord!” when it began. 
        Since that time, the school has grown to become multi-site, include over 30 nationalities coming from all 10 zip codes in Northeast Philadelphia. A nonprofit entitled GROW Northeast, a 501(c)(3), was started to add vision, stability, and growth. 
    “Now to Him who is able to do more than we ask or imagine-to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus." ~Ephesians 3:20-21
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