Since 2006, LCMS Mercy Medical Teams have provided healthcare and education to thousands of people all over the world. Recently, we had a chance to bring that same mercy to our brothers and sisters in Christ a little bit closer to home—in the mission field of Philadelphia, PA.
As part of the Domestic Missionary Pilot Program, the LCMS Office of Urban and Inner City Ministry is placing missionaries right here in the United States. Two of these new missionaries are Rev. Adam and Deac. Melissa DeGroot, based at Shepherd of the City Lutheran Church in Philadelphia.
On August 25, a six-member team arrived in northeast Philadelphia to provide health education and community outreach. In the neighborhood around Shepherd of the City, about 40% of the population was not born in the United States, and over 30 languages are spoken. Nearly ¼ of neighborhood households have only one parent, and average income is well below the poverty line. Like many of our urban areas, homelessness, broken families, and lack of opportunity are prominent.
It was a wonderful way to help the DeGroots meet their neighbors. Lots of children came to see what all the excitement was about, and some returned the next day with their parents. People who practice Islam, Hindu, and other religions stopped by for lunch and a chat. Many people said they were Christian, but didn’t have a church home. While they took blood pressures and provided information on diabetes, hypertension, nutrition, exercise, and depression, team nurses were able to have one-on-one conversations, interacting on a personal level with the neighborhood.
One special moment brought a smile to everyone’s face. A beautiful elderly lady came by and indicated that she would like to have her blood pressure taken. She didn’t speak English—only Hindi. One team member spoke Spanish, and another one spoke Russian, but no one was able to communicate in Hindi! Finally, someone brought out their smart phone and pulled up an online translator. Our visitor could not read written Hindi, but only speak it. There were smiles all around as the volunteer spoke into the phone, pushed the translate button, and had the phone read the translation to our new friend. This worked pretty well until the limits of the online tool became evident. Our new friend spoke into the phone and handed it to the volunteer. The volunteer pushed translate, and began to laugh. She showed us what the phone thought the woman said:
“My bathtub is in my bedroom.”
I’m sure that’s not what she really said. It makes me wonder what she thought we were saying to her! However, it provided a moment of connection with the woman that might lead her back into the church again sometime.
One couple stopped by for lunch, and stayed to watch their two children play on the rented waterslide. They are homeless, and the four of them are living in a car. After a good conversation and prayer, the family left. The team was dismayed to find out that one of the children had left their prescription glasses behind. We didn’t know how to contact them—how could we return the glasses? On Sunday morning during the Divine Service, the family walked into the church. Although they only came to see if we found the glasses, they stayed for the rest of the worship service and for lunch afterwards. They left not only with a box of food for their family, but with the assurance that the church cared for them and would support them in their troubles.
Everyone who came to the health fair was invited to Sunday worship. Not many came, but that’s okay.
A seed was planted, and now they have a personal connection to the church. They know where the Word and Sacrament can be found. Who knows? Perhaps one or two or three of those beloved people will be at worship this weekend!
The mission field is big, and the need is great. Please keep the DeGroot family, Shepherd of the City Lutheran Church, and their neighborhood in your prayers. God is working in Philadelphia, and we thank Him for the opportunity to be His hands and feet to His children there.