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A Moody grad uses ESL to help refugees and immigrants find community


“One day, a woman came up to me in class and said, ‘Teacher, I spoke to my neighbor!’” Christina remembers. “‘I’ve lived next door to the lady for seven years and I’ve never had the courage to talk to her!’”

Christina Longanecker teaches English as a second language in Buffalo, New York. She went to Moody to study TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) because she wanted to teach English overseas. But during her junior and senior year, she couldn’t shake the feeling that after graduation, she should move home to Buffalo.

“I felt like I needed to go home for my dad,” she recalls. “It was strange, because he was fine at the time.” She decided to listen to the sense of urgency and planned to move back, even though no open TESOL ministry position waited for her.

After graduation God’s timing began to make sense to Christina. “When I’d been home for six months, my dad was diagnosed with leukemia,” she says. “I was so glad to be there. He’s fine now, but that’s when I understood why God prompted me to come home. He moved all the pieces around to get me here.”

Perseverance pays off

Two years after graduating and moving home—working several part-time ESL (English as a Second Language) jobs and even at a charter school—Christina became a full-time employee in the ESL program at the Jericho Road Community Health Center. Between two full-time employees, a part-time worker, and a veritable army of volunteers, Jericho Road provides tutoring for more than 300 students every year, many from overseas.

Most classes are about two and a half hours long and are split between traditional ESL and citizenship lessons, and Christina instructs more than 70 students a week.

Life as an ESL student

Christina says that most ESL programs in New York are state-funded, which means students must show progress so the program can continue to receive government support. Jericho Road is completely non-profit. That means the ESL program allows a wider variety of language skill levels into their classes.

“We tend to target low-level, beginner students who have some reason why they can’t get into a higher-level class. Some of them are young moms who can only come when their kids are in school,” Christina explains. “A lot of our older students came from refugee camps and were never educated in their first language. That adds a whole level of complication to learning a new language. We have a seventy-five-year-old who doesn’t speak English, but he still comes to class every single day for the relationships.”

There are students from countries all over the world—and even though many of them don’t share a common language, they understand each other’s loneliness. “Not speaking the language of your resident country is so isolating,” Christina says. “So being able to help people feel comfortable and make connections within their own community is really wonderful.”

Teaching with excellence

Christina remembers one of her TESOL classes at Moody, taught by Walter Cirafesi. “Mr. C always used to say, ‘Whatever you do, do with excellence,’” Christina says. “He would continue, ‘Yes, we want to share the gospel, and that usually comes from having a relationship with your students. But you are still there to teach them English, so you have to do that to the best of your abilities.’”

Spreading the gospel to her students doesn’t mean basing English lessons on Bible verses, because that’s not what the students are really there for. But there are a lot of other ways that Christina and other Christian members of staff are able to teach students about Christ. At Christmas and Easter, they study the holidays and explain that they’re really celebrations of Christ the Savior, and His birth and resurrection.

Christina also gets to bring her faith into conversations with her students. “The first question my Yemeni students ask me is always, ‘What’s your name, where are you from, are you married?’” Christina says, laughing. “When I tell them I’m not married and they ask why, I tell them, ‘I believe if God wants me to be married, He’ll bring me the perfect man, and I’m waiting for him.’ There are lots of small chances like that for me to be open about my faith.”

Prepared for life ‘in a ministry way’

Christina chose to earn her BA in TESOL from Moody, which also offers an MA in TESOL. “The biblical education and heart for missions I got from Moody has changed everything,” Christina says. “Being able to learn from my professors who served overseas before teaching at Moody was priceless. I could have gotten my ESL certificate a lot of different ways, but none of them would have prepared me for living in a ministry way. Moody did.”

Thank you for sending Christina to serve!

You’ve made it possible for students like Christina to live life in “a ministry way,” with your faithful and generous support of Moody Bible Institute. 

“The biblical education and heart for missions I got from Moody has changed everything,” Christina says. “Being able to learn from my professors who served overseas before teaching at Moody was priceless.”

Thousands of other students like Christina are pursuing biblical education that will help them serve God wherever He calls. Would you help them continue to meet their goal with a gift today?

Yes! I want to help send students to serve!


Reflect on the Heart of God This Christmas

In this season of giving, we’d like to encourage you with a classic book from A. W. Tozer. For a gift of any size to support Moody Bible Institute, we’d love to send you his compelling book, The Attributes of God. Based on one of his most powerful sermon series, Tozer’s book includes deep insights into the heart of God, along with a study guide for deeper reflection on God’s character.

The book is our way of saying thank you for your end-of-year gift, which will help support Moody students as they prepare to reach our world for Jesus.

Give Now


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