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Brooklyn bridge

"Brooklyn bridge" Continued...

Issue: "Save our cities," April 19, 2008

Why choose this approach to evangelism? Holcomb explains: "When these immigrants first come to the U.S., there is a sort of honeymoon stage. They are impressed by America and open to American friendships. They work insanely hard-not the 40-hour-a-week jobs that most Americans work. Jobs like standing on street corners selling purses from dawn till dusk, seven days a week. They are earning money for their wives and children back in Africa as well as for themselves."

ESL night may be the only free evening of the week for some of the regular students. Like Jimmy, the young men realize that knowledge of the English language represents their gateway to education and economic prosperity. For several of the older men, Urban Impact represents the first formal education of their lives-in any language.

But this phase of openness, Holcomb notes, typically ends within a year. As the men adapt, form connections to other immigrants, and grow accustomed to their new lifestyle, they lose the need for American assistance and gradually break off connections with their original outside contacts. Their Islamic religion also may push them away from a culture they increasingly see as corrupt and impure.

Holcomb hopes that the relationship built between immigrant and worker, and some part of the scriptural message delivered with the ESL instruction, will remain and continue to work long after the student has moved on. While it's hard to know how successful the ministry's approach is, spiritually or economically, Holcomb has begun to keep careful attendance sheets and experiment with motivational techniques like certificates and graduation parties to retain students for a full class session. So far, however, the formula remains difficult to change: People come when they are needy. They leave when they perceive that their need is no longer urgent.

Holcomb has rented several apartments for workers in Jackson Heights, Queens, and is now working to open a teaching center for South Asian Muslims in that neighborhood. He is also exploring the possibility of a branch of the ministry in Philadelphia, and later a branch in either London or Paris, both with big Muslim populations. Every two years, Holcomb hopes to open a new center in a different immigrant community.

-Hope Hodge is a student in New York City

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