A Seat in the Courtroom and At the table: How One Couple is Helping Vulnerable People

If you’ve ever traveled overseas or studied abroad, you might understand what it’s like to get off a plane in a new place and experience disorientation. You soon realize that in this new place you have little knowledge of how to handle basic needs. The signs for restrooms, security checkpoints, and public transportation are all in a new language. You might have an address for your new residence, but you have no idea where to find a grocery store or pharmacy.

Whatever excitement you felt about your future education or trip is now matched by an internal awareness that you also need the kindness of a stranger.

The Bible calls this hospitality.

How hospitality applies to all people

Ellen and Phil Foell both work for organizations that help vulnerable people rebuild relationships, and provide for those in need. Or, again, hospitality.

“We open our lives and homes to students from around the world. An ordinary gathering of 15-20 students can include people from 7-10 different countries. I am in awe of who God brings,” Phil Foell said recently during an interview.

Phil works for International Friendships, an international outreach, and his wife, Ellen, for Heartbeat International, a pregnancy resource organization, both headquartered in Columbus, Ohio.

When I met them, Ellen was presenting at a conference on the importance of Christians pursuing and working in the legal profession. And Phil had a booth set up for International Friendships. After Ellen’s session, I visited  Phil’s booth to see what resources he offered, assuming the organizations were similar.

What did hospitality to international students living in the United States have to do with advocacy for legal reforms in the majority world on behalf of vulnerable women and children?

I felt a cognitive dissonance as I read the literature from International Friendships, learning how approximately 1 million international students are in the US annually, and trying to understand how that connected to pro-life pregnancy centers. Until Phil struck up a conversation, and then it all made sense. He and Ellen were married, and, like many couples, worked for separate organizations. I could stop trying to figure out how the two connected.

Except, I couldn’t.

How all work is critical for the flourishing of others

As the conference continued and I had further opportunity to speak with Ellen and Phil directly, I wanted to learn more about both organizations. Their work was equally expansive in reaching many people and places, and both are based in America’s heartland. They both worked on behalf of vulnerable people, albeit at different stages of life, and there was a beautiful symmetry about it.

It wasn’t merely law and order, it was law and dinner. The vulnerable, innocent child, and the vulnerable, brilliant adult. Defending life in court, and welcoming the stranger into your home. Phil works with more than 1,000 international students who move to Columbus each year, and Ellen works with colleagues in Columbus for more than 1,000 international, life-affirming organizations in over 60 countries.

In Psalm 146 we read that God “executes justice for the oppressed” and “gives food to the hungry” and “opens the eyes of the blind” and “watches over the sojourner” and “upholds the widow and fatherless.” These are varied needs in our broken world, requiring different callings and skills to meet them. We have to make choices about where to focus our energies in order to grow in our competencies in helping people. But we do not have to limit the varieties of ways God’s children can love their neighbors through their work.

Ellen’s work is critical, and so is Phil’s, and so is yours and mine.

Topics: Non-profit, Work

About the Author

Petar Nenadov serves as the regional development representative for the Great Lakes region. He is a graduate of The University of Akron (B.S. Political Science/Criminal Justice) and Ashland Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and serves as lead pastor of Lakeside Christian Church in Akron, Ohio. Petar helped launch the Cleveland network of Made to Flourish and is a contributing author for The Gospel Coalition.