English Language Learners at Amphitheater High School “The road to college is paved with books.”

Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church volunteers continue to work with 9th, 10th, and 11th grade ELL students to accelerate reading proficiency.  Pictured above is librarian Taryn Burlison in front of the Star Wars display, one of the most popular reading topics for all students.

“Reading coaches” meet their assigned student selected by instructor Julie Faulkner in the library. After selecting a book somewhat above their reading level, they are helped one-on-one with pronunciation and comprehension. Testing occurs in class at the end of the week.

This work is critical for immigrant youngsters in order to meet challenging state standards. Hopefully they can be mainstreamed in time to graduate with their class.  Mission connector Dennis Nelson notes  ”Coaches claim their day at Amphi is the best day of the week.”


Refugee English Language Learners

As an extension of Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church’s refugee welcome family project, Dennis Nelson and five others formed the “Amphi Reading Roster” and began reading one-on-one with refugee children in grades 9 and 10.  Some of the students are just arriving in Tucson and many others are reading well below their grade level, this work is both critical and rewarding.

Volunteers spend 30 minutes with a student selected by Katherine Engel, Amphi teacher and English Language Learning  (ELL) coordinator.  We go to the school library and the student selects a book of interest.  Volunteers work with 2 students in a one-hour time frame, concentrating on pronunciation and memorizing sight words. One of our favorite phrases is “Look at my mouth as I say this word.”

A related MSPC project dubbed “Faith in Action” involved collecting children’s books for “Reading Seeds,” a Literacy Connects program. The program provides books for youngsters to select and take home.

Note you do not have to be a member of MSPC to be involved in this important project.  If you would like to read with refugee students, you are welcome.  Contact the chur

A Refugee Family Story

Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church (MSPC) in Catalina, Arizona, is centered in Christ, caring for community. With that in mind and as part of the church Mission and Outreach team, Elizabeth Houle and Dennis Nelson volunteered to help resettle a single parent refugee family of eight. Momma Sifa fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a teenager and later married her husband in a U.N. camp in Tanzania. All her children were born in the camp; the oldest is now seventeen. The father’s resettlement document has not yet been processed but the family remains in weekly contact with the father through face time.


There is a difference between an immigrant and a refugee. An immigrant is foreign born, a non citizen who enters the country without inspection, or arrived temporarily, overstaying the time allotted by a visa.

Refugees work with organizations to complete applications, with the intention of leaving their homeland due to severe persecution. The process takes anywhere from 18 months to a year, includes interviews, medical screening, security clearance, and the assignment of a US partner to help with relocation. Refugees can be referred by the UN, US Embassy, or a nongovernmental organization (NGO).

In August 2016, The Tucson Refugee Ministry (TRM) helped bring MSPC’S mission team together with Sifa and family. The family was placed in an apartment where they were oriented to appliances, and other ways things operated. They had food and medical benefits but needed to repay a huge travel loan. There is limited cash assistance, bus passes, a work permit and now a green card for Sifa, plus the opportunity to become a citizen of the USA five years after they live and work here.

MSPC members signed on to help with this huge transition. We completed background checks, Refugee Resettlement 101 Training, and started work on TRM’s checklist for volunteers. So many things for us to learn and participate in! The apartment has 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen that extends into a family room. The family had to learn how to cook on the stove, do without a washer and dryer, shop for food, use the bus for transportation, and speak the English language. A welcome basket supplied by people at MSPC contained all kinds of home-based items.

Our job was to help them with English, shopping and apartment living, plus an introduction to Tucson social and cultural life. Some of us even accompanied Sifa and children to medical appointments to help communicate. The children were enrolled in the local school system, daycare options were arranged as needed, and regular visits that were educational and social took place. Trips to area attractions took place, the oldest son balanced education with the need to find a job, and Mom adapted baby breast-feeding and other child rearing skills necessary to get a paying job.

Shortly after her arrival, Momma Sifa announced that she was pregnant! During what was supposed to be a late pregnancy checkup, Elizabeth found herself in the delivery room when her namesake Elizabeth came into the world. That’s a story in itself, but now U.S. Citizen Elizabeth is walking, Mom has secured a job, and the children are doing well.

We enjoyed much fun stuff with the family: Refugee Thanksgiving night at Amphitheater High School, a visit to Apple Annie’s Farm, Christmas at La Encantada and Tohono Chul Park, and much more. Last spring, Denny- now Babu (“grandpa”), took the boys to Biosphere 2. He had quite a time explaining Biosphere 1!

Our time with Sifa and family has been rewarding beyond description. To love, laugh, and be part of a young family’s life is truly a gift from God. If you wish to learn more about this program contact MSPC 520-825-7858 for more information.

Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs): a year of service for a lifetime of change

The YAV program is open to people from ages 18-30 who are ready to commit to intentional living (simple living), social justice, spiritual formation and vocational discernment. The Tucson Borderlands YAV program has been in operation since 2003, and about 60 young people have participated by serving alongside local partners such as Primavera, Community Food Bank, and House of Neighborly Service. They can even partner with Frontero de Cristo and live their year in Mexico. Presbyterian Church (USA), supporting congregations and presbyteries along with some placement agencies share the funding of the program. It costs $22,000 per student, and each participant is asked to raise $4000 for that goal.

Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church in Catalina has supported this program for several years. Participants explore God’s calling while living as part of a Christian community in sites around the world as well as here in the US. MSPC has invited the YAVs to attend services and speak about their opportunities. A welcome basket was gifted to the most recent foursome including items typically appreciated in simple living.

Each YAV receives a regular stipend, housing, transportation assistance, and student loan repayment during the year of service. In the YAV house in Tucson there is a long dining table that originally served as a communion table at Ghost Ranch ( a retreat and education center owned in New Mexico, run by the Presbyterian Church). It was repurposed in 2012 and donated to the YAVs as a place to share meals.

An average week in the life of a YAV includes 32-36 hours a week working with the assigned local partner. Other 4-8 hour days are meant for focusing on community life. MSPC looks forward to another year of work with these dedicated people and learning of their experiences.

2020-2021 Women's Bible Study

     Presbyterian Women Horizons Bible Sudy


Into the Light by P. Lynn Miller

The 2020–2021 PW/Horizons Bible study, Into the Light: Finding Hope Through Prayers of Lament, art and text by Lynn Miller and Suggestions for Leaders by Dee Koza, revives lament as a proper theological response to the difficult situations of our world.

One of the foundational points of the study is that, in scripture, lament usually leads to hope. After crying out to God, the one who laments remembers God. And while that doesn’t fix things in the moment—the injustice, the loss, the wrong still exist—the one who laments is strengthened to face the world and to hope.

When we lament, we move from suffering to faith. In our faith there is hope. We lament in order to hope. Recovering lament may be one of the church’s most timely gifts to the world. 

This bible study begins in November. All Women are invited to attend.       

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