International Student Finds Grandmotherly Bond in Hartford

April 4, 2024
Philip and Mirion

The first Sunday after Philip Fonjoh arrived at HIU, in August 2023, to begin his MA in International Peacebuilding, he walked through Hartford looking for a church to worship God. With no luck, on his way back, he walked past a bus station where Marion, an 89-year-old lady, was standing. Phillip said, "Hi," and they started a conversation. She told him she was going to church and insisted he come with her. They have been friends ever since. "Meeting her, I felt, was God's providence leading me to her."  

When Philip speaks about Marion, his smile doesn't only reflect his personality but also fond memories of Cameroon, his home country. Marion reminds him of the close relationship he had with his grandmothers. "I was looking at her, and I had this kind of a connection, missing my grandmothers from both my paternal and maternal side." 

Due to her advanced age, Marion stopped going out and, therefore, stopped going to church. This saddens her. But Phillip brings the word of God to her. Every time he visits her at the Immanuel House, they read the Bible, pray, and sometimes sing. "I admire that at that old age, she still believes in the gospel of Jesus, and she is sure that when she dies, she will go to heaven," he said. Philip's relationship with Marion is part of serving the community around campus. "Being a student here doesn't mean that my work here is only to be reading and doing assignments and not contributing to the community around me."

One day, a Christian gospel musician went to the senior care facility. Philip wanted her to feel good and strong, so he invited her to dance. Her face illuminated with joy. 

Philip is a pastor in Cameroon, so caring for Marion fulfills one of his passions. "She keeps me connected to God. And I'm happy that no one is supervising me to go there. I'm not giving a report to anyone," he joked. "I just love it." Sometimes, when Marion needs help, he tells the senior care facility workers, "I fulfill my role as a grandson." Marion has family in Connecticut but she still appreciates Philip's company. He tells her, "Marion, you are my grandmother, alright?" And she smiles.

She offers him grandmother-like attention, always interested in what he has been up to. She asks him, "Do you have a job?" "Do you have food?" She also asks him about the church, advises him to be careful, and makes sure he is safe. One Sunday, she told him, "I think you need ice cream." She grabbed her bag and handed him a five-dollar bill.

"I thought I was going to have cultural barriers, but I speak, and she is able to understand my English. She flows with me, and I don't even see the color that she is white," Phillip said. "She doesn't look at me as black, so the relationship has become cordial in such a way that minimizes anything that could have been a cultural shock."

The staff at Immanuel House is always welcoming of Philip. They are glad that he visits her. 

Marion says of Philip, "He always brightens my day. He is helpful and keeps my spirits up, and I'm always glad he comes."

When he returns to Cameroon, he will keep her in his prayers.


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