Northeast of the Well

Apr 5, 2024

by Courtney Ellis

When you think of the most vulnerable people in Orange County, who comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the unhoused, or refugee or immigrant communities, or at-risk children. For Laura Johnson-Suk, God gave her a heart for those struggling with addiction or sexual exploitation.

Founder of Northeast of the Well, Johnson-Suk strives to “see those who were once outcasts transformed into witnesses.” Since its inception fourteen years ago, Northeast of the Well has grown into a ministry serving hundreds, holding 23 weekly Bible studies and five large worship gatherings in treatment facilities, halfway houses, and churches from Figueroa Street in Los Angeles to south Orange County.

According to the ministry’s website, they “aim to find people where they’re at; in their current state, space, and situation. We step outside, we seek them out, and we give them the hope of Jesus.”

Johnson-Suk described the ministry’s participants as the guests at the wedding feast described in Luke 14. “They [are] the people that Jesus said, go out into the streets and find the people. These [are] not the people who would walk into our churches because they felt disqualified and like they didn’t belong.”

For the past ten years, volunteers from Canyon Hills Presbyterian have served at Northeast of the Well, cooking for their large gatherings in earlier years, and now regularly providing a meal for a smaller Bible study.

“The meals are usually the draw to get people to participate,” said Mary Byrne, mission committee member at Canyon Hills Presbyterian. “We are supporting a Bible study that has 10-15 people. We provide the meal on a monthly basis, drop it off at Northeast of the Well, and then they take it to the facility.”

Byrne noted that participating in this ministry has been transformative in her own walk of faith. “Just seeing the impact on the participants and then just the opportunity to know the employees and hear their testimonials and feel their love and joy,” she said. “You know, their joy through Christ is amazing.”

In addition to monthly meals, Canyon Hills Presbyterian provides regular donations of Bibles, a big need for a ministry that often gives out 50 or more each week.

Shaneen Coston can speak to the good work of Northeast of the Well firsthand. “I was addicted to heroin for six years,” said Coston. “I was lost and broken and didn’t have a purpose.” Coston entered a rehab program where she got clean and met Jesus. Then she felt the Lord speak to her, saying “You’re going to help other women who’ve been helped like you’ve been.”

Today, Coston is celebrating her sixth year of employment at Northeast of the Well, currently serving as the Director of Donor Relations and Volunteer Engagement.

“I love that at Northeast of the Well we go to people who maybe wouldn’t walk into a church,” said Coston. “We bring the word to them at AA programs and other things. They will encounter Jesus and we get to be part of that. People feel welcomed and loved, they don’t feel judged.”

The need is great, but the transformation Johnson-Suk sees in the lives of the ministry’s participants brings her great joy. Northeast of the Well strives to bring the hope of Jesus to those suffering from addiction, trauma, or trafficking, ultimately connecting them into faith communities. The ministry serves children as young as ten years old who have been trafficked, and most Bible studies offer not only food but also childcare for the men and women who are parents. It works primarily with women, but has expanded in recent years and now around 35% of its participants are men.

Johnson-Suk describes the ministry as “not faith-based, but Christ-saturated. We’re not Presbyterian. We’re nondenominational but we partner with churches to point people toward those churches.” Northeast of the Well purposefully does not hold any of its Bible studies on Sunday mornings in order to help its participants find lasting spiritual homes at local churches.

In addition to Canyon Hills Presbyterian, volunteers from Trabuco Presbyterian also serve at Northeast of the Well. “Trabuco Pres has been making desserts for us for four years,” said Johnson-Suk, noting that the desserts often came with beautiful cards featuring Scripture. Involvement can be as simple as cooking, baking, or driving, or as intensive as participating in trauma training at the Northeast offices and then taking that learning to the streets with a team to reach out to women currently trapped in sex work or trafficking.

According to Byrne, “The opportunity to participate in the Bible study does provide growth for any individuals in being able to understand the perspective and outlook of a group of people they may not usually be in contact with.”

There are several unique ways for both churches and individuals to become involved with the ministry of Northeast of the Well, from providing meals or Bibles, like Canyon Hills, to leading worship or teaching Bible studies. The ministry also holds regular Trafficking Awareness Walks, the next of which will be held April 27, on Beach Boulevard in Orange County. “There’s trafficking going on with kids around there,” added Johnson-Suk.

For more information or to get involved with Northeast of the Well, interested parties are invited to check out the Get Involved page on the ministry’s website or to contact Shaneen Coston directly at

Churches are also encouraged to invite Northeast of the Well to present at a missions gathering or Sunday worship. “We always love churches inviting us in to present,” said Johnson-Suk. “We can bring worship and a message or just a testimony and describe what we do in the ministry. That’s where we get some of our best volunteers!”

Courtney Ellis, Associate Pastor at Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, is an author and storyteller. Courtney will be reporting over the next few months on the presbytery’s mission partnerships.

Courtney’s latest book is Looking Up: A Birders Guide to Hope Through Grief, published by InterVarsity Press.