BrightFlow Web Team
Written by Carrie Luke, Project 658 ESL and Adult Refugee Education Director
Matthew 6:8 “Your Father knows what you need even before you ask him.”
Next week, I will celebrate my 1 year anniversary of coming on staff with Project 658. I was hired in 2013 to begin the Teach Project which encompasses instructing ESL classes for adult refugees, sharing my vision and expertise about how to teach non English speakers (many of whom are illiterate in their own language), and raising my own support.
I began my first class with a large family from Bhutan in their own apartment. After spending two months in that setting, I felt that having a neutral spot would serve my personality and the students much better. I had only been in their home one week before I began dreaming of my own adult refugee ed classroom. I envisioned myself trying to raise support in order to rent an apartment in our target area to begin conducting my own little school, including a library and a small computer lab for job skill training.
Instead, I was led to a donated apartment in which we already ran our clothing project, thus beginning a 10 month season of opening up the class to the neighborhood. Though I felt more settled in that environment, I still dreamed of my own creative space. One equipped with tables and chairs(some of my students have to sit on the floor), lots of windows allowing natural light for my students to be able to see by and high light our many maps and time lines that would decorate the walls, a closet for our materials and supplies, and a large white board for instruction.
I later learned that everyone on staff had their own dreams about having a building of our own that was centrally located in our target area. We all had similar feelings of displacement and felt unable to minister to our full potential, because our work was scattered in many different places. In the fall of 2013, Project 658 began the journey of asking for funds to restore an old warehouse into a Hope Center right in the heart of the most diverse and densely populated square mile in the city of Charlotte.
On March 18, 2014, Project 658 officially closed on a building that will be ready to host all our desires under one roof in mid July. We were all so relieved and excited that our dreams for more efficient ministry were coming alive before our very eyes. Demolition and construction began immediately.
About 3 weeks ago, I finally made it over to the site for the first time to share a lunch with the construction crew and builders. It was not a great day for me to go, but I felt like I really needed to be with the staff and share a meal with the builders.
My boss gave me a full tour. Though the building was far from completion, walls were up and space designated. I walked through the thousands of square footage in great anticipation of seeing my classroom. Though we are sharing space with a church, I knew there would be at least one classroom for ESL to run 4~5 days a week. My heart raced to get a glimpse of my dream.
As my boss and I reached the hall of classrooms, I started to get very concerned and anxious. I did not want to reveal my fears, but my heart sank as I noticed that none of the rooms had any windows in them. We came to the very last room, and I almost fought back tears of disappointment. I know it sounds very silly, but being in a room teaching for 4 hours a day without a window was almost a deal breaker for me, because I am clinically claustrophobic.
I did not say anything, but my mind began to race as to how I would deal with this situation. This was the answer to our asking as an organization. There was no further journey; it was a last stop. It was going to be our home, and my room had no sunlight.
The next part of this story is all a blur. I cannot recall how exactly I wound up walking back to the rooms with the head of the construction company, except to say that I just stood there for a desperate moment and began to pray that Jesus would help me. I love my job, but I did not know if I could spend 20 hours a week as an introvert with people whose needs are very great in a room that made me feel trapped.
I did not go and find anyone. I did not even ask. Somehow in a span of 5 minutes, I went from talking to the building chaplain’s wife about my classroom not having any windows, to walking back with the head builder who wanted to see if he could put in a sky light for me. He was so very kind to me. He showed me how the back side of the building was all brick, and that it was not feasible to put in windows. I understood. Then he had an epiphany.
“Walk with me for a second, Carrie,” he said.
He already knew my name.
We walked all the way to the end of the hall. He looked at the structure of the wall that faced the outside.
“Carrie, we could possibly put a window on this wall. But, It’s not like there is anything pretty to look at. Are you ok if it does not open?” he asked.
Tears filled my eyes.
“Yes, that’s totally fine,” I said. “I do not need it to open; I just need to see the sun.”
He explained to me that I would have to get permission from my boss for the new costs. He also told me how this was the only time it could happen as he was getting ready to submit the final permits for some other changes. He told me that next week would have been too late.
I was stunned, because I came that day on a whim. Or so I thought.
As we were talking, his head foreman walked in and joined the conversation. He heard my dilemma and was convinced that my class needed a window. “You know, to see the bird feeder,” he said. I stepped back and watched my hopes begin to grow and natural light flood into my darkness.
The next day, I included my class into the story and asked them to begin praying that God would put in a window. To my knowledge, it had yet to be approved.
Unbeknownst to me, construction began almost immediately to bring light into my classroom.
Not just for me, but for all of us.
To become a financial partner and support staff members such as Carrie, click here to donate now.
Written by Brett Harbinson, Sports Ministry Director
Even though DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince think summertime is about sitting back and unwinding, for me it has always been my busiest season. Some of my summer highlights as a kid consisted of pool hopping at Disney World, amazing family vacations, traveling for soccer and of course long days spent out on the lake. Eventually I was old enough to get a job. I figured if you have to work you might as well have fun while doing it. This is when I became a camp counselor.
Camp is a special place and it has taught me a lot. Yes, it is a place filled with campfires, games, swimming pools, crazy skits and crazier staff, but it’s an amazing teaching ground as well. You put 12 kids from different backgrounds with different skill sets in the same group and then give them team challenges. It doesn’t matter who is the most popular at school or who is the smartest kid in class or who is the best athlete on the team. They have to work together and use each other’s strengths because that is the only way they will succeed. By the end of camp they have formed friends for life.
I get a big kick out of looking back at my life and seeing how God has been preparing me for this for a while. It took me a couple months to figure out exactly what he was calling me to do here with Project 658 and then He made it very clear. “Run your house in the neighborhood like a resident camp”.
This community is filled with kids from several different countries. They have very little supervision and are always ready to play. Thanks to some amazing people I have been able to stock my house with the coolest games around and I even painted one of my walls with chalkboard paint. Most Saturdays I sit on my front porch in a beach chair and just open my door. Inside kids are playing on the Lego table and outside there is frisbee, cornhole, four square and longboards. It is a beautiful picture of kids from all around the world laughing and playing with each other and forming friendships that will last a lifetime. They might not ever have the opportunity to go to a real camp facility, but I am doing my best to bring camp to them. I love my job.
To become a financial partner and support staff members like Brett, click here to donate now.
Written by Sam Casey, Project 658 partner participating in Ride the Rockies event to “Ride for Refugees” raising funds and awareness for The 658 Center.
Just got back into town from vacation. Great trip. Now time to bring the pain. We are less than 3 weeks away from the ride. GULP! There are a lot of details here in this post but it’s worth reading!
As of now we have raised about $2,000 toward our goal of $15,000. Team Ride for Refugees is participating in the Ride the Rockies event to raise funds needed for the renovation of The 658 Center. You can support our efforts by donating toward our team!
Order a custom Project 658 cycling jersey to support Team Ride for Refugees! Jerseys should arrive early next week. They look awesome! Great job Steven Kasay designing this from scratch.
This Saturday morning (May 24th) is the Charlotte Group ride! Join Sam, Tyler & Steven as they train to ride in support of The 658 Center at Ride the Rockies. Riders will leave from the current Project 658 office in Matthews, journey through the rolling hills of Weddington and ride to Waxhaw and back (A 20-30 mile ride option).
There will also be Family/Kid Friendly ride on the Matthews Greenway (total 4-5 miles). This is a great option for families and kids to ride together!
The group ride is free, but a donation toward their cause is appreciated. Please register using the link below.
9 AM: 30 Miler leaving 658 office at 9 AM. (downtown Matthews) 20-30 mile options
10 AM: Family bike ride on the Matthews Greenway
11 AM: Conclude the ride with powerade and bananas at 658 Office
Of course we are making a movie! Steven Kasay will be running point here in capturing this whole experience! Stay tuned for viewing party details!
Thanks people. Lets do this.
For more updates, follow along with the Ride for Refugees blog found here.
Written by Dustin Swinehart, Project 658 Executive Director
For the past year we have prayed that God would bring together a centralized place for us to operate ministry out of, office in and be a constant presence for Jesus in community. God had an answer for us . . . an old roller skating rink. Sounds like a perfect plan. But we all know that God’s ways are not man’s ways.
At one point this building was a place of great laughter and joy for families and kids in Charlotte. But, over time it was abandoned and become empty. God opened the door for our team to step in and bring back to life a place that had died. So six weeks ago, through the incredible provision of donors and organizations, we were able to acquire this building on Central Avenue, and began a remodeling process to it. The process of rebuilding something takes a ton of time, energy, people and prayer. But the work is worth it. So we began rebuilding the place and just six weeks in we have seen life beginning to spring back up. New walls are built in place of old empty spaces. New lights are installed in place of dark corners of the building. New paint in place of dirt and grime on the walls. People are constantly in and out of a place that was abandoned. Much has happened in the past six weeks. We have demolished all the old, and have begun to rebuild the new. We have removed 18,000 square feet of ceramic tile by hand (I don’t recommend this process to anyone), built new walls, put in new electrical and HVAC and plumbing, and cleaned every inch of the 25,000 square feet. It is truly amazing to see the progress made in six weeks. The work is not done, but we have found the process to reflect that of the process Jesus takes us through.
Like the building, the community we serve and our own lives are often broken and abandoned. But through God’s provision, new life comes back to areas that were dead and forgotten. Light springs up in places that darkness once resided. Freshness comes to places that once were cold and empty. We are so thankful for the process that God has allowed our ministry to engage in bringing life back to a building, because we know that this will lead to Jesus bringing life back to many lives that will come through the front door. Thank you for praying, giving and serving with us as we continue the process of building the 658 Center.
Written by Staff Member, Laurie Humphrey (Urban Outreach Coordinator)
Each day I have the privilege of interacting with the refugee families through our Teach Project (ESL class) or the Clothing Project. I began working both projects as a confused intern looking for a way to connect and have come to realize the projects are more than just programs, they are powerful, relationship building platforms.
The other day I was running the Clothing Project with the help of some awesome volunteers (shout out to Hands on Charlotte!). In the midst of the normal, chaotic Wednesday morning, a volunteer comes up to me and says “You know you’re running a coffee shop here.” What he meant was, the Clothing Project is not just a normal store, it has become a social gathering place for the neighborhood. The small apartment was full of young moms, children, volunteers, dads; all different people from all walks of life talking, laughing, and having a great time. The Clothing Project has become a safe, inviting place for refugees to come and be known, to interact with new and old friends, to laugh, embrace, and do life together.
…the Clothing Project is not just a normal store, it has become a social gathering place for the neighborhood.
The purpose of the project is not just to provide clothing; the purpose of the project is empowerment. We desire to meet practical needs of the Clothing Project families through simple initiatives as well as spiritual and emotional needs through intentional fellowship. The individuals in the neighborhood have experienced lives of transition, resettlement, and confusion. We are able to provide a consistent, reliable, safe place for individuals to come to and find a sense of belonging.
Next time you think you are just donating an old shirt, remember the impact it is having in the long run. The Lord uses simple gestures of generosity to radically transform lives.
Learn more about the clothing project through this video. Donate to the project using the button below.Donate Now
Thanks to all who joined us for the annual Christmas outreach event in the community this past Sunday. This project paired Project 658 volunteer families with refugee & immigrant families living in the marginalized communities of Charlotte. On the day of the event the families worshiped together and participated in a Christmas craft. Volunteer families also gave their new friends Christmas gifts.
The goal of the Christmas Outreach Event is to intentionally invest in our neighbors with the compassion of the Gospel. The event is designed to provide a safe and easy environment for both families to begin a meaningful connection.
We have posted pictures from the event on our Facebook page, click here to view them!
Hello readers, this post was written by Kristin Hempy, one of the team members from Santa Barbara Community Church who came to Charlotte and helped Project 658 run Camp 658 (aka Camp Sonshine) and work with refugees in the Charlotte community.
For most of us from Santa Barbara Community Church (in California), this trip to Charlotte was our first time in North Carolina. We had met and prayed as a group multiple times before our flight left about the people we were going to meet and work with, but nothing had prepared us for the hospitality of Dustin and Eric and the enthusiasm of the group of kids awaiting us at Camp 658.
Our entire week in Charlotte was packed to the brim with an incredible variety of people and activities: a church service spoken in Jarai, soccer with refugee kids from Honduras and Ethiopia, performing skits for inner city kids, leading small group Bible time with a group of college interns, and a questionable talking animatronics cow at the Billy Graham Library.
The central workload of our week focused around running a 4-day VBS camp for about 40 inner city and refugee kids living in and around Charlotte. We split our team into four groups to cover the activities of the day: the skit, sports, arts and crafts, and singing. Along with much support from Project 658’s energetic college interns, we played and listened, sang and danced, sweated and prayed with these kids, who were from such different backgrounds than us. Our theme verse, Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”), was repeated frequently as we encouraged the kids to trust God with their future and their troubles, and rely on the comfort of His plan for them.
In addition to cutting and pasting stars, crazy dancing, and very loud dodgeball games with these kids at Camp 658, we were blessed to get a sneak peak into the other aspects of Project 658 and their overall mission here in the Charlotte area. Dustin introduced us to members of a local Jarai church that he works with, all refugees who fled Vietnam because of religious persecution. For someone whose knowledge of Vietnam ended when the history books stopped after the Vietnam War, it was very eye-opening for me to hear testimonies of these incredible people and the challenges faced by Christians there to this day, and to learn from their strong faith as they opened their home to us and cooked lunch.
Eric also took us to help construct a sport court in a local refugee neighborhood, and it was inspirational to hear him talk with such passion about the vision he has for the future of that area: street soccer games, adult leagues, bringing refugee kids together with Project 658 staff in fellowship, etc. As an athlete, I personally appreciate how the game of soccer is used by Project 658 to constantly draw people in from the community and provide a safe space. These refugees, who might be struggling financially or culturally to adapt to life in America, can put aside their problems for an hour or so and kick a soccer ball around and sweat (a lot) in the Carolina humidity, and meet Christian folks who care about helping them. It was an honor to be part of the team that constructed that court, and I know our group from SB will continue to pray for the ministry that occurs there when we travel home to the West Coast. And of course, it was so fun to play with the kids!
There are so many more little bits and pieces of 658 that we got to glimpse this week: their clothing program, ESL classes, and employment programs for refugees. Overall though, I was struck by how joyful it was to be a part of an organization that is truly living out the commandment Jesus gave his followers in Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations…” Here at Project 658 in Charlotte, the nations have gathered. From Ethiopia, Honduras, Nepal, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Ohio, Virginia, and California; they’ve gathered and they need the good news of the Gospel. And Project 658 staff allowed a group of us from Santa Barbara Community Church to be part of making disciples, through sport and fun and fellowship.
We learned that to serve people sometimes means building something physical (like the sport court), but more often means just spending time with them. By letting Kasylee sit on my lap during the skits, or letting Taylor pull on my arm while playing basketball, or praying that Kayla’s dad would find a job so her family could have money during our small group time, I’m serving them. And maybe even more so, they are serving me, by teaching me about how big our God is and widening my perspective.
As the week draws to a close, and we from SB send off the SOI interns for another ministry experience down in El Salvador, I know I speak for our entire group when I say this week has been a blessing to us all. I hope we have learned how to bring this attitude of service home with us to California and can implement it in our daily lives. And I know for certain that we will stay in contact with the work going on here in Charlotte and share with our friends and family the amazing service they are doing for the Lord and for the community here.
The spirited church team from Santa Barbara, California joined Project 658 this week to help us organize a camp for kids, teaching them about God and loving them unconditionally through skits, arts and crafts, sports, and singing songs of praise to our Father. We open the doors to Briarcreek Baptist Church greeting one another with open arms and excited faces, ready to conquer our first day of organized chaos. Our theme verse for Camp Sonshine, Philippians 4:13, encourages us in preparation for our first day, unsure what to expect from the kids. Encouraging one another, we abandon all reserve and commit to living out the verse printed boldly to the back of our staff shirts, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Sitting in the pews of the church’s sanctuary waiting to sing praises with the campers, a line of energetic faces flood the aisles, pouring into the pews, immediately turning toward us and inviting us to love them. We introduce ourselves to the kids by our interesting and dare I say, questionable coach names, each very distinct to our equally unique personalities. Among the chattering voices, we hear words of recognition, as Austin Griffith’s coach name is circulated between hushed and wondering voices around the room. Austin worked in the camp last summer and returning this year, he also returned to many of the same young faces.
After a year apart I have never been more joyful to be reunited with these kids and their smiling faces. I have been given the opportunity to strengthen old friendships, pour out my love into these children and collectively build our relationships in Christ; I couldn’t feel more blessed,” Griffith said.
Austin has a true and pure heart for Christ and all of His children. Watching him reunite and interact with the kids was a joyful experience and I know we all look forward to what God has in store for this young man. He led a soccer shooting drill outside with one group of kids, allowing them to play in healthy and enjoyable competition. Continuing our time of sports, we moved into the gym and readied our bodies and minds to soccer dribbling exercises and a few boisterous games of Cookie Monster, appropriately named as we wear our Carolina blue shirts.
Santa Barbara team members performed a skit for the kids, directed by Project 658 yearlong intern Laurie Humphrey. The truly superior acting showed the kids that God has a plan for each of them and that through Him, we can use the strengths He gave us to do amazing things.
Breaking from the period of commotion, each coach led a handful of campers in Bible time. Sitting in a close circle with Alyssa, Maggie, and Amber, we joined hands as Maggie prayed and we talked about God, their lives, and the specific and purposeful plan that God has for each of them. Having them recite Philippians 4:13 over and over and over again, I encouraged their hearts and minds as they shared stories of the way that God is using their gifts and strengths to pursue His will and reciprocate His everlasting love.
Writing the verse on cutout and decorated stars, the kids finished their art projects, reciting the words of Philippians 4:13 once again before the end to our day. We departed from joyful faces, feeling the warmth of their hands and the embrace from their hugs long after we returned home.
Everyday in this internship we have discussed the importance and difficulty of surrendering complete control of our lives to God. Some of us have been or are being broken by God, torn down to evaluate the foundations of our faith. In that wandering and brokenness, we are forced to relinquish control to God because we have no other option. We can no longer function as independent beings or self-sufficient liars, convincing ourselves that the plan for our lives is the best and only option.
Realistically, I think as Christians, we all go through a period of brokenness in order to reach a place of restoration and peace. Without trial or suffering, how can we ever be made stronger? Without forgetting ourselves, how can we ever remember God?
Though we are blessed to have the opportunity to serve others and serve God through the Project 658 internship, we are also blessed with the unique opportunity to help one another grow exponentially in our collective faith. As a family, we support one another in our collective brokenness and we celebrate in our healing and restoration.
Reflecting on a time of brokenness in my own life, I think many Christians can relate to the following scenario:
Her head hangs low, lulling at the bed of her chest with her chin nestled welcomingly between her breasts. Her eyes fall predictably to the ground. Composure brands her skin. There is a pounding and stirring below, yet the surface remains still and unshaken. Sweat breaks the barrier and tears through her cheek, clawing at her skin and rips all the way down, like the answer she does not know in her chest, deep and burning.
Weighted with an anchor of supposed restrictions, she sinks down and down and down.
Strangled, twisting and wrenching the neck, jerking the legs, snapping the wings, her body is broken and plucked, and plummeting, strikes the water, and instantly, the hypocrisy of her being is shattered. “Why God?” Her human sanity is now in question. The ebb and flow of her emotions crashes against her mind’s expression. “God, what are you doing?” She is now fully submerged and drowning, beat down and down and down on the rocks of insanity.
She will come home to a full house, yet bring an empty heart; open window, yet dark room. She worked late tonight, with full-time hours at a half time job. She has battered and scorched His holy and righteous name. She beats Him out of Father and into tempter or tester, out of a home and into a prison, out of love and into punishment. Too many things were missing for it to all still be familiar. Daughter and Father wore into relatives, thinned into terms and were dissolving as strangers. All the happiness of her former life was swept away. Her depression was quickly escalating and she was losing the only sense of faith she ever knew.
She bends and breaks. She feels every splinter, every break and crack as she attempts to mend her wounds. She breaks because He cares, but she doesn’t understand. She sweats. It dribbles down her face, blistering her skin until it turns to the color of blood, thick and stained. Jesus, Joseph and Mary, this was not the life she had chosen. She believed in God. She was a good person. Life was supposed to be easier, right?
Her insatiable need for order and control was a disease and her preconceptions of this term made it hard to accommodate this reality, leaving her to believe her irrational personality and obsessive behaviors were all facets of her addiction – an addiction that was really only ever about the insincerity of her faith.
She attempts one correction, two, three and another. She cannot let go. She must work. She must get in the way.
Her addiction extends way beyond any physical impulse for perfection. It traps her body in an unrelenting grip satisfied only by reckless abandonment. It traps her mind just as inexorably, but without the satisfaction of relief because her mind refuses.
It keeps her moving, thinking and running. She cannot stand still. She cannot wait. She cannot allow Him to destroy her.
“God?” She calls out in the desolate space.
A small shred of hope for her future is all that remains. He doesn’t understand, she thinks. He doesn’t suffer, He doesn’t sweat and He doesn’t break. He isn’t human. He doesn’t understand.
She had the illness we like to call ‘humanity.’ This was a fact and unarguably the one from which she could find an implacable perspective. She never doubted its validity; she never underestimated its impact. She simply chose to ignore the path lit for her, walking through the darkness with her head to her chest, wearing the falsified outfit of a composed and collected Christian.
Breaking her and breaking her again, God called her to forget herself and to die to herself, shedding the hypocrisy of her former life and renewing a faith that is raw and pleasing to God.
“God, how do I forget myself? How do I surrender control to you?”