Project 658 Blog

Check back for news, updates
and features from Project 658.

Loving Our Neighbor

Posted by | Refugees | No Comments

When Life and Faith Collide: 3 Practical Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis

The current national and global conversation is full of debate, anger, prayer, hope, fear, and disappointment – all at the same time. While the newly signed Executive Order has garnered the most recent attention, ultimately the real issue is this: How do we honor two clear calls from God on our lives – to love our neighbor and to protect our country. I’d like to add my thoughts and perspective to the conversation.

I first had the privilege of connecting with refugees both locally and overseas in 2001 and have served in these communities for the past 16 years. About two weeks ago, my kids and I were blessed to sit down over coffee in the home of a Syrian refugee here in Charlotte. Just one week ago, I was on the border of Uganda, honored to serve some of the 200,000 Sudanese refugees in a refugee camp of over 20,000 people. I share this to give context to my perspective: the past 16 years of my life and work have involved the refugee community both in the United States and internationally. As a follower of Christ, a husband, a father, and a missionary to refugees, I hope to offer insight into the current national and global conversation regarding refugees.

I cannot remember a time in my life when the conversation around refugees has been more discussed, debated, or so centrally focused in the public eye. In the past 18 months, opinions have gone from overwhelming compassion in 2015 when the Syrian refugee crisis erupted; then fear over the November 2015 Paris attacks; and finally anger with the current U.S. Administration’s newly signed Executive Order. I do not envy the position of any President or the vast weight of decisions shouldered by such an office. Regardless of the political party in office, the responsibilities of the President are more than most of us would ever desire. As such, this is not intended as political commentary; rather, I want to offer Biblical commentary on how we may both love our neighbor and protect our country.

God’s Call to All Christians

First, anyone who is a Christian has a clear call to love the Lord our God, and love our neighbor as ourselves in Luke 10:27. There is no debate: the Bible calls us to this; but there are questions about what it looks like day to day. We are also called to love the foreigner and refugee (Deut 10:18-19). We are called to offer love and to care for those not from our country (and those who are now in our country and in need). When we think about these two Biblical calls, the instructions are clear: love those around us, including foreigners, with the same kind of love we would desire someone show us.

Second, the Bible calls family leaders to protect and provide for their families and home, and a government to protect and provide for its country. In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read, “Anyone who does not provide for their own family, especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than the unbeliever.” God takes very seriously the call to protect and provide for our families and our homes. Additionally, Romans 13:1-4 shares that governments are established by God, and their primary purpose is to protect those under their rule.

A Complicated Matter

If the instructions are so clear, how does this become so complicated? How can loving our neighbors and protecting our homes create such tension and debate?

By its nature, love is a risky endeavor; protection, by nature, avoids risk. To love someone means to open yourself to hurt and disappointment; protection means to shield someone from being hurt. Love calls us to be vulnerable and caring; protection involves reducing vulnerable areas. Herein lies the tension.

Loving your neighbor looks different based on who you are and how you believe love is best expressed. We can take countless paths, both as a family and a government, to protect our homes. But, what if loving my neighbor puts my family at risk? How much risk is acceptable or required while being faithful to the call to protect my family? What if my love for one neighbor seems to jeopardize my love for another neighbor? Which neighbor is more important? Ultimately, can we love all our neighbors equally well… in such a way they all feel equally loved… and does not subject our family to unnecessary risk?

It’s in these real questions we begin to see the call to protect our home and the call to love our neighbors and foreigners, while clear at first, can actually get very messy and complicated.

What Should We Do?

1. Pray.

Pray for wisdom to practically live out these Biblical callings in our communities.

Pray for our leaders. Romans 13 tells us all authority is established by God, and we should pray their hearts and decisions will reflect God’s heart. Pray they would carry well the burden of leadership regarding such complex issues, protecting and providing for the country.

Pray for displaced families. The journey of the refugee is a broken one full of unthinkable tragedy. Pray for their safety. Pray for their faith. Pray they will remember God loves them, knows their plight, and has not forgotten them. Pray for their path of restoration, an extremely difficult one, but one that God can restore. Pastor Richard, a South Sudanese refugee in the Pagirinya refugee camp, shared with us in Africa last week, “I know God has put us in this camp and situation for a purpose, and we are wanting to see God’s kingdom reign here in this camp.” Ask God to give the refugee community around the world vision to see He can and will use their situation.

Also, pray for us. As citizens of the United States, we need to pray for each other. Pray we will have God’s heart for our country, our leadership, and our neighbors. Pray we will live that out well in our country.

2. Seek truth beyond social media.

Wise living comes by understanding the truth. Take time to understand God’s truth around these issues. Take time to understand the facts in the refugee crisis and the new Executive Order. Be careful to not let social media shape your public and personal opinion.

Having already established the Biblical foundation of my perspective, here are some additional facts to consider regarding the refugee crisis, the United States’ role in it, and the recently signed Executive Order. No commentary implied; just the facts:

There were 65.3 million displaced people in the world in 2016, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
1 in every 113 people in the world are displaced.
1.9 million refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since 1980.
The U.S. took in 80,000 refugees in 2016; 46% are Muslim and 44% are Christian.

To give some historical context, let’s look at the past 15 years of refugees resettled in the U.S. according to the U.S. State Department (source):

Year        Total      Syrian refugees admitted (Syrian war began in 2011)
2002 — 27,131        –
2003 — 28,403      –
2004 — 52,873      –
2005 — 53,181       –
2006 — 41,223      –
2007 — 48,282     –
2008 — 60,191      –
2009 — 74,645      –
2010 — 73,311       –
2011 — 56,424      29
2012 — 58,238     31
2013 — 69,926     36
2014 — 69,987     105
2015 — 69,933     1,682
2016 — 80,000    13,210
2017 — TBD, current administration is discussing 50,000 refugees

The new Executive Order does not impact or limit refugees leaving their country and finding refuge and safety in refugee camps around the world. There are no refugee camps in the United States. The new Executive Order places a freeze on the U.S. accepting any Syrian resettlement applicants and a 90-day freeze on resettlement applicants from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. The new Executive Order states the freeze is for national security purposes, allowing the NSA to evaluate and revise the vetting process for refugees coming to the U.S.

The Executive Order states these six countries have been identified by the State Department as the top threats to our national security who also currently have displaced people seeking asylum and refugee status in foreign countries.

The Executive Order gives the State Department the right to give special consideration for acceptance into the U.S., on a case by case basis, to anyone from those six countries as they deem necessary (i.e. people who have aided the U.S. military in those countries and are seeking asylum because of their service with the U.S.). (source)

3. Do something: help those already here.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, get involved with the nearly 2 million refugees who are already here. Rather than debating who should and should not receive refuge in our country, take a step of faith to love the refugees who are already here. If everyone voicing their passionate opinion on social media took that time and passion to love the refugees already in their city, we would see millions of families experience the love God has called us to show our neighbors. So, get involved. If you’re not sure how, search for refugee agencies in your city and ask how you can help.

The tension is real but has opened a conversation through which I pray we can all grow — and out of which, by God’s grace, the refugee community will receive love. There is no clear-cut answer on how or where to draw the line between loving our neighbor and protecting our home. I pray each of us will seek His truth to find ways to fulfill both callings in our lives and our world.

Click Here to Make a Donation to Project 658

Click Here to Sign Up for the Project 658 Email Newsletter

The Path of a Refugee [Part 5]: Starting Over

Posted by | Refugees | No Comments

After enduring a traumatic event, displacement, a refugee camp, and the resettlement process, a refugee family faces the reality of starting over and building a life in a completely foreign land.

This step brings with it a mountain of obstacles. Thankfully there is a community of agencies who seek to help navigate this mountain. The obstacles include language, transportation, medical care, jobs, schools, safe living conditions – the list goes on. Though these obstacles are daunting, the pathway to starting over often lies in the support from the local community who welcomes these refugees to their city.

Starting over is hard for anyone. Starting over alone is a near impossible task. Imagine if it were you or me. Let’s say a crisis broke out in your home country, and it impacted your family so significantly that you had to flee for your life to a neighboring country. You run from your home with your spouse and kids, with only the clothes on your back. You have no money, no cell phone, no home – and now you are on the run.

You finally arrive at a neighboring country and find a new home in a refugee camp. Your 10′ by 10′ hut is where you stay before you are given refugee status and eventually told where you will be sent to start over. Imagine the country you are assigned to is…. Nepal. So you and your family travel on a plane, land in Nepal, and are shown to your new apartment or hut. And now it’s up to you to start over.

If that was really your family, what would you want? What would you ultimately need? If it was me, I wouldn’t want someone to just come up and give me $100 and walk away. What I would want is for someone from Nepal, who has lived there and knows how life in this country works, to become my friend. I would want a family from Nepal, who is sympathetic to the situation my family is in, to come and get to know us and help us navigate all the obstacles that our family is up against.

I would want community. And so would you.

This is where local service providers and caring families become so significant to the starting over process for a refugee family. Some of these agencies are professionals, highly trained and skilled in the service they bring to a family. Medical professionals, placement agencies, professional educators, counselors, and pastors. But sometimes the most impactful person is just a normal family who is willing to step out to befriend another family.

These families give one of the greatest commodities we have: time. Time to get to know a refugee family. Time to help them think through the next steps necessary to start over. Time to love and care for a family that is significantly in need.

IMG_4734The starting over process for a refugee family is a striking parallel to the starting over process in our relationship with Christ. When we come to a new place of faith in Christ, we truly are starting a new life. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) God brings us new life – and we experience His love and wisdom through a community of His people around us.

So what can we do?

First: pray for families starting over in a new country. Pray that people will step out and give time, friendship, and community. Pray that God will remind each family of His nearness as they begin again.

Next: get involved. Find a local agency and come volunteer with them. Every agency that works with refugees can use more volunteers to help meet the needs of the families in their city. In addition to Project 658, here are some other agencies working with refugees in Charlotte:

Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte

Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency

Refugee Support Services

Then: take a step of faith and get to know a refugee family in your city. Get to know their names and their story. They are families just like yours. They like to sit and have coffee and talk. They like to work and be productive. They want to provide for their families. Their kids like to play sports and have fun with friends.

Maybe you could be the connecting piece God uses to help them start over well in your city.

The Path of a Refugee [Part 4]: Resettlement

Posted by | Refugees | No Comments

Moving to a new place is a common occurrence for families in our country. On average, 15% of all Americans move each year. (source) A move is often one of the bigger experiences a family will go through together: a new place to live, new people to meet, new streets and stores to figure out, new schools to adjust to, and a whole new community to navigate.

Now, imagine your family is going to move. But, now imagine you are told where you must move – and you have no choice in the matter. And the place you are going doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t have familiar food or schools or stores, uses unfamiliar transportation, and lives life very differently than your family ever has.

One more thing: imagine your family can’t all come together. Imagine you are separated from one another as you move, and imagine this separation lasts ten years before your family is reunited.

This is a common resettlement experience for a refugee family being placed in a receiving country.

Having survived a traumatic event resulting in displacement, then a long wait in a refugee camp, the refugee is at last accepted for resettlement.

So, how does the process work, and who accepts refugees for resettlement?

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from an asylum country (often in a refugee camp) to a receiving country that has agreed to admit them and ultimately grant them permanent settlement. Resettlement countries provide the refugee with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals.

Only a small number of countries take part in the UNHCR resettlement program. The United States is the world’s top resettlement country, while Australia, Canada and the Nordic countries also provide a sizable number of places annually. In 2015, Italy became a new resettlement country and The Republic of Korea announced a three-year resettlement pilot program, increasing the number of resettlement countries to 28. (source)

Before resettlement, a person must first receive official refugee status from the UNHCR, and it must be determined that the refugee is unable to return home. Of the 14.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world, less than one per cent is submitted for resettlement (source), and this process can take months or years.

The government of each receiving country determines the total number of refugees it will accept each year. Last year, the U.S. accepted 70,000 refugees for resettlement. (source) Any refugee accepted for resettlement is taken through a process of medical clearance, security clearance, and cultural orientation by the UNHCR.

Where a refugee is placed is based on several factors. In the United States, the refugee will be resettled based on the availability of housing, employment, needed services, readiness of host community, and a variety of other factors. However, if a refugee has a relative in the United States, every effort is made to resettle the refugee near that relative.

Once the location is chosen, then travel plans are made. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) arranges air travel for most U.S.-bound refugees. Before a refugee leaves the country of asylum (where they’ve been waiting in a refugee camp), he or she signs a promissory note and agrees to repay the U.S. government for travel costs. Upon receiving necessary travel details from IOM, the American resettlement organization makes arrangements for the refugee’s arrival.

So, as the refugee family arrives to a new country, a new city, a new community, they start life over with a financial debt to the government.

Resettlement is absolutely very exciting. It is a sign of hope – that a new life is in front of the family, that there is a safe place to begin to rebuild their lives. But the realities and challenges of resettlement create a new layer of struggle and difficulty.

So what can we do about it?

First, pray that God would help families that are being resettled to quickly feel like they are at home. Pray that their neighbors would welcome them well, become their friends and open their homes to invite them in.

Next, be a welcoming neighbor. Maybe someone recently moved into your neighborhood who needs someone to reach out and be a friend. If there is a new student at school, take time to help them feel included. Engage with local agencies like Project 658 who care for refugees in Charlotte, and help make their transition to America as smooth as possible.

The Path of a Refugee [Part 3]: Refugee Camp

Posted by | Refugees | No Comments

The third step on the path of a refugee is life in a refugee camp. A traumatic event leads to displacement, and that leads to life in a refugee camp. For many refugees, this is the first place of safety since the trauma began. In some ways, there is much relief, but the struggles inside a refugee camp are real and many.

Most camps are very, very crowded. The average camp has 12,000 people in it, but it is not uncommon to have a camp with over 100,000 people.

These camps, by definition, are temporary places to stay while people wait for resettlement to a new country. But, the average stay in a camp — meaning, the average wait for a resettlement assignment — is 17 years. Hardly temporary.

Life inside the camps has little to offer families. Usually there is some level of schooling for the children. Work for adults, however, is virtually non-existent. With no jobs, no chance to grow and develop a future, life becomes dependent on government aid. People are stuck waiting for the next food aid truck with no opportunities for finding meaningful support for their family. Houses are either mud huts 10 feet apart, tin roof homes, or plastic roof dwellings side by side.

These camps are, without question, a welcomed place of safety for families fleeing persecution. But, once inside the camp, life slowly becomes an erosion of hope.

So what can we do about it?

First: pray that God will bring hope and restoration of purpose for families in camps. Pray the aid that comes in to support families will provide a blessing and not become a source of dependency.

Next: learn more about the ways to help support aid agencies working with global refugee camps at

The Path of a Refugee [Part 2]: Displacement

Posted by | Refugees | No Comments

The path of a refugee begins with a traumatic event in his homeland, sending him and his family on a road they never imagined they would be on. Here we find the first major loss for a refugee: their home. In every country and every culture, people have the same desire and need for a home. The houses look very different. An apartment, a grass hut, a tin roof house, a house with a white picket fence. Regardless of how big, how pretty, or how clean it is, a family needs a home. A place parents and children identify as theirs. The place they feel safe, cared for, and – most of all – known. Home is ultimately the place where we draw so much of our identity. It is where we are known best. It where we go when the world outside has been difficult, harsh, and tiresome.

When a family faces the level of trauma that refugees do, they not only lose their house, they lose their home. And they begin to journey toward a place they don’t know – and a place where they are unknown. This is one of the more heartbreaking parts of the refugee’s journey. Spouses no longer have a place to retreat, parents have nowhere to eat and pray with their family, children have no place to be tucked in at night.

My wife and I have four children. Our home is one of the most sacred places in our lives because it is where we have the most important, intimate, fun, heartbreaking, and restorative times with our family. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have that ripped from us by no choice of our own.

So what can we do about it?

First: pray for families on this journey. Pray that God, in a supernatural way, will restore a sense of home even while they are fleeing. Pray that God will remind each displaced person that this world is not our ultimate home, and that God has a place prepared for us in Heaven, our true Home.

Next: take a step to help the displaced people in our community. There are over 600,000 homeless people in America. There are 2,500 homeless in Charlotte – that is 2,500 people who have landed in a place they never wanted and have no place to call home, and no place to be known. Visit to find more ways to get involved.

The Path of a Refugee [Part 1]: Traumatic Event

Posted by | Refugees | No Comments

The stories have different names and groups involved, but every refugee story has the same starting point: trauma. The most common form of trauma resulting in someone becoming a refugee is persecution. The persecution could be religious, ethnic, political, tribal, or war. Whatever the reason, it results in a person or family being persecuted and forced to flee from their home to find safety.

Living in America, it is often difficult for us to imagine experiencing extreme persecution like this, but we can all understand to some degree what it is like to have someone stand against us. Maybe it was on the playground in school, social groups seemingly out to get each other through gossip and peer pressure, a work environment that makes it more difficult for someone to succeed, or the racial tension our country has experienced for decades. We have all seen it and more than likely have been impacted by it in some way.

Now imagine the persecution is at a level that causes you to legitimately fear for your life, lose your home and loved ones, and forces you to run for your very life. This is the starting point for the 51 million refugees in the world, and will be the starting point for the millions more who will become refugees in the months and years to come.

So what can we do about it?

First: pray. Pray for peace. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Pray that peace will come and reign in the areas of the world where there is constant conflict and turmoil. Pray that God will bring His peace into the hearts of those most deeply affected by the trauma and conflict.

Next: be a peacemaker. Although we might not be at the center of the world’s greatest conflicts, we can be a daily peacemaker in our lives and communities. Treat others with peaceful intentions, help bring peace into the lives of families and friends in conflict, and be a voice for peace for those you see experiencing some level of persecution from others around them.

Give There. Help Here.

Posted by | Give There. Help Here., Serving | No Comments

As the days go by and political debates continue about the refugee crisis in our world, it is easy to get lost in all the jargon. For most of us, we are not the players or decision makers about what our country will or won’t do in regard to refugees. But what can we do? I would like to submit a couple very simple things that you can do to engage with what is going on.

1. Pray. Pray for the families that are directly impacted by what is happening. The millions of refugee families, the families who lost loved ones in the attack, the families that will be persecuted and displaced in the weeks to come. Pray for our leaders, that they would have wisdom and compassion as they consider what to do.

2. Give there. One very simple response is to give aid to organizations that are working on the front lines with these refugee families to help provide care and aid. Project 658 has a partnership with Samaritans Purse. Any money given to our Give There Help Here campaign will go directly to Samaritans Purse and the refugee relief efforts. There are millions of people going through extreme trauma, and you can give to help them find safety and hope.

3. Help here. The crisis is not only in Syria and Europe. The crisis exists in our own city. We encourage you to come and get engaged with the thousands of refugees that live in our city. Come connect to this work through Project 658 or other local refugee agencies. One of the most valuable assets you can give is your time. So take a step to help here.

In the days to come, we will be posting the Path of a Refugee to help all of us better understand what has happened in Syria and beyond to create this crisis and how we can get involved.

Click here to be directed to the Give There Help Here page. Join the cause to care for those in great need.

Purposeful vs. Fearful Response: Syrian Refugee Crisis

Posted by | Serving | No Comments

Written by Dustin Swinehart, Project 658 Executive Director

As we watch the world events that have transpired over the past months, and particularly over the past few days in Paris, so many emotions and questions rise to the surface.

What I have wrestled through is this: what is the right response to the overwhelming refugee crisis in our world and the cruel reality that the crisis can be exploited by the very perpetrators of the crisis itself? And more specifically, what is the Biblical response to this situation?

We will hear politicians argue over whether the United States should stop all refugees from coming to America because of the potential threat of terrorists masquerading as refugees to gain entry into our country.

As with many questions like this, the answer is seldom direct or simple. To answer this question well, we must look at issues that are more foundational than the question itself.

The greatest commandment in the Bible is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 There is a very undefined balance between loving our neighbor (and even our enemy) and being wise to the risk to which we expose ourselves and our family. I will be honest: I don’t believe there is an exact answer to where that line is.

What I do believe is, there is a very big difference between responding to something from a purposeful position versus a fearful position.

Purposeful responses are founded on what is true and move into uncertainty with truth as the guiding principle. Fear-based responses allow the uncertainty and unknowns to define our actions toward those around us.

The conversation at the forefront of our State Department, the United Nations, and national media outlets is, “Should the U.S. stop taking in refugees because of the potential risk of terrorists posing as refugees?”

In the midst of this great uncertainty, here are some things we know to be true:

1. There are 51 million refugees in the world facing real and extreme persecution and displacement.

2. There is a system governed by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) that certifies whether someone qualifies as a refugee.

3. There is a recent case where a terrorist exploited the system and was part of the Paris attacks.

So, what should we do?

Fear tells us we should worry that every refugee is part of a terrorist cell and therefore restrict any and all refugees from entry to our country – from help, safety, and the opportunity to resettle.

I personally do not think this is the right – or Biblical – response. In fact, restricting these refugees’ access to aid actually extends the persecution they’ve already experienced at the very hands of the people that put them in the position of refugee status.

Think about this: you are a Syrian family. Your home, family and life have been destroyed by ISIS, and you flee for your life. You arrive at a neighboring country and are denied help because they suspect you are part of ISIS. Simply because you are Syrian.

This means ISIS wins again. ISIS won by destroying your home and ISIS wins again by creating fear that restricts your ability to find safety and help. And now you and your family have to return to the war zone you just escaped.

A purposeful response says this: there are 51 million people who are legitimate refugees who need legitimate care and help. The Bible calls us to love our neighbors and help the vulnerable around us. We should do everything we can to help them.

Since there is a system that can in fact be exploited, we should be proactive in voicing concern about continuing to refine this process. As we help care for people in need, we must be part of the larger solution: not only help improve the process that verifies someone as a refugee, but help engage the problems that cause there to be a worldwide refugee crisis to begin with.

A purposeful response will do three things:

1. Welcome and care for refugees in need,

2. Be willing to help refine the process of verifying the legitimacy of refugees,

3. Have a larger engagement in fighting the systemic issues that cause people to become refugees at all.

A fearful response does none of this. A fearful response causes us to close off people in need, believe we should be skeptical of anyone not like us, and ultimately focus only upon ourselves and our own well-being.

This cannot be our response. This will not be our response.

We will rise to the call of purpose. We will rise to the call of love. We will rise to the call of Christ.

We welcome your partnership with us. Click here for a list of upcoming events. For information on serving click here or email us at [email protected].

The Power of a Prefix

Posted by | Teaching, The 658 Center | No Comments
The Power of a Prefix

Written by Carrie Luke, Adult Education Director

Zech 9:12 “Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope, and I will restore twice as much to you.”

Two weeks ago in ESL class, I taught on how a prefix can alter a word. During our devotional time, we were discussing how God called His people into a season of wilderness wanderings in order to “reintroduce” Himself to them.

Websters dictionary defines the “re” prefix in several ways. One being, as once more; afresh; or anew: reaccustom | reactivate. Another definition is return to a previous state: restore

The Israelites had spent over 200 years enslaved to the Egyptians in a foreign land. It was a brutal time of living in survival mode filled with decades of forgotten dreams and crushed hopes.

It is not a stretch to imagine that in their oppression and His “seeming absence”, they may have picked up new ideas about the true character and nature of God. After all, based on circumstantial evidence, believing in polytheism rather than in a one true God seemed to be working out alright for the Egyptians.

If we are honest with ourselves, even in times of prosperity it can be difficult to remember who God truly is, because it is almost intuitive to think that blessings are a response of proper actions.

But how much more difficult is it to trust in God’s goodness when life has been very traumatic, and it appears that our cries for help have fallen on deaf ears?

Sometimes we need to be reaquainted with the true heart of God when life becomes very dark.

When God does begin to move and answer the Israelites pleas for deliverance, He reveals Himself as one with complete dominance over their enemies. Yahweh literally uses the 10 plagues to defy and dismantle all of the Egyptian’s beliefs in the natural world while revealing his heart for providing for his people.

For example, the Egyptians supreme deity was Ra, the Sun God.

(21) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” (22) So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. (23) No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

The Bible is pretty clear that in this world, we will have trouble. But thanks be to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, we never have to live without light in the places where darkness can be tangibly felt.

In a way, the individuals that we are so privileged to serve off of Central Ave often find themselves in similar situations of desperation and confusion upon leaving their native land in search for a new life in the U.S. A refugee by definition is one who flees in search of refuge as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution.



At Project 658 through God’s grace extended in our own lives, we desire to be a place of light and “re” for the nations gathering in the heart of our own city. We long to both help individuals reestablish “anew” the life that was lost, but also in a way that restores their hope.

Through our various ministry projects, we seek to fill a tangible need first as we build relationships and establish trust with our neighbors in the inner city. This could be through the offering of clothing, food, medical services, family fun days, or English classes. But even deeper is our desire to offer kindness and compassion through established friendships that can then lead into invitations to share the gospel.

For me, this calling comes out of my favorite “re” word. It stems from the “rewriting” of my own story through Jesus.

God made me a teacher, plain and simple. I have written and taught numerous Bible studies, spoken at women’s retreats and conferences, and educated my own children at home for 13 years. But the irony is that I was a deplorable student and have lived half of my life under the impression that I was a dunce incapable of learning.

I was diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADD my junior year in college. In truth at an institution that accepted me more based on the fact that my best friend’s mother was in the Admissions Department than on my merit as a student.

Before the detection of my learning disabilities, I had grown to detest the classroom environment which for me had become a symbol of great shame and failure. No matter how hard I applied myself, I never could measure up to those around me. I felt cut off from an entire world of opportunity and connection with others, because I simply did not grasp how language worked.

After going on medication and creating new pathways in my brain, I learned that I could learn, and I loved it. In my twenties, I was becoming “reborn” in more ways than one. It was during this time of personal renewal that I also became a Christian. I discovered a love of reading and thinking that was life giving, though I never forgot what it felt like to be a poor student trapped inside my own head filled with misconceptions and confusion.

About two years ago, our family needed some extra income. I had a friend that was teaching ESL to refugees with CPCC, and the class offerings fit nicely with my schedule as a homeschooling mom. I applied and was hired to teach 45 adult learners who turned out to be mostly illiterate in their own languages.

My first day one of my more advanced students kindly corrected my misspelling of the word “Wednesday” on the whiteboard.

But, I also leaned down to help a 60 year old woman hold a pencil correctly and write her name for the first time.

When I told her that she had just written her name, she erupted into a smile filled with emotion that I recognized. It was the spirit of possibility and hope rising up from behind locked bars. Because we do not have to be enslaved any longer to still feel the chains of our imprisonment.

I walked away not knowing that I was on the verge of a calling, but sure I had just met someone that had more in common with me than most of my peers.

Though we did not share a language, religion, or customs, we both knew what it felt like to be marginalized based on our inability to communicate. And she experienced how wonderful it felt to be gently taught instead of flippantly dismissed or harshly criticised.

I quickly grew to passionately love teaching adult refugees and learned that one of my greatest assets in doing this work was my growing up with a mind that did not work properly in terms of language acquisition.

Having to relearn how to learn as an adult, though an arduous process, has greatly afforded me insight into how to teach a language as complex as English to adult learners who come from traumatised backgrounds.

I also did not have the benefit of educators recognizing my learning potential inspite of my learning disabilities, so I know how devastating it can feel to be laughed at or shamed during this process. It makes me extra sensitive to the adult learner who knows what they do not know and they are fully aware that I also can see what they do not know.

So, one of the first things I try to do with new student is to position them in such a way that shows them they can learn and be very successful with patience and practice. They do not lack intellect only confidence and skill.

I could teach anywhere, yet God has seen fit to call me for now into a vulnerable place of teaching adult refugees for Project 658 for a higher purpose. Though it is painful to remember all those years of fruitless toil as a student that I would rather forget, He is allowing me to participate in the redemption of my own suffering while helping to restore the hope of learning in others.

It is God math and kingdom work.

It is hope.restored for us all.



The Stop Sign

Posted by | The 658 Center | No Comments

Written by Carrie Luke, Project 658 Adult Education Director

Exodus 33:15~16
Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on your people if you do not go with us? For your presence among us sets your people apart.”

Stop Sign

On September 5th, I was at Project 658’s new facility with our staff and some contractors helping to get ready for our grand opening event the following day. We had just received our formal permit of occupancy two days prior and were in a full out sprint in order to reach this finish line.

My task that afternoon was to wipe down all of the trim along the baseboards in the 25, 000 sqft building, and I had amused myself by using a small pallet with wheels to cart along the hallways and into each room instead of bending up and down for two hours. As I neared the end of a long corridor that opens into our lobby, I heard a loud voice angrily saying, “Without a (certain) permit, you CANNOT occupy this building legally until next week without a huge fine!” Rules are rules, and we were not above them.

I stopped my scooting and checked my watch. It was 1:00pm on Friday afternoon. Just 20 hours away from our first medical clinic in house, and 30 hours away from our “Grand Opening” event.

After Eric Bernier left to go downtown to try and remedy this catastrophe, we as a staff moved forward with our preparations. There had been so many obstacles to overcome in the last few weeks that in our fatigue, it just felt intuitive to press on.

Around 1:45 pm we all received a group text message that read, “ Hey team. Stop what you are doing and pray for this meeting at 2:00pm. Pray that the county would show us favor and allow us a one day permit for tomorrow. Please.”

Many times when I receive a message to pray, I rarely stop. I do pray, but usually I keep on with the current task at hand. But Eric asked us to “stop.” To pause. Because nothing was more important than our praying together for a miracle.

I told a few people that I was going to go outside somewhere if they wanted to join me. Then a staff member suggested that we begin praying while walking around the building. So at 2:00 pm on Friday, September 5th, Ed and Nancy Price, Laurie Humphrey, and I circled our building in prayer in the 95* heat.

As we approached the throne with boldness asking for mercy to keep the building open for our impending events, I realized how important this moment was for us as an organization.
Occupying our own space has been an idea and an ambition for a many years. More specifically, it has occupied much of our time and resources over the past 11 months. We have placed so much hope in having a singular location that our staff could minister in together under one roof. With this provision, it also would help us to be a conduit for volunteers to become more involved with loving our Charlotte inner city neighbors in the Eastway district.

Though these are wonderful desires, they mean very little being carried out in a state of the art facility if the Lord does not personally come with us. It would be better for me to continue teaching our ESL classes to adult refugees out of a tiny apartment off of Central Ave. with no tables and poor lighting if I believed a more conducive learning space trumped God going before me in my work.

The call to “stop” everything to pray in our utter dependence was a perfect opportunity as a staff to acknowledge our need for the mercy of His presence. We were desperate for Him to intervene, and He did in the form of granting us a temporary permit through Mecklenburg County at 5:00pm on a Friday afternoon.

The next morning, we were graciously allowed to open our doors and have our very first medical clinic in the new facility. Over 40 refugees were able to receive basic medical care for little to no cost.

WorshipThat evening we had our first community event in the new building in the form of a “Grand Opening” celebration hosting several hundred people. There was a catered dinner, games and bounce houses for the children, tours, and a worship service that concluded with 5 different pastors from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Bhutan, Vietnam, and the U.S. giving thanks to God in their native languages.


As a staff, we all had moments that stood out to us from that night as we celebrated together.

Brett Harbinson, our Sports Ministry Director said, “ I made a couple of runs to the apartments to pick up kids and bring them to the building. As I was driving up Central Ave, it was so cool to see families walking from the neighborhood to our new building. To have a place where people can walk to and hang out is such a game changer for us.”

Ed Price, our Feeding Project Director shared, “I was fascinated with the energy and pace of the evening. Everyone was so genuinely excited for what God is doing thru 658. I was also interested at how many of our guests knew so little about the refugee population along Central Ave.” Ed also added, “a couple of conversations applauded 658 and the New Testament model it represents for ministry.”

Worship2Nancy Price, our Feeding Project Coordinator commented, “What stood out to me was how smooth the evening went. There were people from everywhere and all walks of life and when we got together to worship, we were all speaking one language so to speak. We were all loving and praising God.”

For me personally, singing and worshiping the Lord beside two of my students from Vietnam and Mexico will be a memory I will always treasure. They have graciously entrusted me to work with them consistently for over a year, and it has been my delight. I could hear their voices rising up in English and blending in with my own. For me there was nothing more special and healing than experiencing God’s presence with our friends and refugee neighbors through a time of worship.

As I was writing this post, I remembered something very ironic. Our interior designer, Colleen Locke found an enormous stop sign and hung it in our community office space. I just learned from CC Schott that the idea was to have a visible image somewhere to help us “stop and pray, stop and breathe, stop and be grateful.”

What a wonderfully unique reminder also for us as a staff of the afternoon when God gave us an opportunity to “stop” to reorient our hearts towards our need of Him before the Grand opening. I pray that when I pass by “the stop sign,” it will help me stay grounded in the knowledge that without His company, my work with this ministry is no more than a kind gesture with no real power to restore hope in individuals from the inside out.

How can you support the mission of Project 658? LEARN MORE