Project 658 Blog

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

The 658 Center

The Power of a Prefix

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

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.

Remade

Remade

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.

Rewrite

Rewrite

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.

God Puts in a Window

Posted by | Teaching, The 658 Center | No Comments

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.

photo copy 10

Not just for me, but for all of us.

photo copy 12

This was taken last Thursday when Laurie and I walked a few students to see the new building, and our window.

 

To become a financial partner and support staff members such as Carrie, click here to donate now.

Ride for Refugees Update

Posted by | Outreach Events, The 658 Center | No Comments

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!

Fundraising Update:

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!

Donate Here!

jersey-with-borderJersey Sales:

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.

Purchase Jerseys Here

Group Ride:

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

Sign up here!

Video Documentary:

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.

How do you Build an Outreach Center?

Posted by | The 658 Center | No Comments

 Written by Dustin Swinehart, Project 658 Executive Director

The 658 Center before renovation

The 658 Center before renovation

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.

The 658 Center artist rendering

The 658 Center artist rendering

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.

To learn more about The 658 Center, visit this page on our website or to become a financial partner of the Center, you can donate here.

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