Written by Carrie Luke, Project 658 Adult Education Director
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.”
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.
That 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.”
Nancy 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.