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.
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