Kim Carr ate her lunch in silence, listening to languages she didn’t understand.
“I found myself asking all these questions,” says Carr. “Where are they from?’ and, ‘When did they get here?’ But most importantly, I wondered, ‘Who is reaching them with the gospel?’”
That was the last meal Carr had alone; her lunch and dinner hours suddenly became consumed with developing a tactic where internationals could defeat the language barriers and develop authentic relationships. The hope is always that those relationships lead to faith in Jesus Christ.
Two years later, the International Learning Center (ILC) in Jacksonville, Fla., was born, offering English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, as well as citizenship classes and opportunities to develop job skills. Carr also developed classes where the Bible is used to teach reading.
“The core of this program is English as a Second Language,” said Carr. “But the heart—my heart—is reaching the people for Christ. Developing relationships with them gives you full access to the families where you can lead generations to faith in Christ.”
Carr’s vision was for those learning English to first hear how much God loves them before they learn anything else in English. That is why John 3:16 is one of the first sentences non-native speakers encounter in the ILC reading course. With that approach, more than 1,300 people have come to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
“Many of the people who come into our program are families,” says Carr. “So we’re able to share the gospel with more than one life or generation.”
The sizable Halaby* family of 13 spent three years living a mile from the main headquarters of prominent terrorist group, ISIS. Every night, the Halabys gathered together crouching below their windows for safety, listening to street fights or car bombs detonating outside their door.
The family was in danger every second of every day. One afternoon, Rahel Halaby*, neice of Mariam* and Yakob Halaby*, had just stepped off her school bus outside her home when the bus exploded. She ran inside as her friends and classmates perished in the bomb’s inferno.
Fear was palpable and often left the people petrified to leave their homes. But even then, the Halabys felt there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to come home to and be safe. So, they left. But when the Halaby family sought refuge in America, no one seemed able to help them integrate into American culture—a society completely foreign to them.
They spent many days worrying about how to survive in America, too, until they stumbled upon the ILC.
“My first day of school was terrifying,” said Rahal. “Me and my brother needed help. We couldn’t speak any English. We didn’t know what anyone was saying. But we found the ILC, and they instantly made us feel loved. They started us at the beginning of our learning. They liked us, and we liked them. They were our second family.”
Within two weeks of walking through the front doors of the ILC, all 13 of the Halabys were rapidly moving through their English classes and had accepted Christ.
“The first day of school can be really scary for someone who doesn’t speak the language or know the routines of American life,” Carr said. “But that’s where we come in. We enrolled them in English classes with each other, so that they could help one another learn. The children were able to help the adults and, through using the Bible as an English reading tool, the Halabys learned about God and prayer.”
Rahel now prays with her family every day, in whichever language she chooses.
“It was really great, coming to the ILC,” said Rahel. “We now go to church and understand more each time about what we read in the Bible. We are so grateful for this.”
Because of their new-found education and knowledge of the English language, the Halabys are thriving in schools or their jobs, and they have a great place to live.
They are no longer worried about survival.
“I never would have imagined a meal in a restaurant challenging me to change my course in life,” said Carr. “But that’s how God works. He’s mysterious and powerful. He makes all the decisions—as nuts as it may seem. I’ve learned to simply sit before the Lord and wait for Him to tell me what to do and when to do it.”
Over the past 16 years, the ILC has grown to support more than 6,000 internationals. Today, the ILC continues to be a spiritual oasis to refugees and internationals, caring for and coming alongside people from 108 countries speaking over 50 languages.
Carr attributes the continued success of growing relationships with Jesus Christ through the ILC, to international church planters.
“People come to faith in Jesus Christ through this program, but then they’re supposed to go out and be disciples,” says Carr. “We’re not here to just make converts. We’re here to also make disciples.”
In 2008, when international church planting couple, Jon* with his wife, Sara*, came to the ILC from Baghdad, Iraq, Carr says she and the ILC staff had been “storming Heaven for an Arab pastor to come and be a part of our program.”
“God sent the very best,” says Carr.
Jon and Sara knew one of the ways people can struggle to maintain a sense of relationship with God is from a lack of ability to worship in a way they feel comfortable. The couple heard about the ILC and the Arab refugees the ILC helped, and had a long conversation. Jon told Sara they needed to help their people at the ILC feel “at home” with their new faith in Jesus.
“Now, we bring them worship,” Jon said. “And we worship our way—the way my people respond best to the Lord.”
Every culture is different, and Carr recognized that special attention to detail and unique understanding an Arab pastor and his wife would help foster stronger relationships among the refugees with the new faith they’d just learned about.
“Their authenticity and love has helped plant 82 churches,” says Carr. “These two, and many others just like them, are partnering with us to plant churches all over the nation. It is a critical part as we move forward to expand.”
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is partnering with the ILC to expand the ministry to NAMB’s 32 Send Cities in North America as a part of NAMB’s Send Relief initiative, where Millenials and Gen Xer’s blend with second-generation internationals to help guide them into a walk with Christ in America.
“Those generations are perfect for this job,” Carr said. “We’re looking for people who can build relationships out of the box; people who are not afraid to do something in a new way. Through those gifts and talents, they can be effective in reaching all nations for Christ, while in this nation.”
NAMB’s 32 Send Cities focus special attention on urban areas where most North Americans live but are largely unreached by the gospel. About one in five people living in these cities speak a language other than English at home, meaning 20 percent of these 32 Send City’s populations embody another culture, language or belief.
“This is a great opportunity for my generation,” said ILC staff member, Lindsey Brigham. “Authentic community and globalization are buzz words for us but our lives are often so fast paced, we don’t get the opportunity to experience them. You walk into an ILC, and you walk into a place of learning and life together. It’s a beautiful opportunity. I want to be a part of it to change the world.”
If you would like to know more about the International Learning Center and how you can help families like the Halabys succeed in America by becoming a part of NAMB’s Send Relief team, visit namb.net/Send-Relief/.
Josie Rabbitt serves as assistant editor for On Mission.