Camp Sonshine: Helping Refugees in North Carolina

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

by Kristin Hempy

For most of us from Santa Barbara Community Church, this trip to Charlotte was our first time in North Carolina. We had met and prayed as a group multiple times before our flight left about the people we were going to meet and work with, but nothing had prepared us for the hospitality of Dustin and Eric and the enthusiasm of the group of kids awaiting us at Camp 658.

Our entire week in Charlotte was packed to the brim with an incredible variety of people and activities: a church service spoken in Jarai, soccer with refugee kids from Honduras and Ethiopia, performing skits for inner city kids, leading small group Bible time with a group of college interns, and a questionable talking animatronics cow at the Billy Graham Library.

The central workload of our week focused around running a 4-day VBS camp for about 40 inner city and refugee kids living in and around Charlotte. We split our team into four groups to cover the activities of the day: the skit, sports, arts and crafts, and singing. Along with much support from Project 658’s energetic college interns, we played and listened, sang and danced, sweated and prayed with these kids, who were from such different backgrounds than us. Our theme verse, Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.), was repeated frequently as we encouraged the kids to trust God with their future and their troubles, and rely on the comfort of His plan for them.

We were blessed to get a sneak peak into the other aspects of Project 658 and their overall mission here in the Charlotte area. Dustin introduced us to members of a local Jarai church with which he works– all refugees who fled Vietnam because of religious persecution. For someone whose knowledge of Vietnam ended when the history books stopped after the Vietnam War, it was very eye-opening for me to hear testimonies of these incredible people and the challenges faced by Christians there to this day. We  learned from their strong faith as they opened their home to us and cooked lunch.

Eric also took us to help construct a sport court in a local refugee neighborhood, and it was inspirational to hear him talk with such passion about the vision he has for the future of that area: street soccer games, adult leagues, bringing refugee kids together with Project 658 staff in fellowship, etc. As an athlete, I personally appreciate how the game of soccer is used by Project 658 to constantly draw people in from the community and provide a safe space. These refugees, who might be struggling financially or culturally to adapt to life in America, can put aside their problems for an hour or so and kick a soccer ball around and sweat (a lot) in the Carolina humidity, and meet Christian folks who care about helping them. It was an honor to be part of the team that built that court, and I know our group from SB will continue to pray for the ministry that occurs there.

There are many more little bits and pieces of 658 that we glimpsed this week: a clothing program, ESL classes, and employment programs for refugees. I was struck by how joyful it was to be a part of an organization that is truly living out the commandment Jesus gave his followers in Matthew 28:19:  Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations… At Project 658 in Charlotte, the nations have gathered. From Ethiopia, Honduras, Nepal, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Ohio, Virginia, and California they’ve gathered and they need the good news of the Gospel. And Project 658 staff allowed a group of us from Santa Barbara Community Church to be part of making disciples through sport and fun and fellowship.

As the week drew to a close and we sent off the SOI interns for another ministry experience down in El Salvador, I know I speak for our entire group when I say this week was a blessing to us all. I hope we learned how to bring this attitude of service home with us to California and can implement it in our daily lives. And I know for certain that we will stay in contact with the work going on in Charlotte and share with our friends and family the amazing service they are doing for the Lord and for the community.