The large refugee population of Jacksonville, Florida, creates a high demand for English as a second language (ESL) programs. The International Learning Center (ILC) led by NAMB Send Relief–ILC national director Kim Carr meets that need daily by investing in the lives of those displaced from their home countries by poverty, war, and persecution.
Carr and her husband, Ron, founded the ministry in 2000, and they officially opened the ILC in 2003. Since then, they have enrolled over 5000 ESL learners representing 108 countries. Often, ILC students have worked as professionals in their home countries yet find few job opportunities in the United States. To help this situation, ILC programs focus on English language acquisition, reading, workplace skills, citizenship classes, and youth tutoring. The ILC’s focus on family is important.
“Children are everything to these refugees. The next generation is the reason most of them have come to the United States. So when they get here and suddenly their children are struggling in school, mom and dad are desperate for help,” Carr said.
One family of refugees, Coptic Christians from Syria, has become especially important to Carr and her family. Though the family members knew about Jesus, they had no sense of what a relationship with Him could be. Within a few weeks at the ILC, the adult family members all accepted Christ. Soon, their children did as well. When one member of the family returned home, Carr and others at the ILC made sure she had resources to help her grow in her faith, reach lost family members and friends, and disciple others. “Our families are woven together. This is one of those families that have become friends for life,” Carr said.
Carr and her staff of volunteers teach ESL classes for both men and women using a workplace curriculum and a reading program that uses the Bible as its text. As ILC students improve their reading, they are exposed to the Word and are welcome to ask questions.
“We become friends, which leads to sharing the gospel, and the next thing you know, we’re planting churches among these people,” Carr said. “We marry church planting with compassion ministry.”
One key difference between the ILC and other ESL programs is the gender segregation of the classes. “Having separate classes for men and women gains us all kind of favor in the international community,” Carr said. “Women love not having men in the school, and the males in their lives like that their female family member is not in class with other men.” Separate classes also means the women are more open to conversation because no men are present.
Since the beginning, Carr has worked 60–110 hours each week teaching, tutoring, and meeting one-on-one with students. The ultimate goal is to plant churches among the unreached people groups represented in those who come to the ILC. So far, more than 80 church plants have come out of the ILC, and the program is being replicated in other cities with large refugee populations.
Carr desires prayer for wisdom and discernment in the daily ministry of the ILC and for the growth of the program. She also urges prayer for favor in the international community so students will continue to enroll and for access to elementary schools across North America.
“We’re starting to plant our program in other cities, and elementary schools are important,” Carr said. “We don’t work in churches because the people we reach will not go to a church. By planting new programs in elementary schools, we can tutor the children while teaching ESL to the parents. We can minister to the whole family.”
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