PROJECT SUNRISE: The Story
The idea for Project Sunrise was sparked through countless visits to youth shelters and detention centers during my work with Unlock Freedom. I have heard the stories of these kids, unknown and forgotten by so many. I have looked into their eyes, listened to their pain, and felt their tears on my shoulders. I see their faces still.
In between the lines of their stories, I noticed many of them would reference God. They knew there was a God because He had shown Himself real to them somewhere in the middle of their pain. They knew there was a God because they had seen evil. And, even in their limited understanding of Him, they knew God was good.
These experiences wrecked me—in a good way. God's reach is so much further than we will ever know.
All of these encounters compounded to intensify my heart for America's forgotten children, the ones in the mission fields of our own backyard. However, the final inspiration came through a single encounter. This is the story:
Every Friday morning I went to the juvenile detention center to meet with a young girl I was mentoring.
A year and a half prior, she had identified herself as a victim of sex trafficking while I had been there discussing the issue with the girls. In the setting of the detention center I had the freedom to discuss my faith openly, which wasn't the case in many of the places we taught. Consequently, I always gave out my book (along with chocolates:) as a gift to the girls on my final visit. Many of them would open it and begin reading while I was still in the room. I'll never forget one time during a return visit when a sweet girl who was still there said to me excitedly, "I didn't know purity started in your heart!" I'm not sure I can put my emotion into words, so I won't try. Let's just say it quickly became evident to me why God had me write my book with "street kids" in mind as well as the kids in the youth group for which I was asked to write it.
I always visited the girls in this particular facility, but my heart yearned to get in front of the boys as well.
This Friday morning started out the same as every other. I pressed the outside buzzer, spoke my name into the intercom, and waited as the receptionist unlocked the two large metal doors which led into the waiting area. However, this day there were two workers ahead of me to see the girl I was there to see. After quickly thinking through my plan for my day, I told the woman behind the glass that I wouldn't be able to wait and asked if she would let the little girl know I had come by. She said yes and unlocked the doors once again for me to exit.
I got about halfway to my car and decided to go back in. I knew how important my visits were to the girl, whom I had grown to love, and I chided myself for my lack of patience and flexibility (an area in which I am most definitely a work in progress;). I also knew it was highly unlikely the message of my visit would have been relayed to her.
So I mustered up my confidence and humility, walked back to the buzzer, and told the woman I had decided to wait. Now this "waiting room" isn't like the ones you are probably imagining right now. It is stark and white and cold with locked metal doors on all sides. The only things inside the room are a metal detector and one very short wooden bench. And there is a window with an intercom separating visitors from the receptionist.
I took a seat on the bench next to a woman who immediately began a conversation with me. Her appearance alone was evidence she had lived a difficult life. She had likely known pain in ways I had never known, such was the case of every child within those walls. The woman was waiting for her grandson to be released, who, I learned, was one of fourteen grandkids. As she proceeded to tell me about her life, she spoke of God off and on throughout her story. She had a very warped view of who He was, but, also like the girls, I could tell she knew He was good.
As we spoke, my mind was whirling. I felt like God had purpose in the situation, but I couldn't see what it was yet. After about 20 minutes the large door leading into the interior of the facility opened, and her grandson walked out. He was accompanied by two officers, and his wrists were bound with a chain and lock. He was tall, well over 6 feet. His hair was styled into dreadlocks, and he was dressed in jeans and a gray t-shirt (the clothing worn by all the kids in custody there). I guessed his age to be about seventeen.
The officers unlocked his wrists, handed him what looked like a clear plastic garbage sack with his belongings, and went back into the facility. His grandmother turned to me to say goodbye, and they walked out the door.
In that moment my heart began beating wildly. I felt God telling me to go out after them and give them my book. As I pondered how uncomfortable it would be to go to the woman behind the window and tell her I needed out and back in again, I realized I had a box of my books in the car from an event we had earlier in the month. So I quickly got up and told the woman I needed to go out to my car and that I would be back in a couple minutes.
To my relief they hadn't made it far.
"Do you mind hanging on for one second? I just want to quickly grab something for you," I called over my shoulder in passing as I rushed to my car.
They stood outside their car and waited for me to return, looking slightly confused and curious.
"It's a small Bible study book I wrote, and I wanted you guys to have one," I explained as I handed them the books.
This was the God-moment.
The young man's face completely lit up as he took the book. He looked at me wide-eyed and smiling, thanked me, and told me he wanted to show me something. I watched him dig through his bag and pull out a Bible. It was brand new and still in the sleeve from the store. He handed me the Bible to look at and told me he got it right before he went into custody. I pulled it out of the sleeve, flipped through it, and assured him he would like this version very much because it was easier to understand than some of the other versions (it was the NLT version).
As we said goodbye again and I walked back into the facility (for the third time that morning!), a thought popped into my mind.
This book needs to go into every detention center across America.
I texted the story to my husband as I sat on the little wooden bench, alone this time, and I closed the text with that final thought which had seemed to come out of nowhere. My husband's response is what started the idea of Project Sunrise. He said, "let's make it happen."
In that moment, Project Sunrise was birthed. Since then, its vision has expanded to include adults and teens alike, in the mission field of our own backyard and the mission field of foreign lands.