Joni and Louie Locke, co-pastors of Hillside (Reno Foursquare Church) in Reno, Nev., have always felt a deep desire to be good stewards of the property that Foursquare had entrusted to them, not only on Sundays but every day of the week. The only question was how.
Joni’s dream was to fill that building with kids. So, when they discovered that the greatest need in their community was childcare, they started a preschool, Little Lites Christian Learning Center, in 2006, which Joni directs on weekdays in addition to her pastoral role. At first, the kids and families they served were primarily from the U.S. But their ministry was soon to expand.
“Our work with international families,” Joni says, “started about three years ago, when someone recommended a Chinese family to Little Lites for their child to learn English.”
This little boy’s mother was extremely anxious because her son was not talking, but as Joni and her team helped him become more comfortable, he started to talk. Shortly after, several more international students joined the preschool.
Louie explains how that happened: “She began telling everyone, ‘These people will help you understand your children. They will help your children.'” Joni adds: “Now we have 10 different countries represented. China, Syria, Jamaica, India, Uganda and Russia, just to name a few.”
Word of mouth eventually spread as far as the Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC), a local organization that helps refugee families become connected with county assistance.
“That’s how some of our families found us,” Joni says, noting that the people at NNIC have been one of the Lockes’ best resources throughout this ongoing mission.
“They’re familiar with the country of origin,” Louie points out. “They can tell us things like, ‘O.K., with this Syrian family, don’t make any contact with the husband if you’re the woman. Also, don’t be offended if it becomes a man-to-man and woman-to-woman interaction.'”
Having a fuller understanding of each student’s personal history makes a big difference for Joni as she works with them in the classroom.
“We have one little girl who wouldn’t take off her jacket or shoes for months,” Joni gives as an example. “It turns out those were all she had in the refugee camp. That kind of information can really help us make them feel loved, whatever their need is, because they may not have the words yet.”
Along with helping individual students, both Joni and Louie work at building culturally sensitive relationships with the students’ families. The school has a First Nations family who tragically lost a grandmother in a car accident. One of their boys was having terrible nightmares, so Louie volunteered to talk with him.
“The whole family showed up,” Louie recalls, “a total surprise, but it was great because they wanted to help their son process together. Now the dynamic has totally changed where even the dad has started to open up.”
Most of the preschool’s families are multigenerational, so Joni’s work with each child also reaches the parents and grandparents, and Joni firmly believes that this is at the heart of what God has called them to with Little Lites.
“It’s all about wanting to see children and their families know God, and know that they can hear His voice. There’s power in the name of Jesus. These children are learning to call on Him.”