Leading up to the 2007 economic recession, Lee Carroll was working in the hard-hit industry of real estate. This time of struggle allowed Carroll to take a step back and reevaluate how he could apply the construction and real estate skills he had learned through work and school. This reevaluation led him to create Third Lens Ministries, granting him a way to combine his faith and construction skills into an organization that aides others.
“Leading up to the economic fallout of 2007 &2008, I was in the real estate business and lost a lot of materialistic possessions and financial standing,” Carroll said. “It was a very difficult time, which prompted me to reflect on my prior financial successes, followed by losing everything and having very little to show for it aside from perspective and life experience. I believed that a better way to go forward with my career was to align myself with something that would allow me to leverage my profession and contribute to generational impact on an incremental, day by day basis. I read a book called The Epicenter by Joel Rosenberg, where he made the comparison that most people analyze events through political or economic lenses. He said, if you weigh in a third lens, which is a scriptural lens, this will give you a path to make a more informed, three dimensional decision. That is where the name Third Lens was inspired. For me personally, it’s a daily reminder and form of accountability to guide how I manage my business, my relationships, my family and my finances.”
When first visualizing Third Lens, Carroll saw the organization focusing more on building medical facilities. This tied back into Carroll’s own experience on a mission trip as a teenager with his father. His father was a pediatric dentist, and the two went on a father-son mission trip to Panama. The mission trip had a joint focus in providing basic medical care and aiding in building a bridge in a remote jungle part of the country.
“One of the initial thoughts and strategies was to build medical facilities,” Carroll said. “Actual medical treatment facilities. This goes back to the experience when I was 16 with my dad being on a mission trip team doing medical work. We immediately saw you can quickly build trust, if you’re helping heal them. Often, you can expand the conversation about spiritual healing. Where Third Lens has evolved its focus is towards facilities that promote holistic healing. If we’re designing and building a facility like an orphanage, or a learning facility, there’s holistic healing. This has become more of our mission beyond just medical facilities.”
That change in vision came about through exploring various organizations, the people each serves and their immediate facility needs.
“There’s such a demand for what Third Lens does, and we felt a focus solely on medical facilities was too limiting,” Carroll said. “There were other great causes out there that needed our help. So again, there remains a healing component in every facility we develop, but it’s more holistic healing instead of medical healing.”
Fast forward to now, and Third Lens has done projects in 17 different countries. After over a decade of work, Carroll has worked with many different non-profits and partners. Finding those partners varies depending on which category each potential partner falls into. Third Lens has three different types of partners: ministry, industry and strategic. Ministry partners are the non-profits that Third Lens is assisting to meet their facility goals. Industry partners are the architecture, construction and engineering professionals who volunteer to contribute professional services. The strategic partners are organizations that provide critical project funding and often a connection between Third Lens and the recipient ministry partner.
“Frontline ministry partners are the people we do the work for,” Carroll said. “They’re the recipient of our services, and we often meet them through our strategic partnerships with big churches and financial organizations like North Point Church. So instead of going out and looking in remote areas of the world to find an organization that needs a facility, we rely on the larger more established partners who often have long standing, vetted relationships with frontline ministry partners. There are plenty of opportunities and demand for us to do what we do. The industry partner component can naturally happen through our day to day jobs which is really neat to witness. I own a commercial construction company, so I’m interacting with architects, engineers and other contractors on a regular basis. Third Lens has really broadened its horizons of industry partners by growing our board of directors and having more executive level influence coming from the real estate industry. The depth of qualified industry partners defines the depth of Third Lens’ capacity to serve its mission.”
Carroll has traveled to many different parts of the world throughout his work, including three countries in Africa. He has been a part of Third Lens’ projects in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
“Africa was amazing. You hear about it, you read about it, then you go there and it’s an out of body experience,” Carroll said. “A unique feature of Africa is many of the foods are very similar to what we see in the southeastern United States. In some instances, routine southern dishes originated in Africa. This can be traced back to the unfortunate practice of slave trade. When you think about fresh vegetables and greens,, I had some of the best versions when I was in Africa. This was unexpected, interesting and related back to home in some ways. But the people in each of those areas, the common denominator, is some of these people have so little financially in American terms, but yet they’re so happy. It would seem the simplicity of their lives combined with a dependency on God allows them to be naturally happier and more receptive towards those who come in His name. Whereas we have so much, and we tend to be unhappy. In my view a lot of that has to do with complexity of our lives.”
Through working with such a variety of people and cultures Carroll has learned the importance of listening to what others are telling you.
“The number one thing is you’ve got to be a good listener, and do not approach the relationship with a US agenda,” Carroll said. “It’s a quick turn off. You have to build relationships first. Its been said fast is slow when you’re building a relationship. The design and construction process evolves around building trust. We sit down, we get to know the people, we listen to their ideas and desires. A wise man once told me, God gave you two ears and one mouth, use them accordingly. I think when we initially visit with a new partner, we’re really just trying to get to know them and build that relationship. Once this is established they’re willing to listen, and you’re able to provide assistance.”
One thing that has stayed consistent throughout the years is there are people all over the world that want to help others, and Carroll has seen the impact that can be made through finding those connections and matching passions.
“I’ve learned that there are amazing people out there who have tremendous resources with a desire to get engaged. Surprisingly and oftentimes, these individuals have not found a way to consistently engage,” Carroll said. “So the growth of Third Lens has happened, because we have gotten to know people who have unique talents, financial resources and influential relationships. It’s really just a matter of putting yourself out there and letting your passions be known. It’s been amazing to see how groups of people have come forward after finding powerful alignment around similar passions, spiritual beliefs and to accomplish great things.”