Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
you will restore the foundations laid long ago;
you will be called the repairer of broken walls,
the restorer of streets where people live.
– Isaiah 58:12 (CSB)
I absolutely love this verse. But I love it even more in The Message version:
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
Make the community livable again…. Wow.
Justin and I have been on a journey that has lead us to this place; to this place where we want to revitalize the community in which we live. We want everyone here to have hope, to be happy, to find true joy. But it isn’t just a want, we have been called to make a difference. So it’s a supernatural compelling of the Holy Spirit that has lead us to this place.
And at first we weren’t entirely sure what that looked like. But with that still small voice, God has been speaking to us over the past two(ish) years and in the past month, He has confirmed, we believe, what turning our community upside down looks like.
A coffee shop.
For those of you that have followed along on this voyage, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise. He has been nudging us this direction for some time. But I was never completely confident in the idea. Whether it was my own insecurities or the fact that God had us in a waiting period, there was nothing moving us forward for a time.
And in that waiting, there was struggle. God definitely had to teach us some things about forgiveness, bitterness, letting go, finding joy, and allowing Him to be in control. And some of those lessons took awhile to sink in. When we finally surrendered to what God was doing and allowed ourselves to be mold-able once again, God started to move.
That was about three weeks ago. With a renewed passion, we began discussing what He wanted for us. We really felt like the coffee shop/third place route was the way to go. So we decided to continue to circle the matter in prayer. Specifically, we have no monetary means of making this happen. And, inspired by Mark Batterson and National Community Church, we decided to just start praying for the money without asking anyone but Him for it (check out Draw the Circle for this story).
I wish I could tell you that He sent us the money the next day. He didn’t. He sent us an opportunity instead. While mindlessly scrolling social media just a couple of days later, Justin happened across a grant for community wellness. He sent it my way and I instantly started to laugh. God is funny sometimes – my current profession? Grant writing. And a grant for community wellness was exactly what we needed. We had often discussed searching for grants but with life and the thousand things coming our direction, it just never became a priority.
There were (and are) still some hurdles we have to jump before we can actually apply. But the night I approached my first hurdle, it went much better than expected. I was overwhelmed at the positive response and encouraged that we were moving in the right direction.
But the next morning God made sure I knew we were headed in the right direction. I had recently begun to read Next Door as it is in Heaven, including a small section in my morning routine each day. As I read about a girl named Ali who had begun to turn her community upside down, these words jumped off the page:
In the midst of Ali’s neighborhood is Quay Coffee, which she says primed the pump for Neighbor Nights. It served as a neutral hangout where neighbors began to notice one another as regulars, striking up conversations that evolved into friendships and community.
Um…what? I instantly snapped a picture and sent it to Justin and a couple of others who have been on this journey with us. Sometimes God shouts. And I fully believe He did that day.
I immediately began to dive into research for the grant. While I knew a good third place would make a difference in our community, I didn’t have the research to back it up. Now I do.
- Only 22% of people believe their communities have opportunities to meet new people (Pew Research).
- 1 in 4 people (25%) in the US say they have no one to talk to. That number doubles if you don’t count family. This is up from only 8% in 1985 (National Science Foundation).
- “The strength of our social relationships is comparable to well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Weak social relationships are a more significant risk factor than physical inactivity and obesity…” (Susan Pinker, The Village Effect)
- “Creating destinations that people choose to go to, rather than just spaces people go to out of necessity, is an ideal way to improve their quality of life…” (Project for Public Spaces)
This just scratches the surface. Social connections mean more than anything else when it comes to the health of a geographic community. And in order for social connections to thrive, placemaking is essential.
The more I read, the more excited I became. A coffee shop wouldn’t just provide a place for us to meet new people – it would actually increase the physical health, economy, and culture of our community while at the same time making it a safer place to live! We have to do this! This is our opportunity to make the community livable again.
Fast forward a couple of days. My dad gets a phone call from a nearby, but not local, pastor friend. In a conversation completely unrelated and irrelevant, this pastor mentions a coffee shop. Which prompts my dad to share a bit of what has been happening. This pastor knows of a place not too far away that has done what we want to do! And the best part? A coworker of mine had already mentioned this place to me about a year ago. And I had forgotten. Coincidence? I think not. My friends, this is what we like to call God moments.
While this all may seem like trivial things to you. God is definitely leading us this way. And I will keep moving with Him until He changes direction. Whether or not the grant comes through, I know we are meant to do this.
I see a place where people go after work to relax. I see tired moms stopping in after dropping their kids off at school to catch up with friends, teenagers stopping after school, retired couples stopping in just to chat, young children laughing at story time… I see evening events such as trivia or open mic nights where people are laughing and chatting and gathering for community. I see relationships develop. Young and old. Doctors and farmers. I see connections made. I see the community thriving. I see hope. I see light. I see Jesus.
Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Absolutely. This will completely turn our lives upside down. Nothing will be the same. But we must take the next step. As my dad finished his sermon on Sunday, I looked at Justin, choking back tears, “We can’t not do this…” It was complete conviction. Beautiful, humbling, sweet, unadulterated conviction.