Heading toward this new year, I was making mental observations of how often, right when it feels like I’m reaching some high water mark in ministry or life, some significant blow immediately follows. It wasn’t a faithless thought, but I was thinking through many instances where this was the case. The cafe burned down only a day or two later, after an all-time record-setting week and weekend. It got me thinking again.
The cafe almost perfectly symbolizes what a ministry or a place in the kingdom of God looks like. The restaurant was built to meet our need to connect with and introduce ourselves to the surrounding community. At first, it housed every public offering we had: crafts, food, a co-op, books, and the land’s central hub for our folks, too. At first, its “outside” ministry was dwarfed by its “inside” service, but that shifted over time.
Time made the building’s role more specific and defined. We moved gifts and books out and launched the Barn. We moved the co-op out and established a grocery elsewhere. We rearranged and remodeled the structure. We changed its sign and name. We overhauled its menus and management. We built new tables and added more kitchen space. It kept on ministering.
In recent years, it caught its rhythm and stride. Sure, its kitchen was suboptimal and begged for another overhaul. The dining rooms were quirky and loud, but the business grew and hummed along.
If we were building the cafe in 2022, it would have been drastically different on almost every level. But none conceived of tearing it down and starting over. Then, right at its high water mark, it burned to the ground.
You go to bed one night feeling upbeat about status and progress and wake up the next day feeling it’s all lost. Still, in the aftermath of the disaster, we already sense that the facility replacing the old cafe will prove more extensive, more solid, safe, complete, and superior on every level. It will serve its ministry more effectively than ever feasible in the old building. The trial and the rebuild will amplify the original ministry as a better touchpoint with the surrounding community. And, in the meantime, the fire itself (and our response to it) is speaking loudly of the grace and purpose of God.
It’s clear why Peter and James speak of fiery trials as not strange but productive, inspiring even joy because they facilitate new beginnings on the other side of burnt losses. Newness by itself is not always better, but when the old is burned away, God gains a clean slate—the possibility of fashioning tools that precisely serve His now more evident purpose. The rebuild takes time. Overnight recovery is implausible, but when finished, somehow, we’ll all admit it was worth it.
However imperfectly, this metaphor depicts my personal life and the story through the last decades of the Spring of Hope ministry that brought me into my place. Some painful flames were self-inflicted by ignorance, arrogance, and general stupidity. But in the end, I see how even our best “buildings” must sometimes burn through fiery trials to clear the way for God’s perfect structure and design. Where we might’ve wept over losses, there stands a new, more extensive, and more effective building taking shape to house and serve the purpose and glory of God.
Looking over the new deacon and outreach/youth teams showed me just how new and bigger this building is. And it will prove even more effective in fulfilling the ministry than any prior iteration. Still, all the wisdom that designs the new structure comes from the first house’s decades of experience, trials, and victories. The new is possible and better—only as part of the story and continuity of the old. “It is a gift from God… so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. We are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
This year will prove a “grand opening” for far more than a new cafe. God is preparing us, rebuilding, and arranging us so that He might open our doors and receive more of His children than ever before. Our trials will display our unity. Our losses will turn into expansions of the kingdom.
Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. He who goes out weeping, bearing a trail of seed, will surely return with shouts of joy, carrying sheaves of grain. Psalms 126:5-6