By: Lauren Zawatski
Awestruck. That’s a wonderful word to describe just one of the emotions running through my veins when I first set foot on the streets of Paris.
Recently I had the opportunity to travel to France for a few days - fulfilling a nearly decade-old dream in my heart! Ever since high school, I’ve always had an unexplainable draw toward France and French culture, and I’d hoped to one day visit or even move there. It wasn’t until I started walking with the Lord when I was 17 that I began to discover that this was a dream that God had actually planted in my heart. Throughout college I studied French, and eventually graduated with a minor in French language. I had desperately wanted to do study abroad in college, but the Lord knew it was not the right time for me quite yet. Years continued to pass and the Lord would keep giving me little reminders and confirmations here and there that this was still certainly something that He had planned for me - even though I had no idea what it would look like!
Fast forward to this year, and it has been the hardest one I've ever experienced. Every sphere of my life has been stretched and challenged, and my emotions have done somersault after somersault. Earlier this year, I had put this dream of visiting France on a "shelf" in my mind, trusting God would eventually take me there when the time was right. All the while, the Lord had been preparing the way for me. I never could have anticipated then that later this year I would actually go!
Simultaneously, almost 8 months ago when I started working at the cafe, God was placing me here, though I was unaware, as yet another reminder of how much he knows what He's doing! Not only did he set me somewhere that would be a place of healing and wholeness amidst the ongoing turmoil, he set me somewhere that has been so strengthening for my spirit and has aligned me even more with His heart. Through it all, I've learned to truly pray: "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done," even if it's not what I had in mind.
What this year has taught me is this: I don't have to force anything! My greatest plans are nothing when compared to God's infinite wisdom. I see a partial view, He sees the full. One of my all time favorite passages in the Bible is Psalm 23. Though it's one of the more quoted verses of the Bible, the Lord has taken me through it this year in a truly intimate and practical way. During both the highs and lows I've learned to say:
"The Lord is my best friend and shepherd, I always have more than enough." - Psalm 23:1 (TPT)
By: Tessa Sentell
The cafe’s Open Mic has been changing and experimenting in the past few months. Some regulars have drifted away and some new ones have arrived. We’ve had more volunteers than ever before, and Paul has been living his dream as our host. With a whole new crowd of people comes new stories. Here are just a few...
A good bit of our crowd is made up of a group from a local rehab. They are an absolute joy to have, even if they clean the house of all ice cream every week! Two regular performers are Jeanette and Richie. Jeanette admits she can’t sing and is nervous every week, but still sings because the songs mean a lot to her personally. Richie is a gifted rapper, and weekly gives his testimony of the raps he used to write and the life he used to lead, and how he now raps for Jesus and uses this gift to tell his testimonies. The group is so encouraging and enthusiastic; no matter how good or bad the performer was, the person is always engulfed in hugs and applause the second they get off stage. Some people still come back to the cafe after moving from the rehab. I get to hear their stories as they continue recovery. Some move on to a ¾ house conveniently located within walking distance of my church, and to my joy some have joined my family there.
Joseph is our co-host. I’m not quite sure how he got there. He came in as an extremely quiet 19-year-old local kid, invited by a partnering youth group. He rarely spoke, but always had a smile. One night I turned around and found Joseph up on stage announcing the next person and just kind of went with it. I later found out that Paul had struck up some good conversations with Joseph, saw potential in him, and wanted him to come back. So he offered him the position of co-host to keep him coming around. Turns out this was the Lord’s timing, as Paul had an injury the next week, putting Joseph as the main open mic host for the next month.
Over the last few weeks I’ve seen him gain confidence. He’s made a group of friends and stays afterwards to talk and play games, where before he would sit quietly and watch. He’s getting louder from the stage and in conversation, and I’ve found out that he’s really good with kids. This is an isolation to community testimony! He is someone I’m happy to call my friend, and that I’m really, really proud of.
Lastly, here’s a quick story about a recent volunteer. Christina came into the cafe in a spiritual rut, unsure of where she was supposed to be or what she was supposed to be doing. We hit it off immediately, and she felt safe to talk about her journey with the Lord and express her frustrations. Fast forward a few months, and I get a text saying that she felt like the Lord was opening the door for her to lead a dance group, and that she was going to follow that lead even though she was scared. So, this past week myself and several other volunteers got to pray over Christina to bless her and commission her to go forth and multiply with what she’s learned from the cafe, into this new season of obedience to God. Promises of meetings over coffee to follow.
I love these people. We are blessed to host a space where testimonies like these can unfold. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
By: Ferdinando Turkovich
This year has been marked with many “new beginnings” for my family and I. It is fitting that we pause this week for Thanksgiving. Highlighting just a few, I’ll start with Celebrate Recovery. What seems like eons ago, our late, beloved brother Mike Parrish started this ministry with a vision in mind. Growing out of that vision the ministry has taken on a new identity. At one time we struggled to see maybe one or two men show up who were not already leading the group in some capacity. Now, we have a dedicated men’s group who will be faithfully finishing their first year together. In that year we have seen many “firsts,” and have been blessed to “Celebrate” both personal triumph on an individual level, as well as the establishment of a brotherhood of safe people.
I would be remiss if I did not pause and say thank you to the men and especially to the woman who sacrificed so many Tuesday nights or Wednesday evenings to provide a firm foundation for the future healing of many hurts, hang-ups, and habits. As I meander down my list of thanksgivings, I linger over the memories from Anna and I’s
wedding. Even the lows leading up to it and the few that have fallowed are cherished, for they represent a very blessed new beginning. In tangible ways, the Lord has shown me how his mercies are renewed every day.
To my wife who has been one of my biggest supporters, thank you for holding me accountable each and every day. As I wind down this year’s thanksgiving list, I pause at a few that continued to show up year after year. To the men and the woman who took me in when I was an angry, broken, and confused; to the friends who stood by and watched me struggle as I searched for a cause and was militant in my beliefs; to the
organizations who never saw me the way I saw myself, but championed the man of God I am becoming; to those I say thank you for your prayers and support. I would not be here if it were not for all these thankless individuals.
The Apostle Paul states that peace will come when we pray and are thankful to God. I have come to realize that it is through all of the aforementioned individuals that he shows me why and how I can be thankful. So this year, whether you find yourself riding the wave of triumph like the men of Celebrate Recovery, or you are somewhere closer to where I was at the beginning of this journey, listen to the advice of someone who is not too far removed from death and disaster. This year be thankful for what you do have, and not what you don’t.
“Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your
prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all
understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:5-7 C.E.B.)
By: John Bryant
It was about two months into my work as a Street Pastor in Beaver Falls that the Lord told me my work would be about tables. One of the first things you learn is that people can’t hate each other if they sit with each other. If you sit with a person, you are reconciled with them, even if being reconciled just means asking what their name is.
Early on in this work I had a vision in my heart, something in between an intuition and a daydream. I saw in my mind a man at a table. I had seen him once or twice on the street, and knew him as someone with a sweet smile, a grimy face, a brown coat, and a lifelong battle with schizophrenia. He would approach me hunched over, mumbling a few things I couldn’t understand with a cigarette in his mouth. We had talked for a bit. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call him Ben.
In my mind there was Ben - still in that brown coat, no cigarette, but with the same sweet smile. Only now he was at the head of the table. He didn’t look ecstatic, he looked like he was content, like he was exactly where he’s supposed to be. He seemed relaxed.
It was a vision of what ministry is for.
“Will you serve my table?” I heard the Lord say.
If all provision is the Lord’s, if His is the great offering of His Flesh and Blood, the gift of His own life to us, then every table points to His Table. Every bit of hospitality is about His Great Act of Hospitality, offering coffee and time to people we don’t know even as He offered His own Son to enemies and strangers. So that enemies might be reconciled through an offering set on a table.
Mission, evangelism, the little efforts we make, are about gathering people in the highways and byways for the Great Feast set by that Great King. We must serve at the table set for Ben. It is where he belongs. We must not forget that we go out so that people might be brought home. Mission is ultimately about home. Mission is about tables.
By: Lilikae Shepherd
Over the past few years, Uncommon Grounds Cafe has become a place where I can really be myself. There are so many ways that God has helped me here. For example, he has given me a great community in the cafe. They have welcomed me with open arms and have been a blessing to me. I am grateful for such good people that have come across my path. I've found that it is a good thing to learn who people are, what they do, and be a helping hand to them if there's a way that I can.
Another thing that God has helped me with is showing me that He will give me wisdom and peace. I really like the verses in James 1:5-6 that say: "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." He has taught me that He will help me if I ask and trust Him, and He has shown me that He is the strength to my soul.
By: Gabriel Roman
There is less than a month until I get married. In a time where most people are super stressed, I feel at peace. There are still small details to be worked out, but how can one be stressed about what color the tablecloth is going to be when they are in the middle of seeing one of God's promises in their life come to fruition? This whole journey of meeting, getting to know each other, dating, and engagement has been a testament to how the Lord is faithful to His promises.
Elaina and I met on October 3, 2017, and a few days later I was talking to my roommate and told him I was going to marry her. I clearly remember meeting her and having a peace like nothing I have felt come over me, and the Lord told me: “She is my gift to you, love her like I love you.”
But let me back up. You see, I used to struggle with relationships and getting validation from them. There was a point when the Lord broke me down, and I had to choose if I was going to chase after him or relationships. My focus shifted from how I can satisfy whatever person I was in a relationship with, to how can I satisfy the Lord. It wasn’t until I got to a point where I knew I didn’t need anyone and I wasn’t looking for anyone to fulfill me that the Lord blessed me with someone that I can serve him with.
Every step of the journey the Lord has shown up and showed off. His provision and favor has been all over our relationship, and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The Lord has been faithful in his promise that I would marry Elaina. I am excited that on November 23rd, that promise will be fulfilled. But that is just the beginning of our journey in serving the Lord together. I can love her and serve her because I know that before anything else, Christ loved me and served me.
By: Andrenna Williams
“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” - 1 Corinthians 14:33 NIV
We've all heard the saying, “When things seem as though they are falling apart, they are actually falling into place.” It’s a very encouraging and reassuring sentiment, yet during seemingly chaotic times, it sometimes fails to provide the comfort and peace needed to weather the storm.
Uncommon Grounds Cafe is a very unique place. Sure, we have cool art on the walls, great music playing, delicious food, and a killer cup of joe; but we are a ministry “first.” Over the past two years, we have experienced a major increase in traffic and it’s been GREAT! However, this sudden increase in business caused our team to have to redirect our energy from the “ministry” to the kitchen. In order to meet the high demand of orders, we would often times miss opportunities to minister to and love on our patrons, thus operating outside of our mission and the cafe’s intended purpose. As a result, our team found itself in a state of emergency. Working long hours, filling a large amount of orders daily, and handling complex customer service issues that we were never designed to be able to manage. We were frustrated, stressed, and BURNT OUT!!!
At the end of September, the team traveled to North Carolina for the New Wineskins Missionary Network Conference. This much needed time of refreshing, encouragement, learning, and revival couldn’t have come at a better time! While at this conference, it became clear to us that some changes needed to be made. Collectively, we were able to realize that we were operating outside of our mission, and that in order for peace to be restored, we had to get back to making the “main thing the main thing:” the ministry. Uncommon Grounds Cafe exists to reach the marginalized with the Gospel of Christ, bringing them into the life and ministry of the church by walking with people from “Isolation to Community." How could we do that if we were stuck behind the counter running around like chickens with their heads cut off? We weren’t exactly sure how we were going to do this, but we knew that it was necessary, and that God would not only be with us during the process, but that He had already made provision for us to do so.
Upon our return from the conference, we hit the reset button on the ministry. A true reboot. We simplified the menu, readjusted our hours of operation, and made a recommitment to being good stewards over this ministry that God has blessed us to “get to” serve in. And lo and behold; it worked!!! Things have been running smoothly. The community has responded well to the changes, the team has a renewed energy, and we have seen God move in some amazing ways over the past two weeks! Taking that time away to assess the situation from afar and regroup proved to be just what we didn’t know that we needed, and we are truly grateful!
Sure, this may not be the last time that things get rocky, but we are more sure now than ever that Uncommon Grounds is God’s ministry, and we are dedicated to advancing the Kingdom of God through this mission.
By: Scott Colburn
I recently attended the New Wineskins Missionary Network conference in North Carolina, along with a lot of Cafe and Church Army folks. It was a wonderful three days of worship, talks, workshops, and fellowship. Two impressions stood out to me.
Firstly, there is intense opposition to the faithful people who carry the Gospel around the world. I heard a missionary to Burundi tell harrowing stories of close scrapes in that very dangerous African nation. I saw author Dominic Sputo present on his book Heirloom Love. The book calls American Christians to pray and care for persecuted Christians around the world. I greeted my friend the Rev. John Chol Dauu, who is a priest and educator in South Sudan. In America, we mostly encounter indifference or sometimes the personal dislike or scorn of people who don't want to hear the Gospel, but we're a long way from being hunted down by our neighbors or the government just for our beliefs. It was important to hear these stories and see the people who are on the front lines of international mission.
Secondly, the American Church is increasingly becoming a minor player in missions. The Church in Africa, Asia, and South America is seeing explosive growth, often as a result of the persecution. They are starting to flex their authority and numbers, and this is a good thing. I saw a lot of African bishops, including my old friend Daniel. I saw my friend Jon from seminary, who is helping bring the Church to Vietnam. The U.S. Church still has the money and the seminaries, but more and more missionaries are coming from the countries that used to be the receivers, and they are even coming here with the Gospel.
I think my two impressions are related. Where exciting growth happens, there is more persecution. When the Church threatens the world, the flesh and the devil, Satan punches back. And where Christians have to struggle for their right to worship and preach, they establish a dynamic faith rooted in dependence on God that is attractive to lots of people. I don't pray for persecution in the U.S., but I do pray for a bolder witness and for fearlessness. The conference is a real charge-up experience, and gives a preview of what the Church could be like if we really were one global, unified body of Christ.
By: Greg Miller
How free would you say you are? The last several bible study trips to the Beaver County Jail have been amazing! I have heard comments made by inmates that, in my 25 years of pastoral ministry, I didn’t hear from churchgoers. Those comments reminded me that there is a freedom in Christ that surpasses all circumstances.
One man asked about the son of perdition mentioned in the Bible. My mind immediately went to Judas, who is referred to as the son of perdition in John 17:12. “But I thought there was something in Thessalonians about a son of perdition that had to do with the end times,” he said. Sure enough, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 it talks about the day of Christ coming when the man of sin has been revealed – and that man of sin is called the son of perdition. I don’t even remember studying that in seminary but an inmate in Beaver County Jail was all over it.
Another man told me that he was glad that his court date has been postponed because it gave him an extra couple of weeks to be a light in the jail. “I am more free here in jail than many people are on the outside,” he said. Wow! Talk about faith! I was blown away.
Are you truly free? True freedom only happens when you are in Christ. No matter what your circumstances are, Jesus gives you spiritual freedom. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32) “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
It is something to marvel that men who are incarcerated may have a better grasp of this than we do! We are often bound up by our worries, sins, and concerns. We can learn a lesson from these inmates who know a freedom that iron bars can’t even take away. True freedom is being found in Christ! Thanks be to God!
By: Anthony Hermankevich
Approaching graduation from seminary, I watched for an opportunity to retreat and to rest from the rigors of academic study. While a retreat to some secluded part of the Pennsylvania forest, or to the Blackfoot River in Montana never happened, the opportunity to recharge spiritually came in the form of a prayer group being conceptualized by a friend who happens to be an ordained Anglican Deacon. She expressed an interest in using the Ignatian Exercises to provide spiritual guidance. I was familiar with St. Ignatius having read “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything” by Fr. James Martin SJ. The Exercises deal with overarching Christian themes like: the life of Jesus, his Passion, and his resurrection from the dead. Although Ignatius was Roman Catholic as most Christians in the West were, (the Reformation had not yet taken place), the Exercises do not expound on any particular Roman Catholic doctrine. Rather, his meditations and prayers focus on the essentials of the Christian faith.
The first four weeks that the group decided were designed as preparation weeks, meaning all Scripture readings and prayers shared the same theme in order for us first to be rooted in the Love of God. Without this essential perspective, anything we would do later could dangerously resemble works rather than a faith response. Since the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises are, according to David Fleming, “to conquer oneself and to regulate one’s life without determining oneself through any tendency that is disordered,” we certainly want to proceed knowing that Jesus loves us and died for our sins. We are now free to amend our lives, taking under control any proclivity or habit that leads us away from God, and replacing them with thoughts and actions that bring us into deeper intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, this way of praying intends to seek God’s Divine Will. Ignatius’ 15th Annotation asks, “In seeking the Divine Will, is it not more fitting and much better that the Creator and Lord himself should communicate himself to his devout soul, inflaming it with his love and praise, disposing it for the way in which it will be better able to serve him allowing the Creator to act immediately and directly with the creature and the creature with its Lord and Creator?”
There are eighteen annotations that more clearly explain a different aspect of the Spiritual Exercises. Besides being rooted in God’s love, we are working to set a time for daily reading and prayer, a habit prioritizing meeting with our Lord in which these things could take place, something with which most of us struggle. Now, one of the most important and unique features of our group, which is referred to as “Praying with Your Hands,” is that our response to reading, praying, meditating, and contemplating is done through creating art pieces, or in my case, repurposing junk into something that resembles something useful. For instance, I made a tambourine from a cigar box, and I am currently figuring out how to cut wine bottles to make pendant lights. Both of these projects were inspired by Scriptures discussing worship and light.
Most often, we sort out or discuss the Word of God with more words. We do this in our group, but the action or movement of making something that you can touch that is related to something you have read can turn into something learned or something revealed to you by the Holy Spirit. This approach to prayer can help those who see the world differently - artists and creative people for instance. I can also see a benefit for people who have experienced trauma. If you asked them how they feel or where feelings of anxiety or depression originate, they may not be able to give an answer. Making something using your imagination that is inspired by the inspired Word of God, however, might provide them with insight into the source of their troubles.
To be rooted in God’s love, to discern his direction in our lives, to capture our imaginations for what the Lord wants to do through us, to detach us from our disordered attachments and distractions, and to make us more sensitive spiritually while finding healing for deep rooted hurts is merely a sampling of the possibilities for a deeper relationship with Christ and better relationships with others available through this and similar spiritual endeavors. Hopefully, this account of my experience with a guided and purposeful process of spiritual growth has encouraged you to seek out people and plans that will drive you closer to Christ our Lord and others, and to heal from past and current issues with which you are dealing. The process is painful at times, but it is definitely worth it. I will end with a Scripture from Matthew 7:7-11. It says this:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"
Uncommon Grounds Cafe