We love to hear about new initiatives. Stories of God's people responding to a need inspire in a world that often feels lacking in hope. But, it's not popular to share the end of a ministry. That could be interpreted as the failure of God's collaborative, kingdom-building project.
However, reality teaches that finalization does not necessarily equal failure.
When we arrived in Barcelona, our faith community, Comunidad Evangélica Menonita, was operating a residential program for people who had nowhere else to go. We moved in. Unfortunately, the home my family has shared with about two dozen others for the past year and a half will be vacant soon. That closure will be followed by a year of construction and renovations to make the property safe and livable again.
More than a century ago, the house our community shares was built for agricultural workers who tended the many gardens that once covered much of our neighborhood. But those days are gone. Only a few family gardens remain. So, our young, ambitious congregation purchased and re-purposed the house into a residential care program for elderly persons. This ministry continued until 2007, when the church, then operating as the non-profit Fundación Menonita (Mennonite Foundation), was notified that the ancient building, with its narrow hallways, no longer met modern accessibility standards and needed to close.
What to do with the house? Neighboring faith communities began inquiring if needy, homeless families from their congregations could stay in it, and the Mennonites readily agreed that their house was a resource to be shared.
People began moving into the 10 bedrooms and, soon, the house was alive again with marginalized folks taking care of one another. There was no structure. There was no vision. And, there definitely was no idea that the house would continue to function in this way for the next decade.
Without vision, community fragments
By the time our family moved into the house in the summer of 2017, things had changed considerably. With the coming and going of residents, needy folks still lived in the building, but the atmosphere of mutual care was no longer prominent. We also realized quickly that, without a vision, the volunteers had grown tired as they tried to continue providing a safe place for families. The community had disintegrated to a place where folks just shared a roof.
Alisha and I did our best to be a positive influence within the house. However, between fighting inertia and dealing with our own adaptation to a new culture, we began to feel helpless and frustrated. The harder we pushed for building community, the harder some of the residents pushed back in fear of the winds of change we were supposedly bringing.
Destabilization of culture and walls
As our family's presence destabilized the status quo of the house's culture, physical forces were destabilizing the house itself. Starting near the end of 2017, a large crack began to spread across a major retaining wall between part of the house's foundation and a public walkway. Architects confirmed that, without serious intervention, the wall would eventually collapse and possibly take part of the foundation with it. There is an undeniable need to vacate.
The atmosphere in the house is currently one of chaos and uncertainty. The residents were told about the impending closure in mid-December to give them time to plan for alternative lodging and the Fundación Menonita volunteers have also been working with residents to help them connect with other resources.
Our family isn't exempt from the change. We need to find a new place to live during the year of renovation.
The next chapter
Even before the crack appeared in the wall, the Fundación had started a process of discerning what God most desires to do with the house. As we dream, discuss and pray, something beautiful has started to emerge. As an organization, there is a shared sense that we aren't hiding in defeat, but rather we are running towards a dynamic future. The new vision resonates with how God is transforming what it means to be a church body in a part of the world where the church as an institution is struggling.
Our family is sitting in a place of profound bitter-sweetness. Bitter in that our housemates, as dysfunctional as things may have been, have become like family. Asher will no longer have his surrogate grandma just down the hall, or his playmates. The future for some of the residents is so uncertain and we feel helpless. But there is a sweetness: being in the eye of God's world-transforming storm is breathtaking. It's one of the best parts of our lives.
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