In the world of ministry, people love to hear about new initiatives. Stories of God’s people responding to a need in the world are a source of hope and inspiration in a world that often feels lacking in hope and inspiration.
It’s not popular, however, to share the end of a ministry. These stories often include an element of sadness and could even be construed as the failure of God’s collaborative, kingdom-building project. However, finalization does not necessarily equal failure.
Within the next couple of months, our faith community’s residential program will end and the home we’ve shared with nearly two-dozen folks over the past year and a half will be vacant. That closure will be followed by approximately a year of construction and renovations to make the property safe and livable again.
There’s a lot to unpack there. To best understand why this is happening, it’s important to know a bit of the history, the current situation, and get a glimpse of what may lie ahead.
Over 100 years ago, the house was built for agricultural workers who tended the many gardens that once covered the majority of our neighborhood. In the 1980s, our young, ambitious faith community seized an opportunity to purchase and re-purpose the house into a residential care program for elderly persons and continued to operate it as such until the mid 2000s.
That’s when the inevitable happened: the church, operating in the form of a non-profit called Fundación Menonita, was notified in 2007 that the ancient building, with its narrow hallways, no longer met modern accessibility standards and needed to close. A couple of people were asked to stay in the house to keep it from being vandalized...but that was the extent of the plan.
Then something really spectacular happened. One-by-one, other faith communities began inquiring if needy, homeless families from their congregations could stay in the house and our community responded, “Yes, it’s a resource to be shared.” Slowly, the 10 bedrooms began to fill up 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.
By the time our family moved into the house (summer 2017), things had changed considerably. The house was still populated by marginalized folks but, with the natural coming and going of residents, the atmosphere of mutual care was no longer prominent. We also realized quickly that, without a vision, the volunteers had grown tired as they did their best to continue providing a safe place for families.
At the time, we described it as being not so much a community as folks sharing a roof.
Since then, we’ve made our best attempt to be a positive influence from 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, the harder some of the residents pushed back in fear of the winds of change we were supposedly bringing.
At the very least, it’s been hard for us as well as for those we work with.
As the status quo for the house’s culture was being destabilized by us, something much more powerful was destabilizing the house itself: also during the past year and a half, a large crack has spread across a major retaining wall just between part of the house’s foundation and a public walkway. A couple meetings with architects confirmed that, without serious intervention, the wall would eventually collapse and possibly take part of the foundation with it.
The house’s internal trajectory was unsustainable and it the fracturing wall has provided an undeniable need to close.
In this moment, the atmosphere in the house is one of chaos and uncertainty. The residents were told about the impending closure in mid December to encourage them to think more carefully about their holiday spending. The Fundación Menonita volunteers have also been working to help be sure residents are connecting with whatever resources we can get them, although the learning curve in how to do that may be too steep to help some folks.
Our family isn’t not exempt from the change, either: the property won’t be safe for habitation during the construction work, so we are also seeking an affordable place to live nearby that will allow Asher to continue attending his school.
There isn’t yet an official closure date as some financial things are finalized, but it’s coming.
All is not lost. As this chapter in the house’s history closes, we can see the start of the next one just on the horizon.
You see, shortly after we arrived, we had suggested to the Fundación Menonita that they start a process of discerning what God most desires to do with such an incredible resource. Through lots of dreaming, discussions, prayer, and contemplation, 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 new future -- a fresh start. For us, the vision resonates with how God is transforming what it means to be a church in a part of the world where the institutional church has been really struggling.
In time, we will share some glimpses of this future, but for now we sit in a place of profound bittersweetness. Bitter in that our housemates -- as dysfunctional as things may have been -- have become like family for us. Some of their futures are so uncertain and yet we feel helpless to help. Realizing little things like Asher not have his surrogate grandma just down the hall anymore adds up. Also, change and an out-of-focus future -- a staple of our lives for many years now -- weighs much more heavily now that we’re parents.
But there is a sweetness: being in the eye of the storm that is God transforming the world is breathtaking. It’s one of the best parts of our lives.
If you want to help
We are always seeking new financial partners and, with all of this transition, more support certainly wouldn't hurt. That said, between our mission agency, the local church, and Fundación Menonita, we've been told not to worry about the cost of renting.
If you would like to partner with us and our work in Barcelona, CLICK HERE or text ‘GARBER’ to 71777 and become a re-occurring supporter.