In Telling a Better Story

By Tim Holt

In 2010 a Bulgarian theology student stood at the doors of what was soon to become our new church home and with tears in his eyes declared, “The nations are going to come to this place…” Stefan knew of the J1 Program, how 4,000 young international students, from 50 different countries come to our resort community every summer, working, saving their money, to experience life in America.

He also knew not many, if any, churches were involved in reaching out to them. We started small, offering games, a safe environment, some hot food, friendship and free internet access so they could stay connected to their families. All Nations Café was birthed! That first season only 50 or so students took advantage, but the word got out and as of this last season, our building was filled with 280+ students a night, having served over 2,000 young people  by the time the season ended. Our building is now used by the city, the state, and the federal government to process Visas, training in water safety, banking, and not to mention, safety from, and instruction in staying safe from sex trafficking. We have a wonderful relationship with our mayor, our Chief of Police, and all of the authorities. Because of the kindness of others, who have partnered with us (Impact Ministries, Chapin Foundation, 30+ local churches sending volunteers), we have been able to expand and this year will have three additional All Nations Café’s north and south of us at other churches.

Recently, Christy Morris, our All Nations Director, relayed to me that in one of her meetings with city officials in preparation for this season, a policeman reported that violent acts against our international guests had gone from 80 incidents per season down to 8 this past season. He attributed the drop directly to our involvement in the J1 Program. Watching the students glide in early evenings on their bicycles (which we help them procure), from all the streets surrounding our building, smiling faces, laughter, sunburnt, hungry, and all the many dialects, it’s a beautiful sight and sound. Before they go back to their countries at the end of the season we host a Christmas In August dinner, complete with turkey, the fixings, gifts, Santa Claus, and we have someone they relate to share the Good News of Jesus.

All along the way our teams have befriended, served, fed, taught guitar, played foosball, basketball, art, etc. Thankfully, we have only had a few students involved any accidents, but when it has happened those serving the students have been at the doctor’s offices, the hospital, in contact with the parents so far away to try and comfort them, let them know their son or daughter is not alone. I’ve always declared to our church that we need to look more like heaven, like the Kingdom of God (Revelation 7:9). If you want to hear, sense, see a sample of “every nation, tribe, people and language,” drop by one evening when All Nations Café is in full-swing. The “welcome of the kingdom,” is one of the most powerful forces that can be unleashed in our communities. It’s funny isn’t it? A very smart theologian asked Jesus just who was his neighbor (Luke 10:29). Jesus, in his inimitable way, turned it on its head through story. The real question Jesus says is, “Will you be the neighbor?”

Tim Holt is the Founding Senior Pastor of Seacoast Vineyard Church and an Area Pastor for Mid-Atlantic Region Association of Vineyard Churches

Christy Morris is the Director of the All Nations Café and the J1 Outreach, Family Life & Outreach Pastor of Seacoast Vineyard Church

Seacoast Vineyard Church of Myrtle Beach, SC is a part of the Association of Vineyard Churches

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