In the spring of 2003, Lisa Etter '02 was home, asking God the big life-plan question. "I felt God saying Hayden and I were supposed to open a coffeehouse, that that was the way to live out a life that would invite anyone, of any socioeconomic circumstance, to feel loved and accepted and a part of something."
Hayden Smith '02 had been Etter's Calvin roommate for four years. After graduation the pair had spent a year living and working in a low-income neighborhood in Chicago, Ill. It was, they say, "a time when God put a burden on our hearts for our neighbors."
In her journal, Etter wrote what she'd heard God say, sketched what their coffeehouse might look like, then put the book on a shelf.
Exactly two years later, through a series of improbable events and connections, Smith and Etter opened the Green Bean coffeehouse in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. The two are on the staff of Sanctuary, a Christian Reformed Church plant that meets in a theater two doors down and considers the coffeehouse its chief place of outreach. Intimately connected, the church and coffeehouse work together "to bring the values of the kingdom of God to Greenwood." But they are housed separately and engage the community differently. All involved in the project acknowledge that the church is not always a place where people from all walks of life feel welcomed and accepted. But a coffeehouse is.
"Our mission is simple hospitality," Smith explained. "We want to provide a space where people can feel loved and accepted and have their gifts appreciated, no matter who they are."
"And to have no other agenda," Etter added.
That means that besides serving up a great cup of coffee and a small menu of baked goods and sandwiches, Etter and Smith focus their daily attentions on building relationships with customers and, as Etter puts it, "saying 'yes' to them."
Yes to the homeless people who want to contribute something and so offer to sweep or wash windows.
Yes to the lonely students who offer to help do the baking.
Yes to the artists who want to display their work and the activists who want to publicize events and all the simply curious neighbors.
Tuesday nights are community class nights. Customers propose and lead classes in areas of their interest and expertise, from knitting and Easter card making to women's self-defense and hip-hop dance.
The community Smith and Etter are nurturing at The Green Bean is also reaching out beyond itself. Sixty percent of what customers drop in the tip jar each month goes to support organizations such as the Greenwood Senior Center. Last September, a benefit concert helped to rebuild an orphanage in Zimbabwe. Customers have so far given more than $15,000 to local and global causes.
Some of those who began as customers have become Etter and Smith's family away from family. A few have begun attending church with them, though both women emphasize that is secondary and has come after months of growing friendship.
The main thing, they said, is for God's people everywhere to "get out and meet people where they are, to allow God to use creative ways to love his people."
The Green Bean is at 210 N. 85th St. in Seattle. See the Web site: www.greenbeancoffee.org.
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