The Friend Building
I peer through filthy windows, scoping out the inside. Big front room, funky split-level design in back. Clearly abandoned, a few things on the floor, mostly open space. I wonder what the building was in its hey-day.It is my first day on Colfax and I am walking, meeting people (mostly panhandlers), looking at buildings, curious about this once bustling middle-class street. Pawn shops, hair salons and Mexican restaurants are plentiful, but quiet. Other buildings, like this one, seem abandoned. Hard for any business to make it on this bleak stretch.
As I walk, I pray, for people I see, for direction, for empty buildings, wondering how God might use them. This building stirs my heart and I linger, peering and praying with intensity. I have no idea what ministry here will look like, but sense some day we will need space—to serve out of, to gather, to love. Might this be that space?A wondering grabs my heart. What if we had a building we shared with other ministries, all here, serving the poor in the name of Jesus? Ministries here are small so partnership is paramount. This building seems larger than most, with potential to house that dream. Praying, a picture forms, a sense of this building bustling with activity—feeding the hungry, job training, mentoring, counseling, discipleship. Practical, life-giving help that changes lives. All in Jesus’ name. I pray, my mind full of what this building might be; as best I know how, I claim it for Jesus and His Kingdom.
For two years, I have been praying for, dreaming about and dancing with that building. I learned about it. Formerly Friend Furniture, now empty for thirty years. The building next to it, now a used appliance store, was also a part of Friend’s.Ralph Friend, the owner, was still alive, though in his 90’s and ailing. I was able to see the building, surprised at its size, amazed at the mess, the roof a sieve. I visited Ralph, finding him on a hospital bed in his living room, on oxygen, not long for this world. He made it clear, abundantly clear, that he had no interest in a pastor owning the building. His dream was for it to be an art gallery and kept shouting at me, “It’s for the arts!” I ended the conversation as pleasantly as possible, his girlfriend rolling her eyes.I continued to pray, asking others to do the same, that vibrant vision lurking in my mind, reappearing when I peered through the windows and prayed. Ralph died. The building was listed for $3 million. Outrageous! I continued to pray. Potential buyers came and went but nothing happened. Most were scared off by the mess and renovation costs. I talked to people, knowledgeable people, and most of them said the same thing—I was nuts to think about the building, listing reasons it wouldn’t work.I continued to pray, releasing it to Jesus, at peace with any outcome. We had plenty to do and were happy doing face-to-face work with our folks.
Then, one day, Diane and I visited a friend who runs the only soup kitchen in Aurora, across the street from Friend’s. They needed a new location and were striking out. Listening, the picture came again—a bunch of us, loving Jesus, loving the poor, feeding the hungry, serving out of that building. I decided to try again.This time it was different. What looked impossible now seemed at least conceivable. Unable to move it, the estate was ready to make a deal. We wrote up an offer and have it under contract for $1.4 million with the estate agreeing to carry $1 million in debt, interest only for five years. 24,000 square feet, room for multiple ministries, six months to see if we can put it all together and seal the deal. The door cracked open.
Don’t get me wrong. The challenges are enormous, and we covet your prayers. We need $400,000 just to close and will spend plenty on fix-up. A lot of money to raise. We face a challenging process with the City of Aurora. We need to find the right ministry partners and develop a long-term financial plan around leasing space to them. Nothing is easy here. But God doesn’t have a money problem and I am convinced that if He is in it, He will overcome each of those obstacles. He, not me! We show up and love people. The building would be a huge boost for gathering our people and showing we are here to stay. And, it would house partner ministries also serving the poor.
On this bleak stretch of pavement, I dream of an oasis, a place of healing, a building where we plant the flag of Jesus, serving those in need, using the creativity of each ministry to be light in this place of so much darkness. People loved, lives impacted, East Colfax changed forever.All from peering through a window....