CLEVELAND (BP) — Standing amid a small arsenal of power tools and an assortment of ladders, Valerie Mayner stepped back to survey the work she and her fellow mission team members completed in an otherwise empty downtown Cleveland storefront.
Particularly noteworthy was a wall of exposed brick that, before she and seven others started work, was partially covered by concrete. The group spent several hours chipping away at the wall before finally uncovering the decades-old brickwork.
“I’m 61, but I can still swing a sledgehammer,” a smiling Mayner said.
It didn’t look like it that day, but in several weeks the room would serve as both the home for Gateway Church Downtown’s children’s ministry as well as a conference room for Nexus Café & Coffeehouse.
“I love being able to help other people, especially when they’re planting a church,” said Mayner, a nuclear medicine technologist and radiation safety officer at a medical center in Knoxville, Tenn.
“Whatever it takes to further the Kingdom.”
What led Mayner and fellow members of First Baptist Church Concord in Knoxville to travel nine hours to Cleveland was a three-year partnership their church and Gateway Downtown established in October 2010.
Planted by Alex Ennes nearly five years ago, Gateway Downtown has met in a comedy club in downtown Cleveland since it first opened in April 2007.
Along the way, a vision was born to open Nexus, which on Sundays would be the church’s new home, but from Monday through Saturday would serve as a place for those living and working downtown to connect with each other, serve their city and either be introduced to or reconnected with the Gospel.
Nexus also will become the hub of a church planting residency center for Cleveland as part of local Southern Baptists’ plans for Send North America: Cleveland. Plus, the café’s coffee will be purchased through indigenous church planters in Southeast Asia.
Send North America is the North American Mission Board’s national strategy to mobilize and assist churches to get involved in church planting in 29 major cities — including Cleveland — and other areas across the continent. A goal of 100 new churches in the next five years has been set by Send North America: Cleveland leaders.
Nexus is taking shape due in no small part to First Baptist Concord, whose financial support helped Gateway Downtown sign a 10-year lease for a 7,250-square-foot space in October 2011.
Much work has been done to prepare the space for Nexus’ opening April 2, which is where First Baptist Concord’s mission team comes in.
“We want to further the Gospel where we can, and we want to be a part of what’s going on here,” said Karen Claypool, who led the team. “There’s growth here. There’s hope here. We see God moving in Cleveland and we want to be a part of where He’s working.”
In addition to clearing the brick wall, the team ran Ethernet cable along the length of the ceiling, over and around exposed pipes and ductwork. They also thoroughly cleaned the kitchen and, to give the coffee bar a rustic look, affixed boards from wooden pallets.
Ennes said the team completed more valuable work than he had anticipated.
“It was critical because we had a lot of what we deemed ‘self-performed work,’ or work on our end, to keep our costs low instead of hiring a contractor to do it,” he said. “Their trip alone, with the work they gave us, probably saved us $3,000 to $4,000.”
Church mission teams that give of their time and know-how are every bit as important to a church planter as dollars and cents, helping “maximize his energy and momentum,” Ennes said.
“You can use whatever skills or gifts you have,” said Claypool, a 44-year-old who works behind a desk handling project controls and scheduling for an engineering firm.
“You can find a place to go and help somebody. All of us like to use our hands, but none of us does this for a living,” she said. “I’m not special. I just have a heart to get out there and do what I can.”
Organizing a mission trip can seem daunting to churches or pastors who have never planned one, Claypool acknowledged, so she recommends churches start small if need be.
“If you can’t send someone right now, at least hook up with a church planter and pray for them. Ask what their needs are for that week or that month,” Claypool said.
Ennes believes mission teams not only help church planters like himself but also the churches that send the teams.
“[They] leave with an excitement of ‘We went somewhere, gave of our time and invested in another place that can never do something back for us,'” he said.
To that point, Claypool said team members experienced a sense of fulfillment — for Gateway, Nexus and for God’s Kingdom — during their trek to Cleveland.
“We’re going to Nexus to prepare a room for Him to dwell in,” she said. “Not to say He’s not already there, but we’re going to help make this a place where He can move hearts. He goes before us to prepare hearts, so we need to go before others when we can. We need to be His hands here on earth.”
Michael C. Butz is a writer in Cleveland. For more about the Nexus Café & Coffeehouse, visit Nexuscleveland.com. To find out how to partner with a church plant in North America, visit namb.net and click on “Mobilize Me.”