If the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, then Westside Community Church in Morden, Man. is on the right track. Food and drink play a big part in Westside’s ministry. If you consumed something delicious at Westside, rest easy in knowing that you not only contributed to your waistline, but also to the furthering of the Kingdom.
Drink coffee, do good
In 2009, Westside became the first Canadian church to distribute Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee.
Started in Atlanta, Ga., by Anglican priest Jonathan Golden, Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Co. is a partnership with the Republic of Rwanda. In April 1994, close to one million ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu sympathizers were murdered by extremist Hutu militia in a 100-day genocide. In response, Golden formed a coffee company that pays a fair wage to the farmers of Rwanda, allowing them to provide for themselves and meet basic needs. Thirty percent of their proceeds go back to the villages and coffee growers. Golden views this initiative – dubbed Drink Coffee, Do Good – as an opportunity for reconciliation between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes. In addition, Thousand Hills provides micro loans to widows and orphans, giving them a headstart at self-employment.
Lead pastor Konrad Lowen (now in his seventh year at Westside) was first introduced to Thousand Hills while attending a conference in Atlanta. He was drawn to the company, not just because they made good coffee, but because both Thousand Hills and Westside had an invested interest the people of Central Africa. Westside has been supporting and doing mission work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (which borders Rwanda), for the past nine years.
Westside sells Thousand Hills coffee and apparel to their congregation at a small kiosk in their lobby. Fresh pots are continuously brewing, prompting regular deliveries from Atlanta. Sales pick up considerably as Christmas approaches: Westside raised $1,400 over the 2013 holiday. The quarterly updates they receive from local Rwandan villages is evidence of the positive impact Westside is making. They include messages and stories from farmers and workers whose lives are being changed by the Drink Coffee, Do Good program.
Chicken Soup Mudpie and Cheesecake for the soul
From August 22–24 2014, Westside will be participating in its seventeenth Morden Corn and Apple Festival. The Corn and Apple Festival began in 1967. Today more than 50,000 tourists flock to Morden to attend. In 1997, church members John and Ingrid Friesen and daughter Karren arranged for the church to host a cookie table. Ten years ago, Westside began selling apple caramel cheesecake and mudpie – a crowd favourite. They have recently added Thousand Hills coffee to the menu. Customers return year after year for the coffee, choosing it over the brand-name brew from the local coffee shops.
Loewen estimates they sell 500 cups of coffee, 320 pieces of cheesecake and 400 slices of mudpie a year – that’s 45 cheesecakes and 40 mudpies. This requires the help of some 30 volunteers over two days of baking and preparation. The Westside team is divided into bakers and builders. The builders assemble the booth on Thursday night in advance of the Friday noon start time. Church volunteers are on hand throughout the weekend to not only make sure everything is running smoothly, but to connect with visitors. The festival wraps on Sunday evening with a combined community church service.
When asked why Westside continues to participate in the Corn and Apple Festival, Loewen responds: “We have to stay involved in the life of the community of Morden – maintain a presence beyond these four walls.”
The booth turns a modest profit (app. $1,800 in 2013), half of which goes into missions. This August, Westside is partnering with Praying Pelican Missions to send a team of 27 – mostly high school students – to Belize. But making money isn’t the end goal. “Every year we have conversations with people who want to know God. Our mission at Westside is to love Jesus, love people and see lives transformed.” says Loewen. “My life is continually being transformed.”
It has been a summer of transformation at Westside. In July they baptized five new members, two of whom were not brought up in the church. One gentlemen was introduced to the gospel by renting videos from the church library. He now calls Westside home.
And if home is where the heart is, then Westside is the place to be. Their recipe is simple: good food and drink, served with love and compassion. Physical nourishment is only the beginning. Westside brings the love of Jesus into the community and across the globe, furthing the Kingdom one coffee cup at a time.
Written by Carson Samson
Carson Samson (CGD) is the Director of Church Relations for Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba. He has been a creative communications professional since 1999. Carson is married to Donna Lee, who works in healthcare management. They have two fun-loving kids (a boy and a girl) and an English Mastiff.