On the cusp of the twentieth century, Ellen White called for dedicated workers to open centers of influence in the cities, which included hygienic restaurants (now known as vegan or plant-based restaurants). She saw these as places where they could teach and model health reform, which is “the Lord’s means for lessening suffering in our world and for purifying His church,” and where workers could “act as God’s helping hand, by co-operating with the Master-worker in restoring physical and spiritual health.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press®, 1948), 112, 113.
These centers, most of them plant-based restaurants, are popping up in the Atlantic Union of the North American Division with the number—though still small—more than doubling in the past five years. If you were to tour the Atlantic Union from New York to Maine, sampling your way from one tasty vegan enclave to another, you would find a diverse palette of flavors from Jamaican cuisine to Indian food, from down-home, old-fashioned fare like mac-and-cheese and pot pie to trendy kale salad and barbecued jackfruit grilled cheese. But one flavor is central to all: each restaurant exudes the savor of Christ and His passion for the lost. And as diverse as the menus are the stories that demonstrate how God is bringing a 100-year-old vision for centers into reality.
God transformed Hulando Shaw’s catering health ministry, Real Veggie Café, into a center of influence when his tasty and creative plantain dish failed to secure first place in a cooking competition. One of the organizers, who thought Hulando should have won, offered him a small restaurant to rent in Island Park, New York, all food-service equipment included. “It was Divine intervention because we started up with absolutely no money down,” says Hulando.
God also blessed Victor and Nicole Broushet of The Vegan Nest, a catering and public speaking health ministry, with a venue when the city business development manager of Worcester, Massachusetts, suggested they open a restaurant there and personally found a venue for them, to their specifications. This was their opportunity to open a center of influence and begin full-time ministry.
Ivan Raj and Heidi Tompkins of Heidi’s Health Kitchen, also a health ministry that caters, wanted to start a pop-up restaurant but had difficulty finding a venue in a convenient location whose owners would allow them to bring in a plant-based menu and share literature. They prayed fervently, and God gave Raj a dream, telling him to ask Jack Jack’s Café in Babylon, New York. The owner consented, and they’ve been serving a plant-based menu and sharing literature there one Sunday a month since 2016.
The same God who initiates ministry also sustains and provides for its development. When Michael and Sonya Tardif started Taste of Eden Café in Maine, they met their first winter with no funds to pay for heat. They prayed, “Lord, if you want us to continue, You have to do something.” God answered with miracles. They watched the gauge on their oil tank slowly move toward full and the electric bill drop from the hundreds of dollars per month to 12 dollars per month, where it stayed for six years. The electric company confirmed that, no, nothing was wrong with the meter. Later, they found an unexplained roll of cash in the cash drawer, the exact amount needed to begin the application process for nonprofit status for the health education branch of their ministry.
Fueled with blessings and indications of God’s approval, these centers, in turn, bless their communities. In addition to offering a healthy, plant-based menu, many of these centers host health classes and vegan cooking classes, either in their restaurant or store, in a local Adventist church, or even in the local library. Faith Crooker, who runs Farm Fresh Café in Brunswick, Maine, also operates Omega Wellness Center, offering healthy living and cooking classes.
Even those restaurants and stores without an accompanying treatment center share simple health remedies and natural treatments one-on-one. Peggy Shauffler, who runs Country Life Restaurant in New Hampshire, is passionate about sharing health information individually with her customers. In fact, she says, “My number one goal is to educate, not to feed people.” One customer, emaciated with Lyme disease, left with Shauffler’s well-researched information and returned months later, so healthy she was unrecognizable, thanks to Shauffler’s help.
The daily nature of a restaurant or a store, opened three to six days a week—as opposed to once-a-week church services and once- or twice-a-year health fairs or evangelistic series—and offering food, which all humans need every day, allow the missionaries to develop relationships with those in the community. Lance Wilbur, a veteran trainer of colporteurs and Bible workers and a founder of Pulse Café in Massachusetts, says, “We have four to five thousand people pass through our restaurant every month. That’s more than a team of Bible workers or literature evangelists could contact in a year!”
Every center has stories of sharing literature and sitting down with a regular customer to share an answer from the Bible. At Eden Life Market and Café, operated by the St. Juste family in upstate New York, one customer comes in for food once a week and asks an occasional Bible question. He said, “I don’t go to church. I don’t believe in religion. But when I come here, I feel like I’m coming to church! If there were a church I would join, it would be the Adventists!”
Many of the centers work in harmony with the local Adventist church, passing along Bible studies and sharing interest lists or just bringing their customers to church. Because of this union, Pulse Café has had in process up to 30 Bible studies, conducted an evangelistic series, and witnessed four baptisms since they opened two years ago.
This is just a snapshot of how centers of influence in the Atlantic Union are impacting our region. Yet all their efforts, seen and unseen, are not enough to meet the needs in our communities and share Christ with everyone.
Gideon and Kerene Gurley, who both hold down full-time jobs in addition to ministry, operate a health and bookstore, Rays of Health and Happiness, in New Haven, Connecticut, with a treatment room in the back and a small space for health lectures. They can hardly find time to respond to all the needs and interests they find in their community.
“Let forces be set at work to clear new ground, to establish new centers of influence wherever an opening can be found. Rally workers who possess true missionary zeal, and let them go forth to diffuse light and knowledge far and near.”
—Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 9, 118.
Hulando Shaw of Real Veggie Café in New York, says, “One person can’t do it!” He notes that there is no Adventist presence between his center and Rosedale in Queens, New York. Michael Tardif in Maine says, “We need more!” If Maine needs more centers of influence, what about vast and influential New York City, teeming with people, where there are no centers of influence at all! The restaurant that Stephen Haskell and his team started in Brooklyn at the turn of the twentieth century has long since closed. The Country Life Restaurants and others that once dotted the streets of that great city have also shut down. Boston, Hartford, Providence, and many other large metropolitan areas also completely lack centers of influence.
God calls laypeople, church leadership, pastors, conference and union administrators, those with great financial means and those who know how to give sacrificially, those with the passion for praying, and willing people with gifts and skills of every variety to revive this work.
What will you do?
Let this great need stir your heart. Answer God’s call with a “Yes! Here I am, Lord; send me.” Be part of the miracles and blessings.
Life Hope Centers
Centers of influence provide long-term, on-the-ground ministry that connects with people on a local and personal level. Some are established by mission-driven entrepreneurs, while others are started by your Global Mission donations and are often called Life Hope Centers. Life Hope Centers have a goal to start new groups of believers in urban areas. To learn more about Life Hope Centers and how you can support their ministry, please visit MissionToTheCities.org.
This article has been excerpted from the September 2019 issue of the Atlantic Union Gleaner.