Coffee shop central to changed lives

By Sheila Allen
NW Baptist Convention Newsletter

SPOKANE, Wash. — A lifetime of experience prepared Myron Person for an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of regulars at a coffee shop in Spokane, Wash. “It was a divine appointment, but I was really just looking for a good iced coffee on a particularly hot day when I first went to the Java Hut in 2008,” Person said. “The shop is just down the street from my church, so I walked over and the barista, Jen Olp, was there. She is an extrovert and we struck up a conversation. I went back a few days later and we chatted again, and it crossed my mind that I might have the opportunity to share the gospel with her.”

Person, pastor of North Addison Baptist Church in Spokane, was always on the lookout for ways to use the training he had received in the FAITH witnessing method. Olp correctly guessed Person was either a pastor or a counselor, and told him she felt like she could trust him when they talked.

That encounter led to several conversations when another cusomer walked in and began sharing about a relationship problem he was having with a girlfriend. Person began making the coffee shop a normal part of his week and timed his visits when several of the regulars would come in on a break, so he could encourage those who openly shared about life’s difficulties.

“It was so great when Jen was there because she would get the conversation going and then toss it to me,” Person said. “One particular day a guy was really hurting over a relationship he was in and we ended up talking for three hours. I found that I was able to apply the family system theory that I had studied for six years. The discussions kept getting deeper and deeper, but most of the time I just listened.”

When the group finally asked what career Person was in, they often asked him direct questions. When seven or eight guys were gathered in the tiny indoor space of the drive-up coffee shop, Person finally suggested they get together on a more formal basis, and two days later they gathered in an unused room at the church. It was coordinated on a night when AWANAs and the church youth group met to offer alternatives for the children of the coffee group regulars.

Person drew from his disillusionment of his childhood Roman Catholic faith, his workaholic tendencies as he made his way through veterinary school and eventual practice, heavy involvement in the Jaycees and local politics as he met with his newfound friends.

“God arranged it when I met my wife, Jan, because she was a born again believer,” Person said. “I went through the motions as we attended various churches because I never felt challenged by them until I went to that first Baptist church. I vowed never to return again.”

While the challenges of a busy life with four children faced the couple, Person leaned on an old habit of drinking to ease the strains. It was not until the family moved to Pullman, Wash., so he could continue his education in small animal surgery that Person accepted Jesus as savior and his life took an immediate turn.

“I taught Sunday school, eventually became a deacon at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pullman, then the chairman of deacons and I realized God was asking me to surrender my life to the ministry,” Person said. “The people there softened my heart because they knew my name and cared about me.”
Those days led to his seminary education at the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Seminary, and his eventual move to accept the pastorate at North Addison in 1996.

Right from the beginning, Person led the coffee group in a process he calls “Real relationships done God’s way.” He uses scripture and talks extensively about vulnerability and transparency and while some of the members have accepted Jesus as savior, none havepreviously been discipled.

“This gives me many opportunities to talk about my story, their story and God’s story,” Person said. “My medical training has also helped. There are times when the whole group is crying over past hurts and this allows me to talk about how God can help heal.”
While Person acknowledges the relationships they deal with in the class are still not perfect, they are changing for the better. And while most in the coffee group do not attend North Addison Baptist, Person sees a bigger issue.

“This is huge for me,” Person said. “This is about building God’s kingdom, not North Addison Baptist Church. I’m the first line of defense for some of these folks when they are hurting. I have had the opportunity to lead one man to Christ, and I think his wife is very close. I would never have met this couple if not for a cup of coffee. God had a divine appointment for me.”

The coffee group has grown to 15 members and now uses a bigger space in a duplex the church owns.
“I never had good friends growing up,”said Jen Olp, the Java Hut barista. “I was very sheltered and naïve and shocked at how rude and disrespectful some of the customers were here. I had to get a thick skin, as we have everyone from drug addicts to millionaires that drive through here and we all have the same issues.

“It was kind of a collision of people that joined this group and I got to watch everything,” Olp noted. “I have only missed one class, because I had tickets to a Beach Boys concert, but I am really addicted to this. I have found answers to questions I had and questions to answers I’ve heard. This has helped me with my kids and gives me a thought process about how I lead my life and what God wants me to do.”

Person and his wife have now started a second weekly group that began with five premarital couples who are also delving into deep issues.
“We are now at a new point of safety and transparency with each other,” Person said. “We all relate to others through systems, and I use movies at times so they can evaluate the relationship issues they observe. These discussions take on a life of their own, which stretches me, because I like to be organized. My prayer time has increased and so has the time it takes for the people calling me for help. But I enjoy hearing what is happening in their lives and how God is sufficient for those needs.”
Olp has stretched and grown through the course of the time spent with her Java Hut friends. “At one time I felt abandoned by God and was in a deep depression, but now I have resources this class has provided me with that help me walk the walk and talk the talk,” Olp said. “I realize I don’t have to go somewhere to do mission work because I have something I can focus on here with purpose and meaning. Every single class gets better and better.

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