Where They Know Your Name: A “Third Place” Home

By Andrew "Smith" on December 07, 2015

One of Serge’s newest areas for ministry development is Business for Transformation. The goals are four-fold: build legitimate businesses to provide goods and services; create local employment; establish relationships (often in areas that are closed to traditional Christian ministries); share the love of Christ through the demonstration of good business practices and the proclamation of the gospel.

One of these businesses is a “freedom bakery” that opened this past year in Asia. The location cannot be identified to protect the staff and community. Driven by Christ’s love, in the midst of brokenness and despair, Serge staff are befriending women trapped in prostitution—offering them rescue and alternative employment through the new bakery.

 

Business for Transformation

Any Business for Transformation (B4T) enterprise can and should, in theory, create unique opportunities for mission and for holistic ministry. In many B4T efforts, for example, opportunities exist for relational ministry to employees and coworkers, and intentionally ethical and sustainable business models can work enormous good in their communities economically.

 

The Freedom Bakery’s* primary purpose is and has always been to provide jobs to women trapped in the sex trade, and bring them holistic freedom: physically, spiritually, and financially. So far, with God’s grace, the cafe has been able to give jobs, hope, dignity, and opportunity to seven women coming out of one of the worst red light districts in Asia. (You can read more about our journey so far here.)

 

Collateral Blessings

But, in the course of our journey, some collateral blessings have emerged as well.

 

Beyond our expectations and intentions, the Freedom Bakery has become a hub for the community to gather over good coffee and stimulating conversations, a refuge for local charity workers and expats, and a place where the love of Jesus can be expressed.

 

The cafe/coffee shop as a B4T enterprise can create, and, in the case of the Freedom Bakery, has created, a “Third Place,” a space geared towards promoting community, connection, creativity, and conversation.

 

The term “Third Place” (or “third space”) was coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community.

Oldenburg writes, “Third places are informal gathering places in which people gather between home and work.” (Home is the first place, work is the second). Oldenburg goes on to argue that these “third places” are central to developing a vibrant community.

 

A “third place” can function as a home away from home, a place where the atmosphere is relaxed, a place that is not just a store or a restaurant, but a space that has a heart and a character all its own.

 

The Third Places We Love

I am sure that while reading this you can think of your own third places: that neighborhood coffee shop where you find yourself getting lost in conversations that just don’t seem to happen anywhere else, that used bookstore where you bond over some classic, frayed tome with a total stranger.

 

Back when I lived in Chattanooga, Tenn., there was this neighborhood pub tucked away in the basement of a nearly unmarked building at the foot of Lookout Mountain.

 

They brewed all their own beer in the back, and the bar room was a mangle of beat up tables and chairs, chalkboards listing the latest experiments on tap, a dartboard and piano at one end of the room. At the end of a long day, people would make their way from work and slide onto a bar stool or a corner table, grab a beer and order a pizza and just talk. The bartenders would slap your palm when you grabbed a stool, and before long laughter filled the place to the rafters.

 

It was the kind of place where the words flowed faster than the drinks and everybody knew your name. It was a place where people talked about how their week had gone, and what books they were reading, and God and music and life and struggles and dreams. It was a third space.

 

At Home in the City

Oldenberg writes in The Great Good Place:

 

In cities blessed with their own characteristic form of these Great Good Places, the stranger feels at home—nay, is at home—whereas in cities without them, even the native does not feel at home. Where urban growth proceeds with no indigenous version of a public gathering place proliferated along the way and integral in the lives of the people, the promise of the city is denied. Without such places, the urban area fails to nourish the kinds of relationships and the diversity of human contact that are the essence of the city. Deprived of these settings, people remain lonely within their crowds.

 

Third Spaces for God’s Mission

As Christians, we would hope that our primary Third Space is church. But, both in a secular culture, and in some cultures dominated by other religions, such as South Asia, a lot of good can come out of less threatening third spaces as well – like that bar in Chattanooga, or like the Freedom Bakery in South Asia.

 

Last week, a well-to-do gentleman sat in the café for a number of hours, working his way contentedly through cappuccinos and cinnamon rolls and salad, thumbing through a novel, and chatting with other customers. At one point he came up to me and Tim*, our executive director, to “give some feedback.”

 

“This is the kind of place the City needs,” he said. “I’ve been trying to explain this to other cafe owners for years, but no one gets it. They fill the walls with flat screen TVs blasting music videos. They make places where you can’t relax. But this is a place where people can come together and sit and talk and enjoy each other.”

 

A Taste of the Kingdom Now

The B4T Cafe Coffee Shop as Third Place can thus be a place that nourishes community, relationship, and human contact in a place fraught with alienation and division.

 

Part of this happens through intentional engagement and crafting an environment geared towards connection – in the middle of a stressful, chaotic, crowded city where it can be so easy for an individual to become lost in the crowd, there is a place where people can come to rest, to relax, to know and be known, and to connect in conversation with other individuals.

 

In an urban wasteland where searching for beauty is a day-to-day trial, we can provide a space for music, for art, and for poetry.

 

There’s something very biblical, very right, about that. There is something beautiful about people sharing a meal together. There is a deep peace in the calm of a good cup of coffee. There is a bit more than usual of the “now” in our experience of the “now but not yet” Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that is surely coming and is here, but not yet in full. We experience the now of the Kingdom in a place that aims to reconnect each to each—re-creating broken bonds of community, challenging broken cultures with soft-spoken truth, extending the hand of hospitality, and celebrating the joys of art and creation that points back to the Creator.

 

If we Christians are to craft ourselves to reflect the image of Christ, perhaps we also are to craft our coffee shops to reflect the image of the Kingdom—hoping that those with whom we share a cup of coffee and a smile and a few words will catch a glimpse of that reflection.

 

>>> Interested in starting a business? Learn about our Business-for-Transformation Apprenticeship, where you can turn your business idea into a vetted business plan.

* Names have been changed for safety concerns and for similar reasons the image above is not of an actual bakery employee. The author’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

Andrew

About Andrew "Smith"

Andrew "Smith" is a Serge staff writer working in a secure field. His name has been changed for his protection and for the sake of his ongoing work with Serge.