September 09, 2021 | by
Lesila Leger, center left, and Esther Taufa, center right, help lead praise and worship at Cafe Agape.
Esther Taufa and Lesila Leger spend a lot of time listening and leading.
When 2020 brought the pandemic, lock downs, protests and polarizing violence, many of us felt isolated and untethered. Both members of Pittsburg UMC, Lesila and Esther were grounded within their church family and had a place and space to bring their feelings of despair and their questions. Yet, they realized that having a grounding community was an unmet need for many. They were hearing overwhelmed voices of friends on social media, at a loss of where to go or what to do to reclaim a sense of belonging.
The two brought their concerns to Pittsburg UMC Senior Pastor Quentisha Davis Wiles, who encouraged them to pray and see where the God was guiding them. So, they listened, fasted, prayed and listened some more. Lesila shared, "After a month, the Spirit came into our hearts and said 'You know, why don't we create a place where we can talk about issues that young people are going through, having a space where they can feel welcome and then also incorporating the worship aspect of feeling the Spirit and walking this time.' "
Esther and Lesila met again with Pastor Q., as she is affectionately known, and received her permission to begin this ministry. Pastor Q. said, "I encourage pastors to recognize that (young people) are the church. What God will give them will not look like what we've done in the past when we invite young people to lead." Pastor Quentisha shared that pastors need to make space and resources available to growing ministry of young people.
Esther said that she and Lesila did not immediately jump into planning. "We needed to ground ourselves before we got this going, so we went our own way. We told ourselves, okay, from this time on we give ourselves time to go out and see where God brings us to, and then let's meet." After some time, Esther and Lesila came back together, and both had heard the Spirit lead them to Matthew 20: 37-39 - 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV).
Love for God and neighbor would become the basis of their new ministry. Next, they began to think of a welcoming space and what that would look and feel like. In the midst of lockdown and virtual gatherings, Spirit had directed them to create a safe space for young people to share the joys and concerns, bonding together in a love that transcends all our understandings. Lesila and Esther began to resonate with the concept of Cafe - an informal, social atmosphere where friends gather - and the Greek word agape, which appears in the New Testament and refers to the love of God for humans and the reciprocal human love for God.
Cafe Agape was born. "We started noticing that when we started doing the ministry, it was not only reaching out to our little Pittsburgh United Methodist Church," shared Lesila, "it started branching out to the county, Nevada, and then it slowly started reaching out to family members, all the way in Australia, New Zealand." People of all ages and not just United Methodists, and not just Christians began sharing their hearts at Cafe Agape.
It became apparent that God was growing this humble ministry, not without some growing pains. The technical equipment that the women were working with was not keeping up with the growing audience and worship components. Often the worship segments would 'freeze' due to internet bandwidth and crash during group discussions. Esther and Lesila again met with Pastor Q. and they decided to keep praying and listening, doing what they could with what they had.
California-Nevada Lay Leader Micheal Pope had joined several Cafe Agape gatherings and was curious about the women's vision for the ministry. Over lunch, they shared their dreams and very real need to upgrade their production equipment to continue growing. Pope invited the two to write a proposal for the new equipment and she shared that proposal with the next gathering of the California-Nevada Laity working group. The conference lay leaders approved a grant for $1,100 that would upgrade the technical infrastructure of Cafe Agape.
Micheal Pope said, "The young women of Cafe Agape have shown me that God is alive in our young adults! Cafe Agape is a demonstration of what happens when the Holy Spirit shows up! It is my honor as conference lay leader to have the opportunity to learn from both Lesila and Esther as they continue to grow into the faith leaders that the future church demands."
When asked what's next for Cafe Agape, Esther and Lesila are thinking about starting a virtual paint night and convening some in person gatherings to go bowling or share a meal. Eventually the women would like to move Cafe Agape to a hybrid model with more in person worship and sharing time. They are also interested in developing a Cafe Agape model that could be replicated in districts across California-Nevada.
Executive Director of Congregational Ministries Rev. Dr. Craig Brown said, "When we launched the Growing Young cohort in 2019, we launched it as an effort to help at that time 32 churches find a way to help their congregations literally grow younger by engaging with young people in a different way. Growing Young gave us an understanding that youth and young adult ministry is not a thing the church does over here. And what Growing Young points to is the fact is that churches that typically lose all of their young people because they are not engaged in the life of the whole church.
So what Growing Young is trying to name is that young people are not in the future of the Church, they are the Church. They need to be liberated, and they need to lead right now, because the wisdom that they have, the insight that they have is something we need. It influences all of us."
Click here to follow Cafe Agape on Facebook and watch their past gathering videos.
Click here to read more about Cafe Agape and support their ministry.
Click here to learn more about the Growing Young Cohort