'A lot of hurt' in Seattle meets with church planter's vision
SEATTLE, Wash. (BP) -- Crazy. Not the first description that comes to mind for church planting, but for Keith and Kristine Carpenter the word comes up often.The couple, married 21 years, moved to Seattle three years ago to help launch Epic Life Church. The church plant celebrated its two-year anniversary in September 2011, with God having used a still, small, yet extremely direct voice to call the Carpenters to the Pacific Northwest.
"I was sitting in church, minding my own business," said Keith Carpenter, who was a church's college pastor in Winona, Minn. "I felt like God tapped us on the shoulder and said, 'I want you to go start a church.' And I was like, 'What?'"
One week later, Kristine had "a pretty crazy dream," Carpenter continued. "She'd never been to Seattle, but she said, 'I saw this word, it was just the letters Aurora in Seattle.' So we checked out Aurora in Seattle and found it was a main drag.
"That kinda got our attention."
A trip to explore Seattle and Aurora Avenue four months later confirmed their vision, though they found the Aurora corridor to be a crazy place.
"Most people, if you ask them about Aurora, they'll say bars and strip clubs and adult bookstores and all this stuff," Carpenter said. "There's just a lot of hurt along the street." The couple started meeting people -- "walking up and down [the avenue], talking with the homeless, spending time with them, knowing them by name."
"And people came in from those relationships," Carpenter said.
Epic Life Church, which meets in a movie theater, has grown to a congregation of 100, encompassing the homeless as well as people with comfortable homes and incomes.
"We have a rocking good time," said Carpenter, a North American Mission Board church planter missionary. "It's not something we dreamed up. The only way I can explain it is that it's truly God calling us to do this.
"We really have wanted to bring color to the city. This is a colorless city, spiritually colorless. Our vision at Epic Life is to see North Seattle transformed by finding an epic life in Christ."
Another crazy occurrence in the Carpenters' venture to Seattle came when a crack house burned down and became a homeless hangout.
"We prayed for a year and then asked the owners if we could create a garden," Carpenter said. The owners initially said no, but finally agreed. God's allowed us to use this space without paying for it. As we have the money we put in gardening containers. We see it as transforming people's lives -- a place to share the Gospel.
"There's a homeless lady who lives there. She has a botany degree. She sleeps on the sidewalk, but she takes care of the plants. Crazy," Carpenter said.
The Epic Life community is excited that Seattle is a Send North America city, part of NAMB's national church planting initiative in 29 major cities across the continent. Epic Life already is working with a supporting church in Texas, Oakwood Baptist in New Braunfels.
"They brought 131 youth and their leaders this summer," Carpenter said. "When a group like that comes, it puts a lot of hands and feet on the ground. They helped us with a block party for several hundred people. People along Aurora are not just down and out, they are marginalized. Showing them love and that people truly care has opened a lot of doors," Carpenter said.
Brandon Best, Oakwood's middle school pastor in New Braunfels, said the benefits were mutual.
"We need to get away from our bubble, our place, to be able to experience and see things," Best said. "We came to show some students and some adult leaders who we're giving funds to. And not just giving, but doing as well. And man, we're excited about that."
Epic already is planning to initiate a second church, this one in the south part of Seattle. Connect with Epic Life Church at epiclifechurch.org.
Joe Conway is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For more information about NAMB's Send North America initiative, go to www.namb.net/overview-why-send. To view a video about Keith Carpenter and missionaries like him, visit www.namb.net/video.