Friday, January 7, 2011

Anavah: The Whole Story

Broadway Books & Roasting Company
Until about six months ago, my dreams for years had been steeped in my inclination to join a new monastic intentional community. I had read the books by fresh, powerful authors that were staples for any young Christian radical: Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution for starters (although--I fully admit--I didn't read the entire book), followed by Jesus for President. Then I began making my way through works by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, most notably his collaborative book, School(s) for Conversion: Twelve Marks of a New Monasticism, eventually arriving at the works of the heavy hitters: Jacques Ellul, Stanley Hauerwas, Wendell Berry. My desire to live in genuine Christian community--no pretense, no secrecy, no clinging to exclusive ownership of things, but simply living out the lives Christ has called us to live--became a driving force in my life, influencing everything from my personal relationships to my grocery shopping.

However, when I started seminary in August, I wasn't ready for the challenge that was quickly placed before me. After my first class (which, coincidentally, was held in a real Benedictine monastery), I came to realize that God was not only calling me to live in an intentional community, but God was also calling me to help form and lead a community. It was then that the idea behind Anavah House was born.

Anavah, by definition, means humility. However, as is often the case with Hebrew words, anavah is packed with much more meaning that it initially lets on. According to Strong's concordance, the word appears numerous times in the Bible, typically with the connotation of gentleness or humility. However, there is also an instance in which it is translated as help.

According to Jewish tradition, anavah is the kind of humility that allows one to recognize their place in God's grand design of all Creation. It is commonly associated with one's ability to replace their pride with an openness to learn a little something from everyone--a person who practices anavah practices the art of humbling themselves into the realization that all people of all traditions, cultures, and social statuses have something to teach.

That's my dream for Anavah House--a place where people from all walks of life can feel welcome, and have their spirits affirmed as children of the Living God. A place where people can be helped, as well as help others together in mutual respect.

Bruce Gentry?
The original plan was for Alyssa and I to stay in Cape Girardeau through May while we searched for a run-down fixer-upper in some rough part of Kansas City. In the meantime, however, we kept getting these little hints. When I first mentioned the idea to our mentor, Bruce, he said, "Why don't you do something like that in Cape Girardeau?"

I immediately laughed this off. Not trying to sound prideful, but there are very few Christians in southeast Missouri who think the way Alyssa and I do. We just sort of assumed that we would have to seek out a more diverse, urban area in order to develop an idea like Anavah House.

But then, less than a week later, we were approached by a good friend of ours who owns a coffee house in the historic downtown district of Cape. Without divulging too much, and to make a long story short, suffice it to say that she was interested in selling us the business, and eventually the land on which the business sits.

But we weren't interested. It conflicted with our plans to move to Kansas City. It wasn't until we laughed it off for the third or fourth (fifth? sixth?) time that we began to take this seriously.

Now, after months of intense thought, prayer, and discussion, we feel that we are ready to begin sharing our experience. With the right effort, the right people, the right energies, and just a touch of passion, I believe that we can cultivate something beautiful in an often neglected part of the city I have lived in for the last five years.

Note: This is not one of my lattes.
My lattes don't look nearly this delicious.
We agreed to move into this new space--we currently live in a sort of attic apartment on the third floor of the building (you can see our living room windows in the photo above). We will be training to work in the coffee shop (on the main floor) for the next three months, before we eventually become managers. If all goes according to plan, we will be ready to purchase the business in payments starting in June. I've been making lattes and double-shot espressos like crazy.

But we need help getting to where we need to be. Right now, Alyssa and I are the only two people behind Anavah House. And I don't like that. As my friend Tyler and I discussed the other day over lunch, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said (paraphrasing) that when a community is not a living vision of a group of people and becomes instead the dream of just one or two people, that community ceases to be authentic and efficacious. We need more people who share our passion for community development and art, spirituality and coffee, the power of spiritual discipline and the value of integrity.

We also need about $30,000 by June in order to buy the business.

The property lies on Broadway, about a half-mile from the Mississippi River, and also just a few short blocks from South Cape, the southeast Missouri equivalent of a ghetto. Ideally, the business would stay exactly as is, with the upper two floors being reserved for new monastic living. The house is big enough to serve as a residence for at least six or eight people (including Alyssa and myself).

I'm not a fundraiser. I'm not a financier. I'm not a preacher, or even really a teacher. I'm just someone who has a passion for people. Alyssa and I are having a hard time getting people to join us in this great commitment, and that's understandable. Sure, lots of people have let us know what a great idea they think it is. But we are looking for a few good women and men to actually help us make Anavah House a reality. If you--or anyone you know--are interested in living in community for a time (it doesn't have to be permanent, by any means), please let me know. You can email us at If you're interested in further info, we can put you on our mailing list--simply leave your address in the message body, and we'll keep you updated as things progress.

We have a million ideas--way too many to post here in one sitting. Everything from handmade coffee bag crafts to afterschool ceramics workshops for kids to lobbying for a large community garden to be installed in the downtown area. If you'd like to talk more about it, I urge you to contact us. And if you don't feel like you can commit your life to something of that magnitude, you may even opt to simply chip in a few bucks to the fund. We're about to open a bank account for Anavah House, and we will soon be establishing ourselves as a nonprofit organization, pending support from a board of directors of the Anavah Foundation. If you're interested in helping in any way, shape, or form, please email the address above, or call me directly at 573-576-0840, or Alyssa at 573-576-1424.

We can do this. We can make this a reality, and together we can nurture something that has never been seen before in southeast Missouri.

Your humble everyday revolutionary,



  1. We are praying for you friends.

  2. I am so proud of you and Alyssa, and so honored to know you both. Please put me on email lists and trust that you and Anavah House are in my prayers. I look forward to hearing more as things progress!
    -Little Mary Little