Christ-centred coffee

One of the trade-offs of living this close to shrubbery and paddocks and endless stretches of rough-hewn bushland is that you settle for bad coffee. The spectrum of what constitutes 'adequate arabica' becomes embarrassingly broad, when it once was unswervingly narrow (read: I used to live on Lygon Street, inner city Melbourne).

And so the thought of converting such baristas and/or café owners (those ones who touted their substandard wares) was not unproblematic. Did I have the requisite patience, and more to the point did my tastebuds have the requisite stamina, to withstand the onslaught? Would I be able to look a non-Christian friend in the eye again, when he'd clearly conflated the quality of the gospel with the quality of coffee I'd just bought him? Could I debase myself by chugging down litres of bad coffee, all in the name of Christ? Surely St. Paul's “libation” in Philippians 2:17 meant something else? And these were just the reasons not to evangelise.

In short, I had thought living in the quasi-sticks and trying to be 'hip & incarnational' meant a double death sentence: i) bad coffee and ii) no conversions. Until I happened upon Diamond Creek's new coffee shop. Now, I can't disclose the name of said coffee shop, Essentials editorial policy blah-di-blah, but suffice to say it's the 'Diamond in the Creek, the 'shimmering-but-ever-present mirage', the 'soothing balm to the burning caffeine drought' (can you tell I'm a fan) in an otherwise unremarkable strip of main street shops. Semi-bohemian interior , Fleet Foxes on the stereo, Fairtrade produce, latte art - ah, I was home.

What's more, as soon as I realised this new coffee shop ticked all of my snobbish boxes, I felt I could settle into that very 'home-like' comfortability: a place where the barista knows your name & order, where you go 'just for yourself', where you're at liberty to sit up at the counter and not be in the way, where you start a conversation by asking 'how did that thing you were talking about last time go'. Indeed, enveloped in the gentle lull of my kinda music and my kinda coffee, I could almost forget I was a “fragrance of death to those who are perishing”, that I brandished the “sharper than two-edged sword” of God's word, that in me was the same Spirit “who raised Christ from the dead”.

Perhaps I wanted to forget, and perhaps the relief was in not having to think about evangelism now that the coffee was so good. All of a sudden, my radar had gotten dim, and I yearned for bad coffee to shock me out of my complacency. I thought to myself, maybe I should spurn this new shop, but not only spurn, reject it outright as spiritual attack! I had suckled too long on the teat of Lukewarm Compromise!! I had been duped by the devil's elixir!!! … But I was getting overexcited and ahead of myself (as caffeine-addled folk are wont to do).

These days, I pray to God to grow in me a big heart for Mark the barista, and to even use me to bring him the gospel. I go guerrilla-like into this territory, my journal pages coffee-stained but flagrantly Christ-fixated: “I'm here again at (name withheld), building a good relationship with Mark, I'll pray for him later on…”.

I watch for entry points to sow radical God-exalting seeds, mentally noting the times Mark opines on religion or church or relationships. I try hard not to do too much too quickly, parcelling chewable tidbits of conversation (after all, you can't sustain a meaty discourse with skinny lattes & mugachinos piling up around you).

I'm faced with a bittersweet confliction when I hear him talk about his brother who's a missionary and his friend who's a youth minister and my colleague who's coming in all the time (is it possible to have 'evangelism envy'? 'Get your own recruit , this one's mine!') I try and explain the Canaanite genocide in under a minute (I really should put that study book underneath my Bible). I joke with him about the choice he offers between Fairtrade & normal coffee: “Fairtrade of course, c'mon I'm a Christian, what do you expect?”

By God's grace, I can never think of a humble cup of coffee the same way again. Christ-centred coffee? Pour me another, Mark.

Rob Imberger is a rookie minister who no longer has to leave Diamond Creek for good coffee. He & his wife Camille & their unborn baby Berger will no doubt continue to learn lots about evangelism when they start ministering in their new home Bendigo from February 2010.