Christian center feeds body & soul

Couple’s ministry offers coffee, counseling, food for needy, singles group

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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There is something different brewing at the coffee shop at 6403 E. Mill Plain Blvd., volunteers there say. The writing on the window advertises espressos, mochas and lattes, but what is offered inside free of charge is more long-lasting and fulfilling.

The Clark County Christian Center provides food to the hungry, informal counseling to people dealing with addictions and a singles group Bible study on Thursday nights, according to the nonprofit’s directors. One thing it does not offer is Sunday services.

The purpose of the coffee shop, and its ministry, is to feed people spiritually six days per week, said Erik Holcomb and Annette North, the husband-and-wife duo behind the nonprofit organization. Participants are then free to choose where they want to attend Sunday services, if they want to attend such services.

“Restoration is the main vision,” North said. “However, the coffeehouse is the draw.”

A coffeehouse, just by its nature, is a less intimidating place to enter for the first time than a church, added Holcomb, North’s husband of two years.

“People seeking an answer will walk into a coffee shop way before they would walk into a church,” he explained.

Clark County Christian Center formally opened its doors at the East Mill Plain Boulevard site Sept. 24. The organization raises money through donations and coffee sales from its main location and an adjacent drive-thru called Grounded, Holcomb said. Neither North nor Holcomb receive a salary from the nonprofit. They owned a construction business before opening the center, Holcomb said.

The genesis behind the coffee shop as worship house idea came 12 years earlier, during a dark period in North’s life. Her father had died, and she had just gotten divorced. It was then she found God and discovered her calling to minister to others through a singles group.

North’s group — dedicated to singles, divorced and widowed people — started in earnest four years ago, holding meetings at East Ridge Business Plaza in Brush Prairie. The weekly meeting now draws 40 people per week thanks to strong word of mouth, North said.

The singles group is just one of the many services she and her husband, who she met in a singles group, provide people in the Vancouver area. And they hope to offer many more in the near future.

The center also offers a Celebrate Recovery program Wednesday nights for anyone dealing with addiction or “hurts and hang-ups,” Holcomb said. It also provides food to the needy, job opportunities through Partners In Crime and Zumba fitness classes on Tuesdays. The Zumba classes start at 7 p.m. and cost $4.

It is the couple’s dream to have a youth ministry, programs for people for which English is a second language and marriage-enrichment classes.

Neither North nor Holcomb have formal ministerial training. They instead rely on their church experience, Biblical guidance and what they see as a divine calling.

“We are not a church,” North said, noting she and her husband attend City Bible Church in Vancouver. “We are more a community outreach.”

She pointed to Matthew 25:35-36 as guide verses or a motto for their operation. The scripture highlights the need to aid others in need.

There are enough empty seats at existing local churches, Holcomb said, explaining why he and his wife have no interest in starting a church. What they want to become is “a community hub where people can come and share and network,” he said.

Recovering drug addict Patrick Gibson, 45, found God after a five-year battle with meth addiction. He’d been scared to walk into a church. But when he talks about the center, there is a gleam in his eyes.

He started attending recovery meetings at the center six months ago, and has since pulled carpet and performed other tasks in advance of the building’s opening. He credits Holcomb and North for providing him guidance by expanding on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and aiding him in his spiritual walk.

“I believed most of my life that until someone proved to me God existed, I was going to assume he didn’t,” Gibson said, noting his beliefs flipped in favor of God’s existence one day after coming to grips with his addiction.

The center arms people with tools to make similar life transformations, he noted.

Sometimes it instead provides them with a meal or a sense of purpose. Such was the case for James Stanley.

The 58-year-old had recently moved from Ohio when he walked inside the coffee shop to ask for directions to the food stamp office. Stanley went home with food. The Clark College student has since received school supplies, a mattress and a TV there. He also has tapped into the center’s recovery meetings and provided help around the building.

“It’s something to do besides sitting around the house and being bored,” Stanley said.

Find out more about Clark County Christian Center by visiting http://www.ccccenter.com.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com