Justin White didn’t even like the smell of coffee before he moved to overseas in 2011, so when God spoke to him about starting a coffee house in Constanța, Romania, he knew it had to be from the Lord. A beach town of about 300,000 people with only 1000 evangelical believers, Constanța is a city where, according to locals, if you aren’t part of the Orthodox Church, you are part of the occult. Justin and his wife Sarah knew that in order to have the opportunity to share Christ with their community and make an impact there, they would have to invest long-term in the people of Constanța.
“The key is building a relationship, and by building a relationship, building trust—and by building trust, you can speak into their lives,” explains Justin. He and Sarah knew that an American-style coffeehouse would be a great venue to get to know their Romanian neighbors, but neither of them could have expected what would happen next.
With no budget and little more than their call from God, they ended up renting a 2000-square-foot storefront near Constanța’s historic district and just a couple of blocks from the beach. When they opened, they didn’t even have money for chairs, so the youth group that had gathered sat on the floor to eat pizza.
They were able to outfit the building, naming it The American Café, with just enough basic equipment to do a full launch in September 2016. That’s when the Whites began to feel the spiritual attacks begin. For more than six months the café had almost no traffic, and they began to experience personal hardships within their family. Sarah broke her back and couldn’t lay down for more than a month, their daughter contracted mononucleosis, and they discovered that some religious leaders in the city were trying to shut them down.
Every day for months, for eight hours a day, Justin would sit in the empty coffeehouse and pray, “God, I know You spoke to me to do this. I will sit here for two years in an empty coffeehouse if that’s what you want from me. Lord, I’m here.” And then the breakthrough happened.
Justin and Sarah don’t attribute what happened next to anything but God’s hand. In March 2017 people just started coming to the café. With the increased business, they were able to expand their offerings, hire local help, and begin to build lasting relationships with some of the hardest-to-reach people in their community—the youth. “They come in with Satanist shirts, they drink alcohol, they smoke like chimneys,” explains Justin, “but they stay for hours playing games and hanging out, when they could be out partying.”
The Whites also started a Sunday night small group that has attracted everyone from Muslims to the wife of an Orthodox priest. The coffee business has turned into a platform where Justin and Sarah have a unique audience with the people of Constanța. “The relationship has been built, I’ve been able to speak into their lives, and they tell me that they love me. And so, it’s not just a business, it’s that relationship building.”
The Whites are looking to expand The American Café to more locations in the months ahead. They are also working on plans for a summer camp facility with an 8000-square-foot building that will host more than 60 students plus staff, to reach more young people with the message of hope in Jesus. To Justin, the smell of coffee now represents lives changed and is one of the most beautiful aromas in Constanța.