Twenty years ago, the corner brick building near the riverfront in Antwerp, Belgium was a place where prostitutes gathered to work. Today that same building is a place where they can gather to play board games, be a part of a book club, drink good coffee, and hear about the life-giving hope they can have in Jesus Christ.
This unique space has become Centraal Community, a ministry strategically located in a city with no other Pentecostal international churches and designed to reach out to secular Europeans. One of their biggest challenges missionaries Robert and Raquel Suarez have faced is moving forward day after day when it looked like, by American standards, they would never see success.
When Centraal Community first launched, only seven people attended Robert and Raquel’s Friday night house meetings. When they began Sunday morning gatherings in a local restaurant, no one showed up. Discouraged but not deterred, Robert and Raquel re-strategized, re-branded, and created a community center in a venue they designed from scratch. Centraal Community visually invites guests in with its use of natural materials and steampunk design cues—and keeps them coming by offering a variety of interest-based groups. The ministry hosts meals, book clubs, TED-type talks on current issues, and Sunday morning gatherings that, because of their community involvement, have attracted secular Europeans and Muslims.
“We’ve had secular Western Europeans attend and say that it wasn’t what they expected and that they actually enjoyed themselves. If we can advance the gospel in this setting and move Europeans a little closer toward believing in God and accepting Christ, then we have made tremendous strides in the secularized context of Europe,” reflects Robert.
Through the creative approach of Robert, Raquel, and their team, the ministry of Centraal Community has reached trafficked women, recent immigrants who had to flee their countries, and numerous other groups of people in need of the gospel. As church planters in Belgium, they are serving as a proving ground to help discover ways that we can increase the proliferation of the gospel in Europe.
“If we are able to identify the core aspects of secular thinking,” Robert said, “and understand how to engage them effectively, I believe that we can provide valuable insight on how to aid existing churches so that they may become relevant again in this highly secularized area.” From a hopeless brick building to a hope-filled collective, Centraal Community is changing the face of Antwerp, one gathering at a time.