Byron Bay, on the far-north coast of NSW, is the most easterly point of Australia’s mainland. It’s a popular holiday destination, known for its beautiful hinterland and beaches, its surfing and scuba diving sites, and its art and music festivals. One of its most famous and visited sites is the iconic Cape Byron lighthouse, built in 1901. It offers 360-degree views of the surrounding area, the beaches and the Pacific Ocean, and a platform from which humpback whales can be easily spotted on their yearly migration between June and November. It’s little wonder that Byron Bay receives about 1.7 million domestic and international visitors each year.
The town is also a mecca for a diverse range of creative and alternative cultures. Known as the rainbow region, the area in and around Byron is considered to be the spiritual home of Australia’s hippy movement. Artists of all types have been attracted to Byron Bay, from international musicians, actors and world-renowned sculptors, to surfers and novelists. Its locals have come to symbolise what Lonely Planet has described as “an Australian haute-boho lifestyle”.
This background has presented the members of the small Byron Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church with a big challenge: how to remain relevant amidst this melting pot of local alternative lifestyles, and how to best serve and reach their community and its huge floating population.
As has been proven over and over, when God’s children intentionally pray for God to open doors for ministry, He does; when they move ahead in faith, He provides; and when they surrender to His service, He blesses their efforts. So when the members began a ministry providing free vegetarian dinners (and free conversation that often led to Jesus) on a weekday evening, little did they imagine that they would end up serving up to 300 people! It was evident that their ministry idea had to change radically for it to grow sustainably. The church building was old and small, but it had a major advantage—it was on a main road, across from a large supermarket and shops, and had a bus stop on its doorstep. So they offered what they had in their hands to God, and Manna Haven Cafe was born.
The not-for-profit cafe is a purpose-built extension of the Byron Bay Adventist Church, and blends in seamlessly with the church building. The entire project was made possible through the generous donations of church members in labour and finances, and God blessing their vision and dedication.
“To keep up with the needs and trends of the clients, Manna Haven now offers an all-vegan menu and all menu items are on display with a good selection of hot dishes, fresh salads and delicious sweets,” says cafe chef and manager Bryce Wegener. “This has made the process of selecting and ordering easier and quicker than with an à la carte menu, leaving more time for us to connect one-on-one with the people.”
The church doors usually remain open and inviting. Church pastor Keith Jackson and other members are often there during the week to chat to customers. Some customers come with many questions, from health to Jesus, and everything in between, and some of these conversations have lasted hours.
A lady who was visiting the cafe on her last day in Byron got talking with church volunteers and ended up having a three-hour Bible study. She left to catch her bus with hugs and a copy of several books, including The Desire of Ages and The Great Controversy. Another young man told of how he had plucked up the courage to enter the cafe since he was no longer attending the Adventist church. After a long chat with two cafe staff, he left joyfully, saying that he wanted to return to church.
Adventist literature is abundantly visible and available to take freely from the cafe and from the Furphy Hut, which sits next to the footpath and houses an original 1871 Furphy galvanised iron water cart that provides free filtered and chilled water to all. Manna Haven is closed on Sabbaths, but between Sabbath School and the main service, members sometimes stand on the footpath and offer free water to passers-by and people waiting at the bus stop.
As a result, the church has been richly blessed with more than 10 cafe patrons visiting the church on Sabbath. They have two regular attendees who are having Bible studies. Dozens of pieces of literature, including The Desire of Ages and The Great Controversy, have been distributed, and the stories of how the Holy Spirit is working flow on.
One lady has Bible studies twice a week and afterwards rings her father in Europe to share all that she is learning. Another man had lengthy discussions with volunteers at the Furphy Hut and is now attending church every Sabbath. Another couple first learnt about the eight laws of health from a brochure at the cafe. They then took and read The Great Controversy and through other contacts, have been convicted to keep the Sabbath. They have also expressed interest in attending church. When their daughter visited from Canada, they took her to Manna Haven and she asked for a copy of The Great Controversy to take back home.
A young mum has returned home to Brazil after visiting the cafe many times. She attended the church on one occasion and was delighted to take back to Brazil copies of The Desire of Ages, The Great Controversy, a complete set of Bible studies and more. Two young tourists from South Korea attended church several times and took two sets of Bible studies with them. Another lady praised the Adventist Church for living what it believes in the health message and sharing with the community. She said that it was wonderful to see a church that was active in the community as this, she believed, was rare.
Manna Haven Cafe won the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2014 and 2015 and is currently listed as No. 1 out of 152 restaurants and cafes in Byron Bay on the TripAdvisor website. This blessing and the many personal stories of hearts touched and changed by the Holy Spirit are testament and witness to what God can do when vision, dedication and hard work, driven primarily by a desire to introduce others to Jesus, are placed in His hands. The Byron Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church has become the “other lighthouse” in town.
Please continue to pray for the Manna Haven ministry. To learn more, visit mannahaven.com.au or connect with them on Facebook.
Liliana Munoz attends Ringwood church in Victoria, and recently visited Manna Haven Cafe for the first time.
Bryce Wegener is chef and manager of Manna Haven and is intimately involved in and passionate about its mission.