The hottest cafe in Redfern doing ministry

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Café at the Way volunteer Tori Karraz making free hot drinks for the community.

Redfern Adventist Community Centre (RACC) is living its vision of service and empowerment by connecting with a diverse community. Located next to the hustle and bustle of Sydney’s CBD, RACC is passionate about being the hands and feet of Jesus in the local community.

Centre manager and lead pastor of RACC, Bernard Deojee, set an audacious goal at the beginning of the year: to be friends with all the neighbouring businesses by June 2019. By March, he says that RACC had already connected with most of them. “I refuse to be a church who, if we leave, no-one will know who we are. . . We want to be intentional about relationships and immerse ourselves in the community, not be detached from them.”

Given the diverse cultural and socio-economic demographic of Redfern, this is no small achievement. While homeless and disadvantaged people line up for free meals and food parcels at RACC, some residents complain to the council that loitering is bringing housing prices down in the local area.

“On one side of the road, there’s a boutique that sells kimonos for $A600, and on the other, there’s Housing Commission. The council hasn’t made it easy for us, we’re not allowed to ‘loiter outside’,” said Pastor Deojee.

A big part of RACC’s success has been opening a free café called Café at the Way from the centre during the week, made possible by a team of dedicated volunteers.

"On one side of the road, there's a boutique that sells kimonos for $A600, and on the other, there's Housing Commission.""

“People can come and have a chat, vent, have a hot beverage on us, and experience hope and goodness despite their circumstances,” Pastor Deojee said. “We’ve even delivered free hot drinks to businesses up the road.”

Café at the Way volunteer Tori Karraz loves being involved with RACC’s café ministry.

“[Hot drinks] are a luxury many can’t afford . . . we are giving people who are used to having the bare minimum a little bit extra,” Tori said. “As someone who naturally enjoys building relationships, I believe God has called me to work at the café. It’s restored my belief that there’s goodness in the world.”

One hot drink recipient, Saanya Narang, was walking by the centre and ended up chatting with volunteers for 45 minutes. Inspired by RACC’s ministry, she now manages the café’s Instagram page, @cafeattheway. Pastor Deojee says he is amazed by how God keeps sending people to grow the ministry.

Alongside their community café, the church also runs a community kitchen, cooking classes and a “Technology for Communities” program that aims to upskill disadvantaged community members. This is only made possible by local business partnerships and RACC’s volunteers.

The community kitchen runs on Monday evenings, where volunteers cook meals and distribute food parcels to those in need. This is made possible by RACC’s partnership with OzHarvest, who deliver trays of leftover food that go unused by businesses and shops.

RACC volunteer Betty Pesto runs community cooking classes throughout the week, using the ingredients found in the food parcels, to teach people how to make simple, healthy recipes like stew, curries and tacos.

Community partnerships are vital to RACC’s ministry. Having worked previously at Salvation Army’s Territorial HQ up the road, and at St Vincent de Paul as an emergency crisis manager, Pastor Deojee understands the Redfern community well. “I am convinced that we serve an Alpha and Omega God because I can tap into resources and experience that others don’t have. If we can’t help someone in an emergency situation, I know I can send them to Vinnies or the Salvos up the road.”

RACC volunteer Betty (centre) hosting cooking classes for community members.

Looking forward, RACC plans to partner with Western Sydney University’s psychology department to run a student-run counselling clinic from the centre. Offering free counselling has been a dream of RACC’s for quite some time.

“Renting spaces is expensive in the city, so I hope to take advantage of that. I can offer them a free space in exchange for counselling services,” Pastor Deojee said.

RACC’s connection with Vinnies has helped make this dream a reality. Being forced to close their counselling services at the end of May due to lack of funding, Vinnies have offered their client base to RACC.

“They were closing at the end of May, and we were planning to begin our counselling service at the beginning of June,” said Pastor Deojee. “It’s too much to just be a coincidence! God is active and working!”

Different to most Adventist churches, RACC is open every day during the week and has a unique church service. Up to 50 community members attend church every Sabbath, seeking support for struggles like alcohol and drug addiction, homelessness, food security, prison and rehabilitation.

“We take children out of the room [when discussing adult stuff]. . . the stuff we deal with is real. Sometimes visitors are confronted by how we do church . . . [but] I know the Spirit is here, and that if I’m doing something wrong, the Holy Spirit will tell me. I can rest on my pillow at night with peace,” said Pastor Deojee.

RACC also hopes to run programs like art classes, and health and fitness classes throughout the week, and to rent out their centre to community groups in order to accumulate some funding that they can then channel back into their ministry.

“At the moment, our biggest barrier to growth is a lack of space and funds, but also pastoral availability. We need more volunteers,” Pastor Deojee said.

While RACC would love to run their café every day, it’s currently only open Tuesday to Thursday 9:30–12:30.

“We work around our volunteers’ schedules,” says Pastor Deojee. “The problem is that, legally, a centre manager must be here for our doors to be open and I’m the only one in that position. As associate pastor of Echo Community Church as well, I just can’t be here all the time.”

Pastor Deojee hopes to train individuals to help manage the centre, so that RACC’s ministry can grow. He also offers barista training to anyone willing to volunteer at the café during the week.

RACC’s team of passionate volunteers works hard to minister to the physical and emotional needs of the community. Despite having limited resources, by showing love to the local community, they are making waves of change.

“I came into the Church from outside,” says Pastor Deojee, “and my call to ministry is to empower Adventists to go back out into the community. God bringing me here is the best place it could happen. I thank the Lord that He has given me a team that also sees that vision.”