Byron Bay, on the far north coast of New South Wales, Australia, is the most easterly point of the country’s mainland. A popular holiday destination, it is known for beautiful hinterland and beaches, surfing and scuba diving sites, and art and music festivals.
One of its most famous and oft-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.
In Search of a Relevant Church
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 substantial 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, along with open 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 became 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 significant advantage — it was on a major road, across from a large supermarket and stores, and had a bus stop on its doorstep. So the church members offered what they had in their hands to God, and Manna Haven Café was born.
Manna Haven Café
The not-for-profit cafe is a purpose-built extension of the local Adventist church and blends in seamlessly with the church building. The entire project was made possible through the generous donations of church members in labor and money, and God is 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.”
An Open and Inviting Church
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.
One woman who was visiting the cafe on her last day in Byron Bay got to 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 feeling joyful, 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 galvanized iron water cart that provides free filtered and chilled water to all. Manna Haven is closed on Saturday (Sabbath), but between Sabbath School study time and the main church service on Saturday morning, members sometimes stand on the footpath and offer free water to passers-by and people waiting at the bus stop.
A Church Blessed
As a result, the church has been richly blessed with more than ten 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 woman has had Bible studies twice a week and afterward calls 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 Saturday (Sabbath). Another couple first learned about the eight laws of health from a brochure at the cafe. They then took and read a copy of The Great Controversy and, through other contacts, have been convicted to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. They have also expressed interest in attending church. When the couple’s daughter visited from Canada, they took her to Manna Haven Café, and she asked for a copy of The Great Controversy to take back home.
A young mother 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 woman 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 Café won the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2014 and 2015 and is currently listed as number 1 out of 130 restaurants 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.
For more information, visit www.mannahaven.com.au.