On the cusp of the 20th century, Ellen White called for dedicated workers to open centers of influence in the cities, which included hygienic restaurants (now known as vegan or plant-based restaurants), where they could teach and model health reform, “the Lord’s means for lessening suffering in our world and for purifying His church,” and where workers could “act as God’s helping hand by co-operating with the Master Worker in restoring physical and spiritual health.”—Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 112.
These centers, most of them plant-based restaurants, are popping up in the Atlantic Union, with the number—though still small—more than doubling in the last five years. If you were to tour the Atlantic Union from New York to Maine, sampling your way from one tasty vegan enclave to another, you would find a diverse palette of flavors, from Jamaican cuisine to Indian food, from down-home, old-fashioned fare like mac-n-cheese and pot pie, to trendy kale salad and BBQ jackfruit grilled cheese. But one flavor is central to all—each restaurant exudes the savor of Christ and His passion for the lost. And as diverse as the menus are, the stories demonstrate how God is bringing a 100-year-old vision for centers of influence into reality.
God transformed Hulando Shaw’s catering health ministry, Real Veggie Café, into a center of influence when his tasty and creative plantain dish failed to secure first place in a cooking competition. One of the organizers, who thought Shaw should have won, offered him a small restaurant to rent in Island Park, New York, with all food service equipment included. “It was Divine intervention, because we started up with absolutely no money down,” says Shaw.
God also blessed Victor and Nicole Broushet of The Vegan Nest, a catering and speaking health ministry, with a venue when the city business development manager of Worcester, Massachusetts, suggested they open a restaurant there, and personally found a venue for them, which met their specifications exactly. This was their opportunity to open a center of influence and begin full-time ministry.
Ivan Raj and Heidi Tompkins of Heidi’s Health Kitchen, also a health ministry that caters, wanted to start a pop-up restaurant, but had difficulty finding a venue in a convenient location whose owners would allow them to bring in a plant-based menu and share literature. They prayed fervently, and God gave Raj a dream, telling him to ask Jack Jack’s Coffee House in Babylon, New York. The owner consented, and they’ve been serving a plant-based menu and sharing literature there one Sunday a month since 2016.
The same God that initiates ministry, sustains and provides for its development. When Michael and Sonya Tardif started Taste of Eden Café in Maine, they met their first winter with no funds to pay for heat. They prayed, “Lord, if You want us to continue, You have to do something.” God answered with miracles. They watched the gauge on their oil tank slowly move toward full and the electric bill drop from $100s to $12 per month, where it stayed for six years. The electric company confirmed that, no, nothing was wrong with the meter. Later, they found an unexplained roll of cash in the cash drawer, the exact amount needed to begin the application process for non-profit status for the health education branch of their ministry.
Fueled with blessings and indications of God’s approval, these centers, in turn, bless their communities. In addition to offering a healthy, plant-based menu, many of these centers host health classes and vegan cooking classes, either in their restaurant or store, in a local Adventist church, or even in the local library. Faith Crooker, who runs Farm Fresh Café in Brunswick, Maine, also operates Omega Wellness Center, offering healthy living and cooking classes. Together with Mary Penner of Therapia, they offer ozone treatments, ionic foot baths, and other alternative and wholistic treatments.
Even those restaurants and stores without an accompanying treatment center share simple health remedies and natural treatments one-on-one. Peggy Shauffler, who runs Country Life Restaurant in New Hampshire, is passionate about sharing health information individually with her customers. In fact, she says, “My number one goal is to educate, not to feed people.” One customer, emaciated with Lyme disease, left with Shauffler’s well-researched information, and returned months later, so healthy that she was unrecognizable, thanks to Shauffler’s help.
The daily nature of a restaurant or a store, opened three to six days a week—as opposed to once-a-week church service, and once- or twice-a-year health fair or evangelistic series—and offering food, which all humans need every day, allow the missionaries to develop relationships with those in the community. Lance Wilbur, a veteran trainer of colporteurs and Bible workers, and founder of Pulse Café in Massachusetts, says, “We have four to five thousand people pass through our restaurant every month. That’s more than a team of Bible workers or literature evangelists could contact in a year!”
Every center has stories of sharing literature and sitting down with a regular customer to share an answer from the Bible. At Eden Life Market and Café, operated by the St. Juste family in upstate New York, one customer comes in for food once a week and asks an occasional Bible question. He said, “I don’t go to church. I don’t believe in religion. But when I come here I feel like I’m coming to church! If there were a church I would join, it would be the Adventists!”
The commonly asked question, “Why aren’t you open on Saturday?” never fails to provide the opportunity to share the beauty of the Sabbath with a curious customer. The Olive Branch Café in Maine actually holds Sabbath worship services in the itself. Those who dine there during the week and attend health classes in the evening are invited to try out worship and Bible study in the same location on Sabbath morning. They now have a robust group of more than 70 worshiping there every week.
Many of the centers work in harmony with the local Adventist church, passing along Bible studies and sharing interest lists, or just bringing their customers to church. Because of this union, Pulse Café has had in progress up to 30 Bible studies, conducted an evangelistic series, and witnessed four baptisms since they opened two years ago.
This is just a snapshot of how centers of influence in the Atlantic Union are impacting our region. Yet all their efforts, seen and unseen, are not enough to meet the needs in our communities and share Christ with everyone.
Gideon and Kerene Gurley, who both hold down full-time jobs in addition to ministry, operate a health and book store, Rays of Health and Happiness, in New Haven, Connecticut, with a treatment room in the back and a small space for health lectures. They can hardly find time to respond to all the needs and interests they find in their community.
Hulando Shaw of Real Veggie Café in New York, says, “One person can’t do it!” He notes that there is no Adventist presence between his center and Rosedale in Queens, New York. Michael Tardif in Maine says, “We need more!” If Maine needs more centers of influence, what about vast and influential New York City, teeming with people, where there are no centers of influence at all! The restaurant that Stephen Haskell and his team started in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century has long since closed. The Country Life Restaurants and others that once dotted the streets of that great city have also shut down. Boston, Hartford, Providence, and many other large metropolitan areas also completely lack centers of influence.
God calls lay people, church leaders, pastors, conference, and union administrators, those with great financial means and those who know how to give sacrificially, those with the passion to pray, and willing people with gifts and skills of every variety to revive this work. What will you do? Let this great need stir your heart. Answer God’s call with a “Yes! Here I am, Lord; send me.” Be part of the miracles and blessings.
“Let forces be set at work to clear new ground, to establish new centers of influence wherever an opening can be found. Rally workers who possess true missionary zeal, and let them go forth to diffuse light and knowledge far and near”—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 117.