It honestly feels like we’ve been working and campaigning to open the Lighthouse Cafe & Ministry Center for years. If you’ve followed along at all, you would know that’s not a feeling, that’s reality!
This fall it will be 3yrs since we purchased the property and started into this project. The building we purchased was not close to being functional. We had to gut it right down to re-pouring the concrete floor. We’ve spent over $40k in renovations, from new walls, utilities, a kitchen, heated tile flooring.. the list goes on.
Over the past 2yrs specifically, we’ve been pouring everything we can into creating something special for our town. Several of you have understood our heart to impact the Kingdom of God in this region. You’ve understood that this building represents more than Coffee and Pizza and you’ve responded by giving towards the effort as well.
We’ve had many set backs along the way. What would take only a few months in America (renovate and open a cafe) has taken now two years of pro-active effort, both in time and money. Why? I’d like to try and explain. For some of you an explanation isn’t necessary. You’ve come, you’ve tasted, you’ve experienced the culture and know exactly why it’s taking so long. For the others of you that haven’t had the privilege of visiting us yet….
4 Reasons the Cafe is not open yet:
Petty officials, layers, laws that don’t make any sense or contradict other laws. I don’t know the exact percentage of people that are employed by the government, but it’s a majority. Communism was successful in creating a lasting army of stampers. They sit in small dungeon like offices, stacks of paperwork cover their desks. People go in to these buildings only to come out with blank stares of bewilderment and dejection. There is no common sense and even worse, no desire for it among the government worker.
The primary ‘waiting’ time over the past 2yrs has been a bureaucratic one. Private property needed to re-zoned to business. This has taken a mountain of paperwork, dozens of trips, meetings, fees, contractors, architects. To try and expedite we’ve hired agencies that specialize in this, who in turn have had to hire other agencies, and down the rabbit hole we went. There’s always someone holding out on providing that stamp, without any motivation to help you – in fact it’s just the opposite. The fact that you are waiting, and they are needed ensures job security.. after all look at the line outside of their office.
The political climate here in Ukraine is dicy at best. We have a former Prime Minister being held in prison on charges of abuse of power and murder. She is convinced (as is the rest of the country) the charges are in retaliation by the current President who also spent time in the clinker. Ukraine wants to join the EU. Ukraine wants to remain loyal to Russia. Visa rules change regularly, tax regulations can turn on a dime.
The country is currently apathetic towards government. They tried a revolution, and in their words “democracy doesn’t work.” After all, the same thug is back in office after all their revolutionary efforts.
Ok, so what does that have to do with the Cafe? Well, we’ve had laws change on us during the process. This is quite frustrating. You research, find the right path to pursue, get 90% of the way there, and then find out the rules changed, the fees increased, and your current documents are no longer valid. This has added to the already daunting task of opening a private enterprise in Ukraine.
[fi-nans, fahy-nans] noun
It’s been tough to invest so much into the physical property and not see it functioning. I can’t imaging if we had bank loans hanging over our heads. You’d have to close your business before you ever had the chance to open your doors. In fact, that’s happened to people I know here. They simply can’t hold on long enough, at some point you need to make money to keep a place open.
We’ve been paying electric bills, internet, and gas (before it was shut off) without any income. We’ve been chipping away the continually land, government, tax ‘bills’ we get. Some have been expected, others a surprise. Contrary to popular local belief (as the foreigners), we’ve not had an unlimited supply of cash. We’ve used our church support, savings, and a handful of donations from family and friends to keep the process going.
There have been weeks at a time where we’ve been looking at a $1,000 cost to proceed on something. We’ve prayed and committed the timing and progress to God. Sometimes we’ve mentioned them on facebook, on our blog or to our home church. Sometimes we’ve just waited in prayer. It has been amazing to see the Lord provide, and really encouraging to show our kids that when you step out in faith, and are patient, good things happen.
I hesitate to use this word, because I don’t want to offend my Ukrainian nationalist friends. I also don’t want to give the impression that everyone we’ve dealt with has been corrupt. In fact, many of the people we have worked with, from Utility workers, to people Natasha (my assistant) has visited regularly to get stamps have been honest hard working people.
However, the system is corrupt. Inside that corrupt system, where no checks and balances exists, there are those somewhere at the top getting the cash. The charges we are paying to do things ‘legally’ I’m convinced aren’t making their way back to the roads, the hospitals, the schools like they would in a western country. They are lining pockets, and often of the ones you never see. It’s this over-arching corruption and distrust of the system that keeps investors out of Ukraine by the droves. Sure a few have ventured inside and giving it a go, but Ukraine continually ranks at the very bottom of the corruption index for business.
Essentially when an investor decides to start a business, the system goes to work to help you unload your money. It does not understand that private business creates jobs, improves quality of life, produces competition and in turn better products. They only see the immediate cash grab. The lack of competition means you have only one gas company, only one electric option.. and no motivation to serve the public or charge consistent, or reasonable rates.
In the end, the Cafe by God’s grace will open. We’re aiming for June, we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Crossroads (our home church) just infused another $3,000 towards documents that are keeping us from opening. That will help us open with Coffee. The hope is that by August/Sept we can have a grand opening. We also just found out that someone has donated the deck (wood for it) out front!
To open this fall with Pizza and heat, we need our gas turned on. We’ve been waiting 5 months for them to tell us how much it will be. They’ve replied last week with $4,000. This is not a negotiation, it’s calculated based on a series of things that would take a while to explain. So we need still $4,000, but have determined to try and open without gas, figure out the coffee part of the business and get some income coming in so we can pay a few employees and the current bills.
In the meantime this past month we renovated one of the upstairs offices and it’s finished. We will hire a couple programmers locally sometime this month, in an attempt to add some horsepower to our Cypress web company in Texas. Lord willing that will help generate some added income for the facility bills as well. The property and building has been used the past few months for weekly worship practice, ladies meetings, a birthday party, men’s breakfasts, and this Friday a ministry centered yard sale.
Ok, have more to write on other topics but I need to stop. If you made it this far, thanks! We appreciate your prayer and support. I find myself dreaming 2-3 yrs ahead all of the time, I already see this place running, I see discipleship taking place on the 2nd floor naturally and in a structured setting, I see some businesses getting established, I see Jesus Christ changing lives forever. We have to walk by faith, not by sight. No truer has this been for me personally than during this project, in our new country.
Bruce & Deb