In a previous post I briefly mentioned a project that my wife, Jasmine, and I have been overseeing for much of the past year: the setting up of a multicultural marketplace and community gathering center that we’re calling St. Paul Cultural Village. This vision came out of our volunteer work with International Village, a nearby storefront ministry and resource center that is impacting the lives of Somali, Bhutanese, and Karen refugees. We saw the need for people in these communities to be given platforms where they can make a living, and display and maintain their culture. Some had previously run small businesses in their countries of origin (Somalia, Bhutan, and Myanmar), but had lost nearly everything when civil war and other tragic circumstances caused them to become refugees.
One of the reasons I haven’t posted much at this site over the last six months or so is that I’ve been very busy working on this project, while also holding down two jobs. There have been a few joyous occasions during this journey, but overall it’s been a very difficult and even painful one. It’s only by the grace of God that we’ve been able to persevere and keep pushing forward with this project in the face of many barriers, disappointments, being lied to and taken advantage of, delays (from more than one source), and local government red tape. Yet we do believe that God has called us to see this place take shape and carry on for His glory, and we’re holding on as long as we can for a real breakthrough. We’d appreciate your prayers.
I’d like to share a video from a gathering at our location 10 days ago, along with some pictures that will give a glimpse into what is taking shape at St. Paul Cultural Village. A number of us gathered together on Valentine’s Day, and we were a nice mix of Karen refugees, Bhutanese refugees, and Americans. After the Bhutanese had left, Bwet, a Karen brother from Myanmar, played his guitar and led us in the song, “Where You Go I’ll Go,” by Kim Walker (Jesus Culture):
For the last couple weeks, we’ve been opening our doors every Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday from 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Members of the public are free to bring in their laptops or other devices, and access the internet for free (we have plenty of outlets available). We also have Keurig-brewed coffee (and tea or apple cider) available on a “donations are welcome, but not required” basis. Some have also taken the opportunity during this time to walk through our building and see what’s happening and what’s available.
The space shown in the pictures above is also available to rent for meetings, parties, discussion groups, seminars, and more. We also have 12 market stalls available for small business owners. This opportunity was initially created for people in the refugee communities, but we have found that only a few individuals are ready, and this opportunity is now open to anyone. Here are a few pictures of our market stalls (taken about a month ago):
As shown here, our neighborhood is very diverse. Out of about 20,000 people surrounding our location, 34% are Asian, 30% are Caucasian, 19% are African-American or African, and 11% are Hispanic. To learn more about some of the refugee communities in this part of Minnesota, please see the videos on these pages: Karen refugees, Somali refugees, and Bhutanese refugees.