Jul 22, 2012

Refuge

God is doing amazing things through this man, and I'm proud to be his daughter.


FRONT PAGE of the Clipper in today's Virginian-Pilot...
(The Refuge is located beside the FleaMarket at SoNo in Southgate) ~Vicki~ 

AN ALTERNATIVE CONGREGATION
Youth pastor building new venue for flockBy Katie MoritzThe Virginian-Pilot SOUTH NORFOLK

With the help of donated time and materials, and a leader on a mission, Chesapeake’s “un-church” for youth could be moving on up from a trailer to a newly renovated coffee house-inspired space.
Eight years ago, Pastor Mike Os-born started what would morph into the Refuge, a relaxed place for young people to learn and talk about God. It doubles as a drug- and alcohol-free music venue. When Osborn’s son, Matt, was in high school, he played in bars with his “screamo” band, but his friends were too young to come inside to watch. The Refuge solved this problem, Osborn said.

The church now has a following of about 75 people, ages 16 to 27. The average age of Osborn’s “congregation” is 22. “We’re becoming a really cool family,” said Osborn, or “P. Mike,” as his kids call him.
He has a young, committed following. But now he needs a place to house them. Since January, the Refuge has held its Thursday meetings in a trailer behind its parent church, Chesapeake’s Harvest Assembly of God on Kempsville Road. 

Before that, the Refuge operated out of Virginia Beach for a few months, until real estate issues arose and the group had to vacate the building.But the Refuge might soon have a new, hip, permanent home in a Chesapeake strip mall on Bainbridge Boulevard. The almost 12,000-squarefoot space, which is undergoing renovations, is reminiscent of a warehouse with large, open rooms. The worship area will be set up like a coffee shop, fitted with diner-style tables and booths instead of pews. The area will also have a bar with snacks and drinks and a small stage to showcase bands that play the venue. Supportive people and companies have been donating money and supplies, such as toilets, sinks and railings.
With their own hands Osborn has spent 30 hours per week since February fixing up the space, which is slated to be opened in September. So far, the church has spent $80,000 on renovations and needs $200,000 more to finish the project. The Refuge would accept any donations of money or supplies.“When I tell someone I built a church, no, I mean I built a church,” Osborn said. “I put up the walls.” Refuge kids have put in time as well, mixing concrete and laying bricks. 

Josh Hallers, 21, who has been attending the Refuge for two years, said there’s a sense of pride in knowing he had a part in the church’s development.“It makes me feel good that I’m part of something bigger than myself,” he said. “I put my stamp on this place because I helped build it from the ground up.”Hallers found the Refuge after bouncing from church to church and not feeling welcomed.“I have tattoos on my arms and when I go into other churches older people look at me funny,” Hallers said. “(Pastor Mike) makes a good environment for younger kids who feel like social outcasts. It’s a family full of misfits and we get together to worship God.” Osborn helped Hallers “turn my life around in the past year,” he said.“Me and my girlfriend had broken up and I took it to heart,” Hallers said. “I would do some rough stuff and do things I shouldn’t be doing. Pastor Mike sat me down and talked me through a lot of stuff, and just prayed for me. I feel like he was sent to me from God.” Hallers was especially surprised Osborn was understanding and welcoming of his almost-2-year-old daughter. He said he expected to be judged for being an unwed father, but was met with nothing but open arms by Osborn,“Pastor Mike is a wonderful guy,” he said. “He’s one of those few people I would trust with my life.”

In the beginningIt all started with what Osborn thought was the end. In 2004, Osborn had had enough. Sick of feeling like he needed to please everyone, he felt distanced from God and was suicidal. In 2005, he went on a three-month sabbatical to clear his head. “There’s a saying at Harvest: ‘Pastor Mike left in 2005 and never came back,’” Osborn said, smiling. “God began to restore things. All the pressure left; I wasn’t tense, and I was a lot more fun to be around.” He realized he didn’t need to put a lot of pressure on himself to make God happy.It was this epiphany that led to the beginning of what Osborn said is his true calling: the Refuge. He wanted his church to be a safe haven for people who felt disconnected from church life. He got the idea from the Bible’s “Refuge cities.” “If you committed a crime and could get to one of these cities before you got caught, even though you had a guilty past, you could start a fresh life,” Osborn said. “That’s what the Refuge is. You just feel good and clean when you come out of it.”

Osborn started his life in Hampton Roads in the Navy in 1984. A father of three, he stayed in the military for 10 years before starting a church with five members.Osborn said working with youth is different and exciting.“I really connect with fun church people who don’t have a faith background,” Osborn said. “The youth culture, they’re OK with change. They’re willing to try something unique and different. They’re just real, and I like it.”During his sabbatical, a Bible verse inspired him to continue his journey: “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.”Osborn will never forget those guiding words: His children bought him a tattoo of the verse for his birthday last year.With growth in store for the Refuge, Osborn said he’s never felt more fulfilled.“I wake up so full of life, so happy, so blessed to do what I do,” he said. “The fact that I get paid to do this stuff, it blows me away.”

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