Expanding the tent

Senior pastors Jan and Rod Kell with founding pastors Janne and Mike Cullen. Photo: John Borren.

A vision begun in the 90s is now reality with the opening of a new community centre in Judea.

From the purchase of the Sutherland Rd property in 1996, through considerable renovations and extensions to the existing building, and on to the recent completion of ‘Is54 – The Centre’, each step has been about faith, transformation and community.

Founding pastors Mike and Janne Cullen of the Abundant Life Community came to Tauranga in January 1981 with their two sons David and Jonathan, recently clocking more than 40 years here.

“We came from Auckland to be involved in a small church in Greerton. We were a part of that church for about 18 months, and then started Abundant Life in August 1982,” says Mike.

“In some ways it seems a long time, but you look back and it’s gone so quickly.”

As well as running a coffee lounge in Grey St for about seven years and meeting at the old Senior Citizen’s Club for about 15 years, one of the keys to the church’s early growth was Mike and Janne starting the ‘Word of Life Bible Study’ in early 1985.

“People from all over Tauranga came to that. We’ve run it consistently for 35 years until this year. In the beginning we had small groups and home groups where people met.”

They had previously worked at Scripture in Song with David and Dale Garrett for 10 years, learning a life of faith.

“Then the Lord led us out of that and into pastoring.”

Without a regular income, they stepped out in faith, believing that a $200,000 property they hadn’t yet seen was going to be provided for the new church. They came across the 1.56 hectares in Sutherland Rd, not believing their eyes, as Mike had had a dream about a restored barn full of light. On looking through the window of the existing ‘concrete bunker’ building on the property he discovered a Fergusson tractor and bales of hay inside.

“We knew it was ours, but they sold it to someone else. Then that deal fell through, we waited for the right time and ended up paying $200,000 net. Such a miracle.”

They opened the older auditorium in 1997, and in March 1998 had a ‘quick build’ of the office and youth centre over three weeks with up to 60 people at one time working at the site.

As well as church programmes, people come to the centre for Mainly Music, parenting programmes, ‘Keep On Your Feet’ – a Sports Bay of Plenty initiative, Golden Years 65+, children and youth programmes, and SOZO – a prayer ministry.

The new ‘Is54-The Centre’ auditorium, named for Isaiah 54: 2-3 is located at the back of the property with a view down the valley towards the Mount. Over the years the property has been transformed into a park.

The Isaiah reference is about expanding: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back, lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes,” and undergirds the vision of renewal and revival that Mike and Janne, and current senior pastors Rod and Jan Kell and their team have for their next growth phase.

“We knew we needed to build something that was bigger, to accommodate a lot more people that we know are coming,” says Mike.

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