Chapter 1: As We Begin

Reaching This Generation Through Principles From The Book of Acts

As We Begin…..


1It was first a “Pirates of the Caribbean” stronghold in the 1600’s, a base for the attacks on the “Spanish Main”. In the 1700’s it became an English colony, along with the neighboring islands of Roatan and Guanaja.  In 1869, The United Kingdom ceded this island Utila, along with the other “Bay Islands” and the Miskito Coast to the Latino government of Honduras due to pressure from the United States and in an effort to garner support for it colony in “British Honduras” (Belize).

Until the 1980’s, Utila remained distinctly English in culture and character. It was during this time that foreigners began to discover the incredible underwater scenery of the Bay Islands.  Scuba tourism began to grow, and flourish, and with it the interest of the Honduran government to control and profit from this “resource”.  Utila remained the least developed of the three Bay Islands, and in the early 1990’s most homes along “Main Street” had their latrines at the end of their docks.

Backpackers flocked to Utila for scuba diving, and general “hanging out”. Young people from Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, and the United States were welcomed to Utila, and many stayed for extended periods.  Dive shops and schools sprang up, and soon, Utila was known throughout the world as one of the best and least expensive places to get a diver certification.

2Typical travelers to Utila are adventurous, educated, and open to conversation and friendships. In the course of a week on the island, it is not unusual to become friends with an Israeli doctor, German electrical engineer, Polish archeologist, Swedish chef, Austrian circus performer, Canadian swim coach, Argentinean bar tender, Australian ship captain, English intensive care nurse, American school teacher, Russian mechanical engineer, English drywall/plasterer, Russian film student,  along with the assorted Italian, Swiss, Canadian, Spanish, Argentine, American, German,  Australian and Utilian dive instructors that inhabit the island.

By the way, this is an actual list of some of the people we met in March of 2010.

Most of these people are searching for something other than the normal life that our societies have to offer.  As one of our Swedish friends put it:  “My dad wants me to come back and buy the house and Volvo and settle down, but I’m not ready for that.”  He was the chef at the Laguna Beach Resort and onboard the dive ship “Aggressor II”.  He is also a pretty good guitar player.  The “normal life” of materialism and security is not on his set list. His attitude is typical of the people who come to Utila.

We who call ourselves “Christian” have what they are looking for- our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Creator of this world.  For some, this will come as a surprise, as many have been turned off by the religious atmosphere of their home countries where others who call themselves “Christian” have created some incredible misunderstandings of what Christianity actually is.  The religious behavior of these “Christians” has caused many to think of God as the ultimate “Cosmic Kill-Joy”. They conclude:  “Christians obviously cannot have any fun in life.  God is not a friendly guy”.  This next generation has had it with lists of religious rules, and hypocritical behavior.  Many of these attitudes come from a misunderstanding of who God actually is.

3European attitudes toward God have been affected by the two world wars (1914-1918 & 1939-1945) that destroyed much of the continent.  In World War I both sides thought that God was on their side. In that war millions of soldiers were killed and more wounded, mostly due to the introduction of mass killing weapons like the machine gun and heavy artillery cannon.  One out of every four Englishmen between the ages of 20 and 30 either died or were wounded in that conflict. This experience gave rise to the Existentialist Movement of the mid 20th Century where authors like Jean Paul Satre, Herman Hesse, Andre Gide, Samuel Beckett, and Albert Camus proposed the thesis that God did not exist, or at least He did not care, and humans had only themselves as judges of their own behavior. The events and slaughter of World War II only confirmed this “hypothesis”.

Surprisingly to me, most Israelis are secular, not thinking anything of God. This became apparent to me one day at the El Dan Rent A Car office in Jerusalem in a conversation with Doreen, who had helped us at the office a few times previously. She asked why we kept coming back to Israel.  “To study archeology and learn about God” was my reply. Doreen said simply: “We don’t think much about God”.  In my conversations with Israelis over the years, I have discovered that the Holocaust of Nazi Germany, where over 6 million Jews died, is partially responsible for this attitude.  Many have asked me “If God exists, why did he allow so many to die in the concentration camps ?”

This generation of Americans and Australians are the product of parents who grew up in the 60’s & 70’s in a society that rejected many of the Christian values of previous generations. Much of this was due to the hypocritical behavior of “Christians” who did attend church on Sunday, but lived their lives according to their own values and desires Monday thru Saturday. All of these factors lead to the view that either God is not there, or he is not somebody that they want to associate with.

This is not the God we all know. It is good to remind ourselves, as the writer of Psalm 103 often did that God is indeed someone to have as the center of our lives:

Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forget the good things he does for me.

 He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He ransoms me from death and surrounds me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!  The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.  He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. 

The Lord is merciful and gracious; he is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He has not punished us for all our sins, nor does he deal with us as we deserve.  For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west.

 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust.
Psalm 103:2-14

This God is Somebody! He is worth knowing! However this is not the God that most of our new friends at the Rio Coco Café know about.  They know the one who is angry, and who is ready to punish them, or the other one who just doesn’t care about mankind.  We realize, like King David, that there are many benefits to living with God in our lives.  He has been the source of all good things in this life. In fact we have come to the conclusion that life without a relationship with our Creator is difficult and pointless. He is the only source of peace and satisfaction.

Laura and I first visited Utila in 1989. We lived in La Ceiba at that time, and it was only a 15 minute flight over to the island in our 1953 Piper Pacer. We would take a watermelon and some drinks, land at the airstrip on the south point, and spend the day at one of the many coves on the east side. Eventually we became friends with some of the “natives”. One of the first was Gunter, a ski racer from Austria who had moved to Utila in the early 1980’s. Over the next few years, we began to realize that Utila was a place to plant a relationally driven church.  In 1996, we invited one of our youth pastors from our church on Maui to come and strategize with us. We did spend a few weeks together on the island, and it seemed like God was giving us all the green lights. We continued listening.

It was the following year that we made our first trip to Israel, taking three our Miskito leaders of our school project along the Rio Coco. On that first trip, Dr Randall Smith was our teacher and guide, and we became friends. In 1999, we spent July thru September living in Jerusalem, working with Randy.  We returned again in 2000, when we began a relief ministry out of Randy’s garage helping Arab Christian families in Bethlehem and Bet Jala who were adversely affected by the Intifada that began that fall. Over the next two years, we helped many families and elderly with food and medicine. In the process of spending time with one of the most renown Bible teachers in Israel, we learned much about the cultural background of the Bible.

4In 2002, we travelled to Europe with our dear friends Craig and Kathy Englert, who are the pastors of Hope Chapel Maui. We met in Switzerland, and took the train to Spain. One day we found ourselves sitting in the cathedral in Toledo, the ancient capital of Spain. This glorious church was built in the 13th century and for centuries was the center of much spiritual activity.  Today it ismostly a museum, where tourists come to see the El Greco painting.  You can see the steeple of this cathedral in this photo behind Laura, Kathy & Craig as we walk down the Calle Principal of Toledo.

We sat in the church for a while, admiring the stained glass windows, and graceful Gothic arches and columns, noticing the absence of Toledo locals. There was a definite disinterest in Christianity in Europe that we had noticed, and spoken about. Finally I asked Craig what he would do if he had this church property. “Have a worship band playing, have a table for coffee, and have a prayer team for anyone needing prayer”. Craig is the master of relational discipleship, and has personally discipled thousands of new believers (including me!). We began praying for God to fill this magnificent cathedral with His People, and that His Spirit would move in a powerful manner once again in Europe.

At the end of the prayer, I added: And Lord, please somehow use us to accomplish this.” I felt the strange sensation as those words left my lips that somehow something significant had just been spoken.

In 2006 and 2007, we returned to Israel again, and one of our new friends was an Arab bus driver named Mohammed.  He was a very nice guy who had three kids and wife he adored.  As we went into the various sites, Mohammed would read his Quran and sip coffee that he made on his portable gas stove. One morning I made a press of coffee and brought it on the bus for him.  He smiled.  I did it again the next day, and again. More smiles.

5One day we were at Lachish, a site southwest of Jerusalem. As we all headed up the hill with Randy, I had a sudden inspiration.  I returned to the bus and ask Mohammed if he could take out his stove  and heat us some water for my French Press.  We sat under the trees and enjoyed a good cup of Nica Dark that day. A few days later, we were at the Church of Engali Cantu in Jerusalem, and I asked him to heat some more water. As I poured him a cup of Rio Coco Bean coffee, he lifted it and said to me: “Mike, this is the Friendship Drink!” He was right.  We had become friends.  That day we talked about our families, our faith, and Israeli- Palestinian politics. Mohammed is a good man!

A year later, our family spent the month of July 2008 on Utila.  Laura, Mikaela, Lukas, and Arielle took the PADI Open Water Diver course at Utila Watersports, and received their certification. Their instructors and dive masters were from England, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United States. At the time, Utila Watersports offered dive courses in 12 languages! Here we are with Andrea Dean, our chemical engineer turned dive instructor from Canada.

The manager of the dive shop was a German lady named Marion.  She was probably in her 30’s, but her lifestyle had added more years to her appearance.  She was covered in tattoos, and some were “scary” (as my kids described it). Marion didn’t say much to the Bagby Family as we geared up each morning, and sat around talking in the afternoon after the dives. I could tell that she was paying attention to our interactions and conversations. She knew that we were Christians, and were “missionaries”. To see six of us having so much fun and relating well intrigued her.

6One afternoon, Marion was sitting at the picnic table alone reading. As I walked by, I had a sudden inspiration.  I stopped and asked: “Marion, where can I get a good cup of coffee here on Utila?”

Surprised, she looked at me and in her German way said “Mike, there is no good coffee on this island.”

I returned to our apartment, and heated some water, and ground some Rio Coco Beans Nicaraguan coffee, and made a French Press brew.  I took a cup, and walked across the street.  Marion was still sitting at the table.  I set the cup in front of her, and filled it with this very aromatic brew. “Here is your cup of good coffee Marion.”

She had a puzzled look at me and then the cup, and then took a taste. A big smile broke out on her face.  It was the moment that Marion and Mike became friends.

It was The defining moment of the Rio Coco Café ministry.

7God gave us a vision for beginning a work on Utila in 1996. Then He took us to Israel in 1997, 1999, 2000, & 2001 to learn the cultural background to the Bible, and how to teach the Bible in the post Christian cultural setting of Europe and America. When we began our Rio Coco Beans coffee business in 2004, we thought that it was just a fundraising effort for our school project in Nicaragua.  It was that but more!  God also gave us a tool to reach out to the hearts of many.

In the summer of 2011 we launched the Rio Coco Café on Utila. It was an incredible adventure to build out the property, and set up the coffee service.  It was more incredible to meet so many who came for coffee and friendship.

Although we didn’t have it planned, circumstances required that we move our coffee roaster from the warehouse in Vero Beach we had been in since 2009. We found a space near the airport, which we could use for the second Rio Coco Café, which opened in December.

8Many of our customers are European flight students at Flight Safety Academy, just a few hundred yards away. It is the same crowd that comes to the Utila café! At this time of writing, it appears that there will be more in this next season.

We have been given an incredible strategy to reach many who would never darken the door of any of our churches.  They will come for good coffee, and friendship. We serve a cup of life, and this is contained within a good cup of coffee that opens the door to relationships that will help many find their eternal destiny.

Mohammed was right! It is the Friendship Drink!