Where We Began
What has God called the church to do? In general, does the church in America resemble what we find in the New Testament? How do the people outside the church view Christians, Christianity and the Church today? Why is that so? Jesus told his disciples to “Go” into all the world and share the good news. Why is it that the Church today seems to expect the world to come to us? Did Jesus really mean it when he said “whatever you have done for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it to me”?
In early 2007 God joined the hearts of two families who were asking some of these very questions. Because of a belief that the church should be about community and relationships we began with a small group of people fellowshipping around a grill in a backyard. Those fellowships led to Bible studies where the core of Journey Church (now Emmaus) was formed. It didn’t take long before there were twenty kids running around and we had outgrown the setting of a home.
From our homes, we moved to clubhouses. We had reserved places for three weeks, but after that, we didn’t know what we would do. So we began to pray, “Jesus, You said that You would build Your church and the gates of Hades would not overcome it. Lord, Your church needs a home …” And, God answered those prayers in short order!
The First Miracle
Through a God ordained appointment we met a man who told us a story that we could hardly believe. This man who was a follower of Christ and a businessman here in Jacksonville, shared that God had given him a recurring dream. In this dream, God told him to build a space that would be used as a place of worship and ministry to advance the Kingdom here in Jacksonville. Out of obedience, he did just that. He had just completed and dedicated the small auditorium when we met him in March 2007.
Words cannot describe what we felt when we walked into the room. Upon seeing the space and hearing his vision for the rest of the building, which had yet to be completed, the comment was made “I think you may have just built a space for our church” to which he replied “No, I think God did because He told me to do it.” Should we be surprised? Jesus did say that He would build His church…
Although it appeared obvious that God had arranged this meeting and provided the place, there was one lingering question. How would a small group of people who had yet to even collect an offering, pay for a facility? Once again it was time to pray. We were sitting in the auditorium praying, asking God for wisdom, when our new friend walked in. He was coming to let us know that he was going to try to reduce the cost of the facility as much as possible. Although this was an answer to prayer, the real answer was yet to come.
Even with the cost reduced, the facility was still going to stretch us beyond our comfort level. This man then went on to tell us about the International Learning Center, a ministry that had an interest in leasing space also but simply couldn’t afford it. It just so happens that the director, Kim Carr, was scheduled to be at the building in an hour. So we stayed and prayed.
Upon meeting Kim and hearing about their ministry of teaching English as a second language to Muslims and the Spanish speaking community in Jacksonville, we began to see the wisdom of God. Why should a group of people pay for a facility to be used a couple of days a week and then remain empty the majority of the time? Why not share space and expenses and maximize God’s resources?
Not only did it make sense, it also gave us the opportunity to begin to practice one of our core values which is to partner with other churches and ministries in our city in order to advance God’s Kingdom.
As was said earlier, we had clubhouses lined up for three weeks and then didn’t know what were going to do, so we cried out to God.
What you have just read is the testimony of what God did and on the fourth week, we found ourselves meeting in a wonderful, fully equipped facility with plenty of room for the kids!
As we continued to follow Jesus and show love to the least of these, once again we began to run out of space. And once again God showed up!
The Second Miracle
The following is an excerpt from the book “Steeple Envy, Losing My Religion and Rediscovering Jesus.” This book tells more of the Journey (Emmaus) Story.
It began with a phone call from a friend who was a part of Journey. He said he needed to talk to me (Vic Cuccia) and asked if we could go to lunch. I’ll admit I was almost certain that the reason he wanted to get together was to tell me that he and his wife were going to be leaving our church.
I guess my own insecurities were mixed with the fact that we were not this refined group of people with a slick Sunday morning presentation. Journey is a motley crew of sorts. We might not appear all that different on the surface to a first-time visitor, but the heartbeat is quite different than many churches today.
We purposefully don’t structure our services or ministry to appeal to consumer-minded Christians. We gather on Sundays to worship together through song, and then we teach from God’s Word. Both are used for the expressed purpose of preparing us for what we feel is most important—to live the other six days for Christ and His Kingdom. Also, I regularly remind people that there are a lot of great churches in our city and that we realize Journey isn’t for everyone.
All of this played into my thinking. I figured that my friend was going to let me know that the church just wasn’t a fit for them. I have heard it before: “There are some things that we really like about the church, but we’re looking for this, that and the other for our family.”
My usual response to statements like these are, “There are a lot of places in Jacksonville where you can find that, so I will pray that God leads you to whatever is the best fit for you and your family.”
The shock came when we sat down. One of the first things that came out of his mouth was, “I’m not the kind of guy who says that I hear God speak to me that often, but there is something that I’ve been feeling and I needed to talk to you about it. I think God is telling me to help us get a new building.”
He continued to share how he couldn’t shake the thought and how he felt it was God leading him. He then told me about a business deal that he had brewing. “If this happens, and I am pretty sure it will, I am prepared to give $55,000 toward a new building.” I was speechless.
This began a string of events that could have only been orchestrated by God. About a week later, we received a check in the mail for $10,000 from a family who had only visited a handful of times. Included was a note that said, “Use this for the new building.” The timing of this was uncanny, particularly because we hadn’t spent much time talking about needing a new building. There was no fundraising campaign or pleas for money.
About this same time, I received a phone call from a realtor. He had my name from a year earlier when we had actually been looking for a building. He said, “Hey, are you guys still looking for a place for your church to meet?”
I responded, “We haven’t really been looking, but based on some current events, we probably need to be.”
“Well I may have your place,” he said. He then went on to tell me about a space that was currently being used as a night club and was in the eviction process.
We were open to anything, so we went and checked it out. Although it smelled like stale beer and had the most awful mauve carpet throughout, it was actually pretty cool. It had a huge bar, a bunch of disco lights and a giant stage. It seemed like our kind of place. So we asked him to forward us the numbers, and we began to pray.
I was sitting in Panera Bread (where God likes to meet me) when I received the details on the building. While I was in the midst of forwarding the information onto the members of our leadership team, I received an email from my friend who had committed the $55,000. The subject stated, “Call me asap.”
I picked up my cell phone and gave him a call. He told me that he had been talking about our ministry to his business partner and that he wanted him to meet me. We set up lunch for the next day.
I brought Chris Steed to the meeting because at that time, he helped oversee missions and benevolence at Journey. After being introduced, we began to share the things that God was doing through our community of Christ followers. We discussed Guatemala and what we were involved in there. We also talked about the ways in which we were showing the love of Jesus to those within our own city.
My friend interrupted about this time and said, “I think it’s funny that I’ve been telling him about how we need a new building, and all you’re talking about is Guatemala and helping people. You’re not a good salesman.” That may have been one of the best compliments I had received in a long time.
The real shock came when his business partner looked at us and said, “I just really appreciate that you guys are real, and that you’re not here trying to sell me on anything. I think what you’re doing is great, and I want to be a part of it. I’m going to write you a check right now for $25,000.” You could have picked up my chin from off the floor.
This was a man who I had never met and who had never visited one of our Sunday morning gatherings. As a matter of fact, I understood that he didn’t regularly attend church anywhere. Yet he apparently had a heart for God and was moved to be a part of what we were doing.
In a three-week period, we basically had a new building find us, and we received $85,000 to pay for the new facility’s renovation. This doesn’t include $20,000 that was donated earlier by a young, single guy in our church. So in total, we had more than $100,000 to put toward a new building, all of which came in totally unsolicited.
It was almost as if God was saying, “Do things My way, and I’ll take care of your needs.” Oh wait. He did say that!
“‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?”’ or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’” (Matthew 6:28-34).
God is good and He is faithful to His Word. He continues to build His church all over the world and what we are experiencing here in Jacksonville is only a snapshot of what God is doing worldwide. As for Journey Church, the story continues as we move forward … Loving God, Loving People and Changing the World!
The Third Miracle
As we have remained faithful stewards of what God has given to us, He has continued to lead people to join us on the Journey. In 2013 we planted our first church – The Well Church, in the Riverside area of Jacksonville. Even so, we found ourselves having more children than our space could accommodate. Needing room for an additional classroom our pastor and worship leader gave up their offices to make room.
We have always held the conviction that Jesus would build His Church just as He said (Matthew 16:18) and if His Church needed a home, He would provide one. We decided early on that we wouldn’t go the traditional route of fund raising through a building campaign. We would trust God and pray. And we had already seen Him come through twice in miraculous fashion.
It was on a Sunday evening in 2013 that we gathered together for a “vision meeting” to discuss our current needs. During that meeting Vic reminded us of how and why Journey began. He talked about the fact that we really don’t understand discomfort compared to the rest of the world. Nonetheless, we do have an obligation to be sure that our kids are in a safe environment where they can be taught biblical truth. And of course he reminded us that Jesus was building His Church and He would meet our needs.
That night the only vision that was cast was Jesus vision. We broke into small groups and prayed. We prayed for God to continue help us grow in loving Him more and learning what it means to truly love our neighbors. And of course we prayed that He would meet the needs of our spiritual community.
We have always been a church that gives generously to the work of missions, church planting and benevolence. We believe in sharing the gospel in both word and deed and our finances have always shown that. In fact, our only stated goal has been that we would love to see the day when 50% of everything that comes into the church goes to ministry outside the church. We feel that would be in line with Jesus command to love our neighbors as ourselves. And we have consistently been moving that direction. In 2013 42% of all the finances that came in to Journey, went back out.
The week following our meeting we were presented with a unique opportunity to help a church that we have partnered with in need in the inner city of Jacksonville. We were made aware of some pressing needs and we felt the Lord leading us to help. In the process we found out that there was a small note left on the outreach building that we were helping renovate. Our leadership team made the decision to give $10,000 to help pay off the building and to begin to support the outreach efforts of the ministry at $250 per month. It’s hard to express the reaction of the pastor when we gave him the news. He just kept saying “this is a miracle, this is nothing short of a miracle!”
The following Sunday Vic shared the story with the body at Journey and said “The good news is that we bought a building, the bad news is it’s not for us.” Everyone laughed and then proceeded to applaud, grateful to be a part of a community that would truly look to meet the needs of others before its own. We were happy to be a part of one congregations miracle, as we prayerfully awaited ours.
It was two short weeks later that Vic received an email from Dan Davis, a pastor in town that he had never met and had no connection with. Dan didn’t know anyone from our congregation and knew nothing about our current facility needs. In His email he shared that he had found us online and had been listening to some of our messages and really liked the heart of the church. Dan went on to say that he was nearing retirement and the church he had pastored for the last 20 years (Grace Fellowship) had recently been declining. Even though it was a small group of believers, the Lord had blessed them with 15 acres of property and an 11,000 sq. ft. building that was completely paid for. He shared that he had been praying for God to lead him to a pastor of an established congregation with a similar heart for people, who was in need of a permanent facility. He said that if he found that pastor and that church, he would consider retiring and encouraging the leadership to join with that body of believers and give the property to that ministry. He closed his email by saying “If you have any interest or know of a congregation that might fit this profile would you call me?” ARE YOU KIDDING?!!
Vic emailed Dan and they talked the next day. And after much prayer and consideration, God put it in the hearts of the leaders at Grace Fellowship, to give this property to Journey Church! A number of the families from Grace ended up joining Journey and became a part of our growing community.
In 2015 we built an 18,000 square foot edition to the property in order to accommodate our children and provide additional space for fellowship. It was when we moved into our new facility that we decided to change our name from Journey to Emmaus. People have often asked why we changed the name. The answer is quite simple. Since our inception, Journey has become a popular church name and at that time there were no less than 5 Journey Churches in Jacksonville. So in order to avoid any confusion, we decided to change our name when we changed locations and moved into our new facility.
God has truly done some amazing things in our midst but we know that there is much more that He wants to accomplish in and through us. He is still at work and we are thrilled to join Him in what He is doing to advance His Kingdom here in Jacksonville. And we would love nothing more than for you to join us on journey!