“I can feel such peace here.”
That’s the phrase Pastor Mark Nelson hears repeatedly about the restaurant he and his wife Jessica recently opened in Cascade, Montana, a small ranching and farming community nestled between Great Falls to the northeast and Helena to the south.
It’s quite a statement considering the history of the 113-year-old building. Built in 1903 as a bar and brothel, the property was home to gamblers, prostitutes and drug traffickers. Now, however, it’s part of Canyon Life Church, which Nelson co-pastors with his wife and draws an average weekly attendance of 30 to 40 people.
Eager to love and serve the community in a tangible way, the Nelsons purchased the building in 2013 and have been restoring it with the help of volunteers who share their service-minded vision. They started by converting a banquet room into a sanctuary, then added on to make a foyer and office area. In December 2015, they tackled renovations to part of the building and now The Homestead restaurant, which seats 65 patrons, is open to the public five days a week, serving breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Thursday and all three meals on Friday and Saturday.
“To see the transformation of a building with such a dark history is an incredible picture of God’s redemption,” says Nelson. “It now provides a peaceful family atmosphere.”
Nelson has enjoyed the experience of stepping outside his comfort zone to rely completely on Christ. And he’s done it time and again—starting with planting a church, then converting the rowdiest bar in town into a church and now becoming a restaurant owner.
“The journey of faith requires a lot of risk,” says Nelson. He should know; just four years ago he was a music pastor in Minneapolis, Minnesota, until the Holy Spirit called him to Cascade, population 700.
“When actions are God-driven, every idea—both inside and outside the box—will be effective.”