When Ewout and Ali van Oosten got married, they lived in in a very densely populated city in Ewout’s native country, the Netherlands, where 12,000 people dwelt within two square kilometres, in high-rise blocks of flats. This close physical proximity brought social isolation for the 100 nationalities represented. Although people walked to the lift together, said hello and goodbye to neighbours, they never made real connections. Ewout had tried to reach out to neighbours, but nothing happened.
Then Ali, who is part-American, suggested celebrating Thanksgiving with their neighbours. “It won’t work here!” said Ewout. As she persisted, he went to the 13 neighbours on their floor to invite them—some of whom he had never met before. All were a bit surprised, yet 11 turned up! They had an amazing evening, and Ewout thanked God, seeing it as a wonderful way where ‘not possible’ became ‘possible.’ Then he thought, “If we want to be contagious, we need other people to help change the neighbourhood. We need others living locally to share together, with others and God in community.” The vision of TASTE was born.
TASTE was realised through a former care house for mentally handicapped people in Delft: a building with 28 rooms and a large rundown garden, which had been abandoned for over five years. Although the ceilings were sagging, the garden was overgrown and the building was boarded up, Ali and Ewout saw its possibilities. It was right in the middle of the high rises—perfect! They approached the owner. Eighteen months later he rented it to them, two other families and six singles. None were OMers, apart from Ali and Ewout, but they were local Christians who wanted to live intentionally in community, without limits of profession or status. The one basic commitment was to one evening a week of fellowship, eating together, reading the Bible, having fun and sharing their lives with one another, plus two to three hours a week to do something with someone in the neighbourhood: a total of six hours’ commitment a week to TASTE. In praying and living as a loving community, it slowly came together.
TASTE community didn’t want lots of activities happening (they’d tried that before and found it exhausting, with little fruit at the end), but they sought to be intentional in relationships and let God impact lives. Today, five years later, there is a Friday café, run by the neighbourhood, to which anyone can drop in, occupying a quarter of the community space, and a community garden, which has been cultivated and landscaped, with vegetables, bee-keeping, chickens: “almost an urban farm,” jokes Ewout. As there are no other gardens in this densely populated area, the neighbours flock to Community Garden Plus on a Friday.
As people in the neighbourhood have begun to question “Why do you do this?”, small groups have started forming of both believers and non-believers, who come to help with the communal activities and then become interested in the community at TASTE. “This is just such a nice place,” they say, wanting to belong, too. The small groups of six to eight people do Discovery Bible Studies and work through the Alpha course, with dinner and general conversation.
“Most people really like the fellowship, as they can see from us what a Christian community looks like,” says Ewout. “Nine-tenths of churches in the West have a regional function and don’t show how community works. The building might have a local function, but, at best, most secular people in Europe meet a Christian individual, not a Christian community. So that’s what we do: showing our love in unity, worked out in front of them. The concept needs multiple people to enable others to see love in action through praying, sharpening, loving, mutually as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Every other Sunday the community holds a devotional afternoon (not church!) called a Taste Party. “It’s about hospitality and celebrating with people,” says Ewout. “It’s not about ‘doing church.’ Not everybody wants to get involved with a Taste Party, which is fair enough. Today, five years later, we have a small group of 20-25 people learning how to follow Jesus.”
Getting involved with TASTE can be an adventure, as locals step in to see what it is all about. “Some dive in, others are more cautious,” said Ewout. In the future, he envisions a reproducible community model that is not dependent on OM support but fulfils the new vision statement of vibrant communities of Jesus followers serving the least reached and secular. He recognises not every neighbourhood has a building like theirs but believes other projects, such as the Eden Project in Manchester, are equally feasible, where people live nearby and form a local community through proximity and intentional friendship building.
The Eden Project was set up in 1997 by World Wide Message Tribe's organisation Message To Schools when Christians relocated to a notoriously problematic area of Manchester to show by lifestyle what it means to believe and live as Christians actively loving Jesus. “It’s restoring the missional element to the local church,” he explains. “We are looking at developing second and third communities in Delft along the same lines.” Other OM fields (Belgium, Italy and the UK) have expressed an interest in learning how to develop such communities within their own nations.
Although each member of the community signs up to give six hours a week to TASTE, there is room for other jobs and family time, too. “Although it is more of a challenge to share life on life in this way, it is also very rich spiritually–there is so much beauty in it,” says Ewout, smiling. “And we always have a babysitter!”
Ewout acknowledges that TASTE is a demanding model, where members need to consider lifestyle choices and agendas, mutual accountability, giving and receiving grace. Although not a new concept, it releases, fulfils and enables individuals to demonstrate the power of the gospel through love.
“Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 (AMP)