In the beginning was the mounting fire
That set alight the weathers from a spark,
A three-eyed, red-eyed spark, blunt as a flower…
A mounting fervor rose in my chest as I declaimed the lines, striving to capture the same fire that had seared them onto the poet’s page years ago. It was a pleasant Saturday evening in September of last year, and after an uplifting worship time and a satisfying meal on the eve of the Lord’s Day, I was sitting on the porch of 329 Catherine Street with the three other men in my household. We were engaged in the most unusual—and to me, exciting—post-dinner entertainment that I had hitherto experienced in a brotherhood house: a reading of the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
Nico Angleys and I had begun the search for a rental house near the University of Michigan’s campus back in March, when we learned that the vast influx of new trainees to the international formation house would require some overflow space. 329 Catherine became the new flexible housing option for the Ann Arbor brothers, a mission outpost of the larger formation household up the street. That night, as I sat on the porch with Nico and the two other affiliates who completed our roster, I first began to appreciate the unique blend of personalities in this household.
Nico Angleys: the cultural connoisseur of Europe—engineer by education, but in spirit, a connoisseur of photography, words, cheeses, and many aesthetic delights.
Will Cannon: the bluegrass prodigy from the South whose strumming and singing were as spellbinding as his avant-garde electronic sound productions.
Nico Ravanilla: the mild-mannered Political Science Ph.D. candidate from the Philippines, who might pass himself off to the unsuspecting housemate as an exceptionally skilled maker of coconut-milk curries; yet whenever in the course of a dinner conversation, one raised the cover of that vigorous mind, it seemed that his expertise bubbled over into economics and social anthropology.
And I: the former student of classical composition, the enthusiast of Russian novels, epic poetry, and Asian cuisine; jack of a few artistic trades, and a hack of all practical ones.
Life rose and spouted from the rolling seas,
Burst in the roots, pumped from the earth and rock
The secret oils that drive the grass.
As I poured forth the next few lines of Thomas’ poem, I was surprised more than anything to find an audience of brothers hanging on every word. This household is going to be different, I thought to myself, and launched into the fourth stanza.
The succeeding months proved me right. Life at 329 Catherine Street has been marked by the creativity of the brothers who live here. Our walls are adorned with breathtaking photographs that Nico Angleys has taken in his Alpine adventures. Our kitchen savors of Nico Ravanilla’s Bicolano cuisine. Our walls ring with the melodies of Will’s folksongs. And on more than one Saturday evening, I’ve found occasion to teach a song or recite a poem to an eager audience.
But more importantly, 329 has been an environment that the Lord has used to advance His mission. Every Friday night the kitchen steams into action for our Asian Outreach dinners, where Chinese students often hear the gospel for the first time. Many of the men in University Christian Outreach (UCO) have experienced the Lord’s presence in our Lord’s Day celebrations and the Easter seder. Our small living room has hosted men’s groups, UCO team meetings, and Saturday morning Pancakes-and-Prayer.
As we begin our second year here, we thank the Lord for two added blessings. The first is a sparkling new prayer room which four of the brothers from 716/712 Catherine raised from the gloomy ruins of an unused basement space during their summer exile at 329. The second is a year-round guest, Miguel Delgadillo of Miami, who is working part-time and serving in UCO. Nico Ravanilla remains in the Philippines to complete his field research for his Ph.D., and plans to join us and our mission in November.