Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the walls of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in. (Joshua 6:1-5)
Chris Sola used the same tactics as Joshua to bring down the walls of the old Westfield cinema complex in Manukau, South Auckland.
No, we can assure you that in a physical sense the walls are still standing. And they need to be for Chris and the church he pastors, Hosanna World Harvest, to fulfill a bold vision for what is perhaps one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by a Baptist church in New Zealand.
But in a spiritual sense, the walls did come down, or at least the barriers to purchasing the building – barriers that looked so insurmountable at the start.
It was back in 2004 that Chris and the Hosanna church started to first think about the possibilities the eight-theatre cinema complex offered. The complex was to be vacated with Westfield building new cinemas next to Manukau City shopping mall.
“Then we started praying for it. I spent about seven months walking around the building seven times every day. That was my commitment – to pray for this building and to ask of the Lord,” says Chris Sola.
Chris hoped the building would come on the market at about $5 million. It came on at $14 million.
“At such a high entry point we were quite discouraged, and walked away from it,” Chris says.
Instead Hosanna church moved from its base in the old Destiny Church at Pakuranga to start a new building project in Maich Rd, Manurewa. The church worked on the new project for the next couple of years, spending some $150,000 on the building. But suddenly, in the space of just two weeks, God started to close doors and it became clear to Chris and his team that something new was happening.
“My son, Blessed, then said, ‘Dad, what about the movie theatres?’ I didn’t realise he had never stopped praying for them,” says Chris.
So Chris rang the real estate agent to ask if the complex was still for sale and discovered that yes, it was. What’s more, the asking price had dropped right down to around $4 million.
The Baptist Union and the Baptist Savings & Development Society got involved. It worked out that, for what Hosanna wanted to do, it would be cheaper to buy the cinema complex than to develop the site at Maich Rd.
The new project came together very quickly and an offer was made. But just prior to Christmas it all fell over with Westfield and the church still a few hundred thousand dollars apart, along with a few other factors.
“I came away from that meeting and went straight down to the cinema, walked around the place and bawled my eyes out,” Chris says. “As I walked I got a text message – I don’t know who it was from. The text said ‘the Lord says you need to start calling in your harvest.’” That became Chris’ prayer.
After more work, business planning and offers of support another offer was made and this time it was accepted.
The Dream Centre was born.
“In a nutshell, the face of the Dream Centre is community outreach – mission,” says Chris. “The heart of it is the gospel. We are reversing the trend a bit. Instead of us going into the community we want to create something where the community comes to us.
“This is consistent with our vision from Day One of this church, to build the church to become the greatest attraction, which comes out of out of Isaiah 2:2. We want a church in the heart of the city that people will be drawn to and in so doing will connect with our gospel and faith.”
Many Baptists who are part of other churches in the area are also thankful for the doors this project may open.
“It’s a dream come true for me, personally, that stretches back ten years when it was clear that the Village 8 cinemas were going to be moving into the ‘mall,’” says Peter Mihaere, General Director tranzsend, who has lived in the Manukau area for more than 20 years. “To have someone like Chris Sola come along and put feet to this dream is inspirational.”
In practice, the vision will look like this:
• Theatre 1 is going to become Café Koko, which will focus on healthy cooking and eating.
• Theatre 2 will be a dance studio for youth.
• Theatre 3 will be the “$2 Gym” – a cardio health, fitness and nutrition centre costing just $2 a session for anyone who wants to use it.
• Theatre 4 will be a youth centre, Dyce Dream Youth Centre Extreme, in partnership with the Vodafone Foundation.
• Theatre 5 will be a small conference centre for 150 people, and also connected with the youth centre for young people to use. It will be available for hire.
• Theatres 6, 7 and 8 will be opened up into one large auditorium of 700 seats for Sunday services or as a for hire banquet hall for formal functions seating 500.
The old Time Out video game parlour will become a commercial kitchen.
On Saturdays there will be an upmarket fleamarket targeting tourists, and possibly night markets. In the afternoon there will be a car boot sale.
These will act both as a revenue stream but also as an outreach. Every tenth stall in the fleamarket will be Christian based.
On Sundays from 2-5pm there are plans for a car fair. “I got grilled over doing that on the Sabbath but we identified it as one of our Sunday services. These people won’t come to a church service, but will come to this. It is Baptist mission at work,” says Chris.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Dream Centre, however, is its location. It is right next to the Manukau motorway on/off ramps.
“This is the gateway to Manukau with the Telstra Centre on that side, and us on this side,” Chris says. “Eventually it will be a two-icon entrance to Manukau.”
The Dream Centre will be for the community and available for anyone to use whether Muslim, Hindu, atheist or Christian. The church congregation will be trained in community evangelism.
The Hosanna congregation is not huge at just over 200. But during the 10 years it has been going, Hosanna has planted seven churches. Some 130 people from the congregation have been sent out in that time to other church plants. Now there will be a commitment to growing this church.
“We will be church planting in the future but not until we grow this church to 700 to 1000 members. We believe we can do that,” says Chris. In the short term the church congregation certainly won’t be short of room. Across the eight theatres it has 1760 seats to choose from!
On Queen’s Birthday weekend stage one of the new project will be opened and, at the same time, the Hosanna church also rebranded as the Dream Centre. The New Lynn Hosanna church was rebranded with the new name a few weeks ago and combined with the Avondale congregation.
Whether other Hosanna churches will follow is up to individual pastors.
“We are all still part of the Hosanna Harvest Network but what the Lord is doing for us may not necessarily be the same for our church in Dannevirke, for example,” Chris says.
Meanwhile, the Dream Centre is looking for sponsors and partners.
“We need more people, from within the Manukau City area, and further a field, to join the work needed to make this project achieve its Kingdom potential,” says Peter. “This doesn’t mean leaving your church to join the Dream Centre, its more bringing the skills you have that can contribute to collectively reaching the people of Manukau City.”
Anyone interested should contact Chris Sola on 021 635 775.