By Maggie Ingram
It takes guts to swim against the current, but Rodney and Christy Richardson make it look like a day at the beach. That’s not how they would describe it, though. They would say it is a call to obedience, a long and steady road God lays for His people to follow.
The Richardsons met in their hometown of McComb, and married during their last year of college at the University of Southern Mississippi. He studied fine arts with an emphasis in graphic design, and she studied speech communication. They lived in Hattiesburg for two years until Rodney had an opportunity to work with Nike in Portland, Oregon.
“The move to Portland was a tremendous time of growth for us,” said Rodney. “It caused us to learn to rely on each other rather than the friends and family that each of us, individually, still very often first turned to when living so close to home.
“Moving to such a completely new place where no one knows who you are, your successes, your failures—and not being defined by those things—caused us to see that it was up to us to determine and define the adult people we’d grow to be and the character and values that we’d live and be known by.”
That time gave them a strong foundation of oneness in their marriage. Although they were living what many would consider a dream job with an international corporation, they saw God humbling them and drawing them closer to Him. “It was exhilarating, adventurous, affirming, empowering, and scary all at the same time,” Rodney said. “It was also the first real experience outside our comfort zone.”
Living in such a different culture made them see their faith differently. “As Southerners, you’d think we’d have this one down already, but through the graciousness of others, God began to open up and reveal to us genuine, authentic hospitality,” Rodney said. They joined a church that had members from many different cultures and countries. It was through getting to know believers from all over the world that they began to examine their own hearts.
“People in Portland don’t have the same cultural expectations we do in the South. In Portland, people didn’t care if you were a Christian or not. As a result, the Believers we met seemed to be more genuine. This caused us to examine our own lives and ask, ‘Is our faith genuine, or is it a product of the culture in which we grew up?’
“Or even more poignantly, ‘Do we truly believe’?” said Rodney. The church in Portland also redefined missions for them. “They actually did things in real and passionate ways we’d never seen before, and they did them out of a zeal for worship.”
Unknown to Rodney and Christy, God was using their time in Portland and preparing them for missions around the world and plans to expand His kingdom, but they were plans that would not unfold for many years to come.
Christy soon gave birth to their daughter, Ainsley, and they began to feel the pull back to Mississippi. Leaving Nike did not seem like a wise career move, but living near the rest of their families was valuable to the young parents. Most importantly, they felt it was what God was calling them to do. In 1999, they moved back to Hattiesburg and opened RARE Design.
The couple had two more children, Harry, now 14, and Ella, now 9. After seven years in business, Rodney found out the owner of the building he was leasing wanted the space back. He had also heard about “the old Smith Bakery building” in downtown Hattiesburg and sneaked in one day for a peek. The 1920s building had been heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina, but what most people would see as salvage scraps, Rodney saw as potential.
“I was overwhelmed by the size of the building as well as its pitiful condition, but the vision was totally and literally from God,” he said. The floor of the main room was covered in ceiling tiles that had fallen to the floor. He looked up through the holes and could see the original vaulted ceiling with exposed steel trusses. Instead of disaster, he could see offices, retail space, events, weddings, celebrations, worship, and ministry. He could see past the rubble to a space for authentic hospitality.
“I saw the building as a microcosm of life; work, eat, shop, celebrate, fellowship, and most importantly worship! I didn’t know how God would pull it all together, but I committed to follow him down the path. If he would lead, we would follow.”
But it was very far from easy. In time, the economy tanked. Tenants and businesses that were in the space were defaulting on loans. Renovations on the building became completely stalled. His own design firm that had set up offices in the building had lost 60 percent of their business. “I was crushed. I had thought this was God’s vision, and yet it was utterly failing. I had done everything I could possibly do to no avail,” Rodney said.
They had scheduled a date with a bankruptcy attorney, and two weeks before the meeting, Rodney poured out his heart before God. “I told him that I was tired of trying to do it all myself. That was my problem. I was doing it all in my power. I was ashamed and repented for the pride of thinking I could. I was at my end, and I fully, and only, needed him.” Lovingly, he gave.
“My vision for the building was to remove all the junk that had been added in over the years. When I saw the beautiful, original character behind those cheap add-ons, the character that had been exposed by the storm, that’s what I wanted to reclaim for that space. And it wasn’t about renovating to serve its original purpose. This place would never be a manufacturing bakery again. It was about new life. It was about reclaiming the deep, original character, and through a spirit of rejuvenation, see it experience new life for today’s world.”
Rodney and Christy see the building as a metaphor for what God can do with our hearts. “All that junk that we pursue, that we add on, that we cover up with—all that weight and burden and irrelevance—He removes all that. He clears it all away to get us back the uniqueness and beauty that He created us to be. But not just to be that something that we were in the past—to be a new creation in Him. To be used for new purposes and new life.
Now, the building houses RARE Design, a coffee shop, a yoga studio, and a garden shop. It also is home to Venue Church and The Venue event space.
The Richardsons talk often with their kids about obedience to God, and they know that their words mean nothing if they are not backed up with actions. When God began working in Christy’s heart to homeschool their three children, she knew she needed to listen. “When the economy tanked, everything took a huge hit. We were perfectly happy at the awesome Christian school here in Hattiesburg, but we knew we had to cut corners,” she said.
They decided to try homeschooling for one year, but kept the kids uniforms in the closet just in case. “What a surprise blessing it has been!” she said. “It has given us freedom to do what we are passionate about. We were able to go to Africa twice and take our books with us. Our kids get to go to work with dad some days and do their schoolwork and be around all these creative amazing people. It is one of the many tools the Lord has used and is continuing to use to blunt our edges.”
Christy is also involved with young women in their community and what started as a mission trip to Uganda evolved into two huge family additions! The women in her group spent a summer in rural Uganda at an orphanage and blogged about their time there, which inspired the Richardsons to begin praying and financially supporting the children and their director, Ms. Agnes. Over time, their love for the kids deepened and through Ainsley’s urging, they knew it was time to meet these kids face-to-face. Adopting was not on their radar, but they were willing to be obedient.
“We weren’t going to build something or paint something or hold clinics. He simply was prompting us that it was time to go. Out of love, and for the relationships, it was time to go. If he had more for us, we believed he’d show us. So we went. And it was one of the most amazing, exhilarating, worshipful experiences of our lives,” Rodney said. “We ministered and were ministered to. We loved and were loved on. We met people whom we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We shared the gospel with our lives and had folks share it back with us through theirs.”
The two youngest children at the orphanage were named Henri, 5, and Peacy, 4. God began opening the doors for the Richardsons to adopt them, and in December 2013, the family of five became seven. “God has taught us so much about utter and complete dependence on Him during this adoption process,” Christy said. “A scripture the Lord would bring to mind over and over was Luke 1:37, for nothing is impossible with God. Going through this adoption has been such a tangible picture to us of God adopting us into his family.
“We are in awe that the Lord took us to this little orphanage in Uganda, grew our families heart for these two children in our time spent with them there, and then moved miraculous obstacles to put them in our family here in Hattiesburg!”
Going forward, the Richardsons want to be available and open to what God has planned for them. “Our prayer for our children is to know God and make Him known and to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. We desire to be good stewards with the resources the Lord has given us. Our building is His! It is on loan to us,” said Christy. “We just pray to be faithful with it and that it would be a source of encouragement to others. We pray it would be like a sort of Lighthouse to our city, where people can come and taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Maggie Ingram lives in Madison with her husband and three children. She is a homemaker and loves a good book. Feel free to contact her at email@example.com.