The Genesis Project: A New Beginning for Many

Have you ever felt like you were made for more– more than you’ve been given or more than you’ve made yourself to be? Maybe you feel unsettled in your current job or feel that you are being called out of one thing into another, without knowing exactly what that is. Maybe, your discontent is leading you to something new. You are not alone. Often new beginnings require a sacrifice of comfort and security but reward you with new hope for a better future.

This is the story of many who have found a new beginning in an uncommon place.

Nestled in the Northeast part of Fort Collins, neighboring a trailer park and other industrial businesses, stands a building that has seen much renewal and several new beginnings over the years. The walls of this building first housed the Safari Supper Club, a formal restaurant with live music in the evenings. Not long after, this same building turned into A Hunt Club, a family-owned strip club, left run-down and dirty.

Today, the sign in front of this same property reads, “The Genesis Project,” representing the newness of life and the transformational beauty of new beginnings. The mission is simply stated, yet full of depth for the individual in its doors: The Genesis Project exists to create a space where people can discover new beginnings through transforming relationships with Jesus and others.  

Genesis Project

The Genesis Project did not find its beginning as an initiative formally formed by businessmen. The heartbeat of the Genesis Project was birthed from one man’s discontentment in the present and a desire to make a difference in others’ futures.

Rob Cowles came to terms with his own discontentment in the midst of his comfortable career and lifestyle. Rob had spent many years in ministry, including volunteering with at-risk kids, and spending time in juvenile jails leading Bible studies. He moved into a high-tech job and pastored a church in Colorado Springs. In all of these positions, he was consistently drawn to people who no one else wanted to reach. In 2008, Rob heard a message from Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission, challenging him to live bravely in the way of Jesus. This message dramatically shifted the way he viewed his vocation.

Soon after, Rob visited a good friend who had moved to Utah to start the first Genesis Project and reach those who had been neglected and hurt by the church. Rob immediately felt a connection to the people who filled this place– the homeless, drug addicts, misfits, and abandoned. As he listened to their stories, he heard of freedom and transformation that had occurred in the lives of the broken through living in relationship with others. They shared their stories without shame and spoke with the hope of who they were becoming.

Around the same time, Aaron, the owner of the family-owned strip club, was feeling the tension of running a topless bar as he had recently started going to church. The two didn’t seem to align. Aaron wanted to shut the strip club down and sell the building to a local church. He desired a new beginning for this place.

Aaron and Rob’s stories intersected when Aaron approached the Pastor at Timberline Church, where Rob was the Executive Pastor at the time. As the three toured the building, Rob was brought to tears at the heartbreak of the reality of what had gone on inside, and the excitement of what could start anew.

Today, this is the place where people gather, in the midst of their brokenness and imperfections, showing up just as they are, because they know their fight for a new beginning is worth showing up for. As Rob says, “We want to be an embedded church– embedded in the community and embedded in the lives of people who are hurting and broken, which means we are going to invest in long-term relationships and celebrate when it’s great and be there when they hit the bottom.”

On weekdays, the Genesis Project partners with organizations like the Matthews House to provide after-school homework help for students, and throughout the summer kids are welcomed to Kids Cafe, a 2-hour program including a free meal and recreation. Each Sunday morning, the Genesis Project hosts 3 church services, filling a small sanctuary for worship and a message generally taught by Rob. Rob believes the best sermons are when people share their personal story. Vulnerability provides a bridge between individuals, connecting life experiences and affirming the brokenness that we all try to hide.

Genesis Project
Rob Cowles sharing a message at a Sunday gathering

Stories become a catalyst for change– for new beginnings– when we give others the strength to share and speak the truth out of their brokenness. This encourages others to come as they are, in boldness and sincerity. Rob has said, “If we can share our story from a platform of brokenness than we share this unity called humanity that we can strip away all the facade and be real enough to say, ‘I need you and you need me’ together let’s continue to we can empower each other to write a different story.”

Inside, Genesis Coffee operates as an extension of the relational mission of the Genesis Project through the week to create opportunities for at-risk youth and provide a holistic beginning. From the design of the open-seat coffee bar to the volunteers who serve while engaging in conversation the whole vision is to employee at-risk youth and teach them the trade of being a barista– the job skills and relational skills that create the best employees.

Genesis Project
Brett Prior, Director of Genesis Coffee

Brett Prior, the Director of Genesis Coffee, has a passion for the craft of coffee, the ingenuity of creating something of quality and sharing that with others. “We believe that quality is achieved through constantly learning and educating, care, intent, and perhaps most importantly, time. This may go against our instant-gratification, push-button, microwave culture, but we feel that it is the only way to provide the most enriching experience,” said Brett.

In efforts to become further embedded in their community, the Genesis Project purchased a trailer and will have two interns living there to develop relationships with residents. Their hope is to collaboratively figure out what the needs are and how to solve them together, and how to come alongside and make the community better.

As Rob said, “We’ve chosen to be a place that’s not safe. We feel called to go to the darkest places and if you’re looking for safety and comfort, first of all, I don’t think you find that in following Jesus. But you definitely aren’t going to find that here.”

New beginnings often come at a cost– sometimes sacrificing comfort and security, sometimes leaving behind what is and what was, to pursue what can be. Aaron left his business for a redemptive beginning of this building. Rob left the comfort of his career to pursue relationships in a broken context. The people of the Genesis Project continue to leave behind the labels of who they were in exchange for who they are becoming.

As Rob commonly quotes, “God loves you right where you are, just as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you there.”

Wherever you find yourself, in a season or joy or discontentment, press in. When we are living with open eyes and hearts, this is when we find new beginnings. No matter how broken or disrupted your life has become, either by your choices or the choices of others, there is hope for a new beginning.

Written by Sarah Brase, Writing Specialist at Story On