A 23-year-old Calgary plumber – and evangelical Christian -- has become a minor media celebrity but not for the usual reasons of preaching unpopular opinions about hot topics. In fact, he doesn’t preach at all. Rather, he purchased a house where the mass murder of five university students took place in April, 2013.
Osborne wasn’t surprised by the attention – interviewed at least a dozen times for major radio, TV and print outlets -- and says it was one of the reasons he bought the stigmatized house in the first place. “I knew whoever bought it would be interviewed by media, and I said Lord wouldn’t that be cool if a Christian bought the house, and could tell people about you and about the gospel. The thought to be the one to buy the house came into my mind so fast it felt like the Lord planted it.”
In spite of the plethora of interviews, Osborne says the media still didn’t really “get” what he was doing or why. “Most people don’t understand what’s been broken here or what the devil has done.”
One of his friends – and a fellow choir member – does, though. He was in the house the night of the stabbings. “He was really broken up about it, so some of us from the church came over the night after it happened, stood at the yellow tape and prayed for the community and the victims and their families.”
Although Osborne had been looking for a house in which he could live with other Christians in an intentional community, it never occurred to him to buy this particular house until months later when it came up for sale. “It was a stigmatized property and might be difficult to resell, but I couldn’t shake the thought of what it could be. I prayed and talked to my pastor and my parents, and decided if the Lord was in this, and I was obedient to him, he wouldn’t let me be devastated financially or any other way.”
Although every reporter’s first question was whether the house had ghosts, his first night in it – sept xx, 2014 -- was pretty much like any other for Osborne. “I’m not the kind of person who gets freaked out easily. But before moving in, my pastor and about 40 people from the church came over, and prayed throughout the house for about two hours, anointing various spots.”
Everyone else asks him the same, wondering if he’s terrified to stay there. But Osborne, who believes in the spiritual realm, uses such questions as a jumping off point to share the gospel about Jesus “who has overcome death, is so much bigger than death.”
While media and onlookers have accused Osborne of “using people’s death to promote our own propaganda,” neighbours have taken a different tack. “I know it seems crazy when someone goes on TV and says I’m not afraid because Jesus conquered death 2000 years ago. But we’re just regular Christian guys who want to make a difference in the world and the neighbours have been awesome in giving us the opportunity to do that. You expect your own church to give their blessing, but it’s cool to hear regular people, who deep inside have this moral knowledge that this is a good thing, and that it’s different.”
Other neighbours, however, would have been happier seeing the house razed and a memorial put up in its place. But Osborne feels that a gravestone would have been a constant forever reminder of what happened there, and would not have given the neighbourhood a chance to heal.
Meanwhile, the group of six/five young men – one an ex-convict, and others who showed up at church with no place to live – are committed to this notion of living intentionally as Christians. “I was hoping to make this a place where anyone is welcome, while being careful and prayerful about who we have move in,” Osborne says. “The split-level house, with six bedrooms a common room and kitchen, is ideal for communal life.”
Healing the neighbourhood is an idea that isn’t yet crystal clear, but starts with being the “presence of Christ in a place scarred by tragedy.”
And in the few months they’ve been there, Osborne says “miracles” have happened. For instance, the local gang member controlling a network of high school kids peddling his drugs became so inspired by the house mates’ purpose-filled lives that he turned his life around.
It was a typical story, Osborne recounts – lots of money, drugs, and women, but an emptiness inside. “One night in this kitchen, he said he was done with trying to make his own life happen. I told him to tell that to God. I don’t know if there was more snot or tears on the table but he did and right after Christmas he was on his way to Bible College in Central America. His mom came over recently and said we’ve helped redeem her son and in turn it’s redeeming the neighbourhood.”
Now that the media storm has abated, the nitty-gritty of real work – building relationships with neighbours and even victim’s family members if they want it – has just begun.
“The spotlight made it easy to be excited, and I could have become very prideful with all the attention,” Osborne says. “But during that I boasted a lot about Jesus, and now I have to trust it will happen. If we in the house stay the course of what God gave us, we will see fruit. We are called to be soldiers and the battle isn’t always easy, but the rewards are out of this world.”
Osborne, who attends two churches and leads a youth group in a third, says he’s not “content sitting in the pew just hoping life goes well. We don’t have much time on this earth … if I could say anything to the church in Canada it’s that we need to be excited about this Jesus, he so desperately wants us to open our arms, and say ‘OK God where are we going today, how can we advance the kingdom today, and when we hear that voice, are we ready to buy that pearl of great price?’”