NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, January 23rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.Coming next on The World and Everything in It: reclaiming property for God.
Now, before we go any further here, just as with yesterday, this is another story with some details that may not be right for younger ears. So you may want to hit pause if you are concerned about that and come back later.
EICHER: This story is set in Toledo, Ohio. Population over a quarter million, it’s the state’s fourth biggest city.
Toledo was once a manufacturing town. But the manufacturing slump over the last century is one the town is still struggling to overcome.
Now Toledo is in some ways is typical of the rest of the country in its cultural dichotomy: two state universities pull in one cultural direction, the surrounding rural community pulls in the other.
And we’re going to introduce you to a Christian businessman who’s trying to improve his hometown, one building at a time.
Here’s WORLD Radio’s Maria Baer.
CAPERNA: I believe the world should be a better place because we’re in it.
MARIA BAER, REPORTER: Al Caperna has been going to the same church for 46 years.
CAPERNA: What church is it? Bowling Green Covenant now.
Caperna met Jesus as a college student at nearby Bowling Green State University. He said he’s felt called to serve the Toledo community since his conversion in the 1970s.
CAPERNA: Toledo is influential, and I believe that God has a heart for that city and I want to be a part of Toledo’s story of fulfilling its purpose in God.
Caperna started a printing company in 1980. He taught himself about the industry and owns over a dozen patents related to printing holograms. CMC group is now international. As a result, Caperna has substantial financial resources to pour back into his community.
That’s why, a few years ago, he bought a former abortion center.
CAPERNA: When God creates a piece of land, He has a purpose for it…
To bridge the gap between printing holograms and buying an abortion facility, we have to meet Caperna’s close friend, Denise Emerine.
Emerine runs the Greater Toledo House of Prayer. It’s part of the larger charismatic house of prayer movement. They’re not churches, exactly, but along with other such ministries across the country, the Greater Toledo House of Prayer hosts worship and prayer meetings several times each week.
Emerine used to pray outside the Center for Choice Clinic, an abortion facility in a low-income area of Toledo. But it closed in 20-13 after announcing it was unable to comply with new state regulations. That’s when Emerine said God told her to buy the property. She appealed to Caperna for financial help, and he said yes.
CAPERNA: And I believe that God wanted to not only redeem that piece of land, but honor the 50,000, the 60,000 babies that were aborted on it.
They bought the property at auction, and now it has a new name. Hope Park.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS IN GRAVEL]
The first thing Caperna and his team did was tear down the old building. Today, the small lot is paved with stone pebbles. A dogwood tree stands in the middle. Caperna, along with designers and builders, crafted a rudimentary memorial — a horizontal triangle of narrow wooden beams that stands about 10 feet high. Each side features a word carved into the wood: faith, hope and love. In the middle of the open-air structure is what looks like a giant cube of concrete.
When Caperna and company took possession of the old building, they found patient files and an old refrigerator in the basement. They put the files in the refrigerator and filled it with concrete. Now, it memorializes its victims.
CAPERNA: About two days before we had the dedication, I was waking up in the middle of the night, like a 5 year old kid, waiting for Christmas. And I felt the Lord say well there’s 50,000, 50 to 60,000 babies excited that they’re going to be memorialized and remembered…
Caperna’s purchase of the old abortion center property went relatively unnoticed. That was not the case when he set out to buy another property nearby.
NEWS CLIP: After 30 years in Toledo, Bretz Nightclub, a popular gay, bar closed its doors back on December 21st. And the new owners are getting… quite a bit of attention.
In late 2017, Caperna and Emerine were looking for a permanent building for the Greater Toledo House of Prayer. The owner of Bretz Nightclub had recently listed her property for sale. The building was just a block or so away from Hope Park, so when Caperna and Emerine saw the listing, they jumped at the chance. That’s when they learned what was inside.
CAPERNA: It was a safe place for bad things in Toledo, before. And now it’s not.
Local lore holds that Bretz Nightclub was the oldest gay bar in Ohio. Before Caperna and Emerine put in their offer, Emerine toured the building. She was horrified.
The club was covered in black paint, from floor to ceiling.
EMERINE: The biggest room to the far left, the first room on the left, that room had mattresses and things in it…
Another was filled with costumes and makeup for the club’s drag queen shows. They found drug paraphernalia in another room.
EMERINE: I think the hardest part for me, it wasn’t that I was angry, for me I was just burning with grief…
It was after Caperna bought the property—again, with his own personal finances—that the Greater Toledo House of Prayer announced it was moving in. Local LGBT activists erupted. Toledo’s daily paper ran a story with the headline: “Bretz Nightclub Purchased by Anti-LGBT group.”
CAPERNA: We had a number of threats.. against the house of prayer and what was going on there. It was kind of gross what people said.
Nevertheless, Caperna and Emerine persisted.
CAPERNA: God wanted – He wanted that piece of land back. He said that’s my land, my country, my world, and I want that one back.
The House of Prayer is open to the community now. Emerine organizes times of worship with musicians and prayer leaders on the building’s second floor, where comfortable chairs, instruments and prayer flags fill the space. She also hosts a weekly prayer meeting at Hope Park.
On one bitterly cold night in early January, a small group of women gathered there, teeth chattering, to worship. They prayed for an end to abortion. They prayed for the city.
AUDIO: (SINGING) NEW IN THIS PLACE
When the center at what’s now Hope Park was up for auction, Caperna bid exactly $61,000 for the property. It was an acknowledgment, he said, of Isaiah 61: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
For WORLD Radio, I’m Maria Baer, reporting from Toledo, Ohio.