Martavial “Tae” Stevenson was asked what Brother Bryan Mission has meant to him. With joy in his eyes and without hesitation he said, “I can dream again.” This is the rest of his story.
Tae has never known his Dad. His mother was out of the house more often than not, so that he was raised by his grandparents in the Center Point area of Birmingham. He began smoking marijuana and taking mind altering pills at the age of 15. At the age of 22 he was introduced to crystal meth which “took away his dreams.”
His job at a local restaurant led to his meeting Tiffany, who he soon fell in love with. When Tae and Tiffany discovered she was pregnant Tae knew they needed to make a change. “I didn’t want my son to grow up like I had grown up,” said Stevenson. It was Tiffany’s parents who told Tae about Brother Bryan Mission.
As Martavial entered the doors of BBM his mindset was, “I thought everyone was going to jump me.” What he soon learned was that Brother Bryan Mission was a safe place where he could learn and listen for what God wanted him to hear. “I came to know Christ in my first counseling session with Chaplain Troy Walker” Stevenson communicated. Continuing he said, “I immediately felt a weight was lifted and I began to really read the Bible and enjoy my classes.”
BBM’s New Life Fellowship Program is a nine-month Christian recovery and discipleship program in which a client is not able to work in the first six months. During this time Tae has been progressing through the tests necessary to obtain his G.E.D. He only has the Math component remaining and expects to complete that soon.
Tae and Tiffany are making plans to be married but the birth of their little boy wouldn’t wait. Earlier this month Jeremiah Wayne Stevenson was born to excited parents and families who are helping with Jeremiah until Tae and Tiffany can get established.
Tae has a job waiting at the Mercedes plant in Vance. He and another recent graduate of the NLF Program applied at the same time and both were given jobs that will start at the beginning of September. He believes God has opened this door for him to be able “to give my son what I never had.”
Stevenson sees the value of completing the program since over 80% of BBM’s New Life Fellowship Program graduates are living free of addiction and have stable housing and employment while maintaining healthy relationships with God and others. It is what he wants for himself and his family.
So when asked what Brother Bryan Mission has meant to Martavial “Tae” Stevenson, he said, “the world stole my dreams, but God, through the ministry of Brother Bryan Mission, has given me hope for a better life … I can dream again.”
By Kay Etheredge
It was my first day of work in thirty-three years and I shook inside. I sat behind a desk where I felt like an imposter. I had homeschooled our children for twenty-five years and worked as a caterer from our home for eleven years, but this was different. This was the getting up, getting dressed, taking a banana for a snack, and borrowing someone else’s office for one day a week at Brother Bryan Mission where my husband is the director kind of work.
I love to write and am a firm believer that everyone has a story and I love to read and listen to the stories of just about anybody. However, when my husband walked into my “office” and said that one of the men would be coming to tell me his story, I panicked inside.
Then Fredric Richardson walked in. I told him to shut the door and my own voice sounded hollow—both too loud and too small at the same time, but I wanted to be able to talk freely and not be interrupted. The distance across the desk from where I sat to where he sat seemed vast. I tried to control the tremor in my own voice as I began to ask him questions. As I lost myself in his story, I barely noticed the shaking inside me had stopped and don’t we all just want to know that we matter?
Several times Fred reached for a tissue and once he said, “I’m telling you something I’ve never told anybody.” I listened and soon became lost in the salty brokenness that spilled down his cheeks.
Fred never knew his biological father and he said he remembers lying on his bed at a very young age trying so hard to figure out why his father didn’t love him—how he could just walk away and disappear from his life and never look back. He had a stepfather who Fred described as “dutiful”. He paid the bills and made sure Fred and his sisters were sent to private school but he never gave the love and approval that Fred sought and needed. He told Fred almost daily that he would never amount to anything.
Fred began to try different things to gain approval. He tried academics, sports (his stepfather never came to one of his games) and even bringing girlfriends home. Nothing worked. So, Fred began to eat. Maybe he ate to try to fill the ever-deepening void in his life. Maybe a part of him wanted to get so large that he could not be overlooked. For whatever reason the more he ate the more he grew in size and the taunts of others became more frequent. Fred became “Fat Fred,” wearing a size 42-44 at the age of 12. Years have passed but when Fred entered the program at Brother Bryan Mission and was asked to write out his testimony, he referred to himself in the third person writing “No more Fat Fred.”
Sometimes we can almost suffocate under the weight that the words of others place over us. When I asked Fred why he wrote in the third person, he hesitated for just a minute, finally saying, “It was too hard to do it unless he wrote as if it happened to someone else.”
Fred continued to communicate his attempts to gain other’s approval. He told me that even now, if there are ten people in a room and nine of them like him, he will try hard to win over the one who doesn’t. He stole his sister’s clarinet once and sold it so he could buy a snow globe with a heart in it for a girl he liked. Even when he used drugs, Fred said, he would buy drugs and use some but give most of them away to try to gain approval.
Coming to know Jesus as his Savior has helped Fred to discover what real love is. He now has a daughter and grandchildren. When I asked if he is able to tell them he loves them, his whole face lit up. “Oh yes, we say it all the time.”
As our time ended, Fred quietly asked if he could tell me one more story. His sister was going to get a “whupping” one day from his stepfather, and Fred asked if he could take it instead of her. His step-dad assented, but made Fred’s sister watch.
“He really laid it on me hard,” Fred said. Moreover, Fred and I marveled at how that’s the very thing Christ did for each of us—taking the punishment that was rightfully ours onto Himself.
Fred shows no bitterness toward his stepfather. “I really loved my step-father,” he said, “I just couldn’t understand why he didn’t love me.”
Fred is no longer Fat Fred. He has gained tremendous victories through Christ…victories over drugs and alcohol and bitterness and resentment and he is learning to seek approval from the only One who matters.
“Now my soul has rest,” Fred says. “The love of Christ Jesus has filled the holes in my soul and my life belongs to Him.”
Fred fills up a room with his height, his booming laugh, and his kindness. When he tells his story—the story written by the hand of the Father—the tenderness in his heart is more than evident. He knows how to give love and receive it and he is the Daddy to his daughter that he so wanted for himself.
Fred is currently an intern at BBM but one day wants to own his own food truck. “Fat Fred” is no longer around because Fred Richardson is truly a gentle giant of a man.
I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Lk 15:7.
Today Bobby Montgomery feels the joy of heaven. For the first time in ten years, he had a face-to-face conversation with his only daughter, Grace. “I never thought it would happen,” says Montgomery, “but I had hoped for it for years.”
The road to this reunion was a long one for Montgomery. He grew up in the Chelsea area. His dad was more often in prison than not while his mom tried to raise the family. “My Dad was ‘the dope man’ Montgomery explained, “so I was in or around drugs my whole life.” Montgomery started using at the age of twelve and was arrested for the first time at the age of fourteen. He married his sweetheart at the age of twenty-five and had four children, while at the same time continuing his use of drugs.
After eighteen years of being together, Montgomery and his wife divorced, and his life began to spiral out of control. He was arrested several times and wound up doing two years in prison. Two days after his release he was buying dope at the dealer’s house. Within two weeks, he knew he was in trouble. “I had no hope, no dignity, and no self-respect,” said Montgomery. Seeking help through another rescue mission’s program resulted in his being sober for about a year. It also introduced him to Jim Etheredge the current Executive Director at Brother Bryan Mission who was working at the other mission at the time. “Once I finished the other program I came to Brother Bryan because I knew Mr. Etheredge was there,” says Montgomery.
Montgomery worked a job and stayed at Brother Bryan Mission for eighteen months in their Exodus Program before getting a place on his own. However, once again he tried to help a girlfriend get off drugs, which only resulted in Montgomery returning to drugs himself. Recognizing where the path he was traveling would end he returned to Brother Bryan Mission and entered their residential recovery and job readiness program called the New Life Fellowship Program. Montgomery was in church one Sunday and realized that his thinking was wrong about what a Christian was. “I responded to the invitation to accept Christ as my Savior that day and was baptized the next week,” Montgomery revealed.
As peace and contentment filled his heart, Montgomery missed his children as never before. His next to youngest son had reached out to him through social media but once his daughter, Grace, found out about it she immediately blocked all contact with him. Montgomery kept praying for an opportunity. Six months later, Grace unblocked the contact and asked, “Are you a preacher or something?” She had seen where Bobby was now a student at Southeastern Bible College and was growing in his newfound faith. She had also seen where Bobby was a staff member at Brother Bryan Mission running their food services.
Grace had some business at the downtown courthouse and contacted Montgomery about a possible meeting. “I could have made a milkshake if I had some milk in my hands, I was so nervous,” Montgomery described. The meeting lasted only about fifteen minutes, and there was some awkwardness, but it broke the ice. “Seeing her blond hair top the hill made me feel something I never thought I’d feel again,” said Montgomery. “I think it was the joy of being a Dad to my daughter again,” added Montgomery. After ten years a prodigal Dad found a way home.
Chap Womack recently completed his first Mercedes Marathon. He has now set his sight on a triathlon competition. The triathlon that Chap is training for will require him to swim 1.5 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13 miles. This chemical engineering graduate of Auburn University has shown that he can do anything he sets his mind to. That is except free himself from the death grip of alcohol on his life.
Chap grew up in a good Christian home. He went to church consistently with his family. He accepted Christ as his Savior in the 8th grade. He was active in his youth group until his high school graduation.
Chap and his future wife, Jana, began dating in high school and they continued until their marriage after college. Once married they lived and worked in a number of cities. Jana as a nurse and Chap as an engineer.
Chap’s life seemed to be an envious one. They had a son and moved back to Auburn for a new job. “I had been a social drinker during college,” Womack said, “and drinking was not presenting any problems.”
It was not until Womack began to hide his drinking from his wife that he began to think that alcohol was becoming too much in his life. “Any time you begin to secretly drink, it is a problem.”
Chap continued his journey into a deeper dependence on alcohol for the next several years. He finally reached a point where he approached his wife and said, “I need help.”
Womack tried two conventional treatment centers but the experience produced little change. He knew he was approaching a fork in the road.
About this time, one of Chap’s brothers began volunteering at Brother Bryan Mission. His brother began to see on a regular basis the results that the residential recovery program at BBM was producing. Soon after Chap was in an auto accident and his wife knew that was enough. She told him, “Pack your bag, you can’t stay here any longer.” His family intervened and because of what his brother was seeing at BBM, they brought him here.
“I was shocked when I was dumped out at this place. I did not know what to think. I was now living in a rescue mission. Guys like me don’t end in up in places like this,” said Womack.
Within the first week Womack cried out to God in anger saying, “You screwed me.” The response that came back was, “I don’t know you.” “That scared me and shocked me,” Womack said, “I began to listen.” Three months into the nine-month program, Chap turned his entire life over to Jesus.
“I have a joy and peace that I have never felt,” Womack says. A recent testimony by his wife recently spoke to the journey the Womack family has experienced. She said their daughter summed up the change by saying, “Dad’s funny again.”
Concerning the future Chap indicates that, “I am open to whatever God wants for me.” “My family is too.” “I know they would rather have a sober me than a paycheck from someone who is drinking all the time.” “I cannot thank Brother Bryan Mission enough for giving me and my family a new chance at life.”
Recently, Scott Thornton got on one knee to ask the love of his life if she would be willing to marry him. Fortunately for Scott, she said, “Yes.”
The journey to this happy moment was not an easy one for Scott. “My Mom abandoned us when I was two years old due to her drug habit and my Dad was an angry alcoholic who abused us when he drank. He died when I was twelve,” Scott says. “At the time of my Dad’s death I had never heard either parent tell me they loved me.”
As a result of being abandoned, abused, and unloved Thornton turned to drugs himself. He first remembers being given a “fud pucker” (a kind of malt liquor) by his Dad to keep him and his brother occupied at the campground they were staying. After sampling every type of drug he could get his hands on by the age of nineteen he settled on meth as his drug of choice. “I liked taking meth to make me high and Xanax to bring me down,” a practice known as “speed balling.” His growing habit led to stealing cars and dealing drugs.
In January of 2016 his freewheeling lifestyle caught up with him when he was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance. This charge led to a revocation of parole on other charges which resulted in a twenty-five-year sentence without bond.
It was in jail that Thornton was introduced to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “I began to attend chapel and have Bible study with other inmates. During one of the chapels the invitation was given to invite Christ into your heart and I did.” Prison is a hard place to learn how to be a disciple, however, so growth in his new relationship was very difficult.
Thornton learned about Brother Bryan Mission indirectly through the success of a family member who had gone through the NLF Program himself. “I had a cousin who had come here and was doing really well. His mother told my grandmother (her sister) about Brother Bryan Mission so my grandmother asked the Chaplain who had made those arrangements to come and talk with me.” In April of this year the Chaplain came to talk with Thornton to see if he was interested in BBM’s New Life Program. Thornton said, “Yes.” It took until June for a bed to become available.
Scott’s first impression of Birmingham, “It’s a big place and I was not sure I could make it here.” However, the atmosphere of love and acceptance at Brother Bryan Mission soon began to make a difference. “I began to relax and trust people,” says Thornton.
Thornton graduated the in-house portion of the NLF Program and returned to Mississippi in December. One of the first things he did was to propose to his girlfriend whom he has known for most of his life. “I am so thankful for a place like Brother Bryan Mission where I have been given the tools I need to be successful in life.”
“Can anything good come from there?”
The above question, from the Gospel of John (1:46), was asked about Nazareth. Today some ask a similar question about men who come to the oldest rescue mission in Birmingham, Brother Bryan Mission.
There were countless times in recent years when the lives of Derrick, Daniel, and Bobby fell so far they didn’t want to live. After a lifetime of wrestling the consequences of drugs – could anything good come from their lives?
Daniel’s life was in such shambles that he lived on the streets and slept under bridges. He didn’t come to BBM to change, he came to get through the moment. Derrick and Bobby came hoping to find the answers for their troubled lives.
Derrick Stubbs – “The drugs I once relied on to bring pleasure left me with no life at all. I felt I was trapped without the ability to change. Dreading each day, suicidal thoughts were always present.”
Daniel Roberson – “In the months before I came to Brother Bryan Mission, I was unable to escape the consequences of my choices. The thought of suicide was always near. Sleeping under a bridge, I had long since lost hope.”
Bobby Montgomery – “Two and a half years ago I had a great job – but behind the scenes I was doing all that I could, through drugs, to mask the total despair my life was in. I was in such a perpetual
state of complete failure, that my life no longer mattered.”
None of the thee foresaw what was to come. Who expected that with such defeat and failure, even one of them would be so changed that he would give his life to point other defeated lives to the promise
of Christ? No one expected that one day these three might become a Christian Service Intern (one of only four a year). No one foresaw even one of them reaching such a point – much less all three.
It didn’t end there –
• All three first came to BBM overwhelmed and with no direction.
• All three at BBM discovered real life and real hope through Christ.
• All three after 10 months, graduated Brother Bryan Mission’s extensive New
• All three demonstrated such a clear commitment serve Christ that they were chosen for Christian Service Internships.
• All three, this Spring, seeking to become even better equipped for Christian service – applied for
acceptance by Southeastern Bible College. On July 19 they began their first classes.
Derrick Stubbs – “From the moment I surrendered my lost life to Christ, He began relieving the burdens of my spirit. People with no hope need to hear from someone who was once where they are –
from someone like me who now has Christ and a real life. Because of the life He pulled me from, I am committed to spread the Good News, or I should say, ‘To disciple others for Him.’”
Daniel Roberson – “That I am beginning college – Bible college – is amazing beyond words. Two and a half years ago as far as I was concerned, all my hope was finished. I was in a dark pit. In October of 2014, after coming to BBM, as I finally surrendered to God the life I couldn’t change, He made me
new. By His grace, today as I serve Him by serving others, I experience joy that I didn’t know was possible”.
Bobby Montgomery – “It’s hard to express in words the life changing love God is showing me daily. I am in awe! Since totally submitting all that was in me to God – I experience His blessing beyond
Homelessness is much more than not having a roof over your head. Long before most who come to Brother Bryan Mission are at the point of not having a roof over their head they’ve known a great deal of defeat. Such defeat brings loneliness, doubt, fear, anger, and hopelessness that buries some – forever. But “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him (puts their trust in Him) shall not perish, but have everlasting life” – John 3:16.
With each struggling life that comes to this Mission, whether for a meal, clothes, or seeking a better life, there is so much more than what is on the surface. I’m thankful to know that in spite of the enormity of burdens and defeat that overwhelm many, there is a victory that even this lost life can know. That real promise is why this unique Mission stands on the front-line as a beacon of hope – in the heart of Birmingham.
As I recently spent time with Fornando, a 39-year old father who, through BBM’s Christ-centered New Life Program (NLF), is building a real foundation for his life, I asked him what has changed in his life since he came here. With a bold grin on his face he said, “Everything! Absolutely everything. I had lost all sense of direction. There was nothing good about the situations I had allowed myself to fall into”.
He said, “I had no idea how open to a path of defeat, and eventual homelessness, that I was putting myself. I knew I was wrong, but with no real structure in my life, I was blind to the cost of my compromises. The more I put myself first, the easier it was to justify my actions.”
Shortly before Fornando ended up on the streets, he had begun to sense conviction about how deeply wrong his life had become – but he didn’t know if or how he could rebuild his life. “When I learned about the Mission’s NLF Program, as I listened to staff and watched men in NLF Program, I knew there was real hope.”
Today as Fornando nears graduation from BBM’s 9-month NLF Program he continues to solidify the new foundation of his life. He has reestablished solid relations with family – especially with his two young sons. He is very involved with a church, and active in two weekly Men’s Bible studies. He says, “The difference isn’t starting over, but is allowing God to lead me to build a whole new foundation a foundation built on seeking and trusting Him first. Today I know that more than anything else, I need Christ to lead all of my life. I look forward to serving Christ and a greater life than I ever imagined possible”.
“When I think of the last twenty or so years of my life, it’s hard to remember when I didn’t have alcohol as a nearby companion and a frequent stumbling-block. Maybe I thought the Chaos of my life was normal.”
“I was able to get good work in both construction and food-service, but alcohol contributed to my losing jobs. As a result, there were a lot of odd-jobs I took to survive. Alcohol definitely undermined relationships with my family, my parents, friends – and fiancées.”
I asked Ron if he ever wound up living on the streets. Without hesitation he responded, “Oh yes – in Florida, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham – oh yes! Sometimes my homelessness wasn’t literally on the streets. Sometimes, with no place of my own, I became a “couch surfer” – making myself at home sleeping on the couch of an acquaintance. So much of it was insane”.
“But now, amazingly by God’s grace, I have a whole new perspective on the life God gave me. I cannot undue the past, but I can daily give the new life He entrusted to me to serving others for Him. I cannot imagine greater joy.
“I wish I could fully put in words how much I thank God for those He put in my life to point me to Brother Bryan Mission – and for the staff, teachers, and volunteers here that pour out their lives to help the lost begin to grasp the promise God has for us through His Son. I thank God for the supporters that make this truly life-changing Mission possible. Thank you”
Fornando and Ron are but two of the many we get to reach and work with and see each day. With your help, what a world of difference can be made. Please help make that difference today.
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” John 3:17
His life hadn’t always been that way. How did his life reach that point? In 2002, while the consequences of his alcohol issues had already cost Doug so much, as that year began he hoped that he might put all of that in his past. But then after his daughter was killed – as the result of a drunk driver – he began such a downward spiral that he eventually wound up on the streets. Last year when he made it to Brother Bryan Mission, he just wanted a meal. As he sat eating among several men who were participants in BBM’s New Life (NLF) Program, there was a spirit of real hope among them. When he returned after a couple of days and a man he had known on the streets suggested he apply to get in NLF, his fear of another defeat in his life initially led him to not pursue it.
From the Beginning – Doug’s life-experiences ranged from youthful experimenting, to out-of-control drinking, to forgiveness and success, to life altering defeat. Growing up in New England he was introduced to alcohol very early. “I was thirteen when I got drunk at a wedding celebration – and I liked it. By my late teens my drinking was so out of control that I dropped out of school. My dad got me in alcohol counseling, and did so much more, wanting to see me overcome. I cannot say enough for him”.
A Degree of Success – At twenty Doug moved to Alabama to reconnect with his mother. Over the next few years, while still drinking hard, he worked steadily, bought a home, and began his own business. During that time, the young woman that would become his future wife led him to Christ.
Consequences, Tragedy and More Consequences – Over the next few years as some aspects of his life flourished, his DUIs, legal issues,fines and alcohol abuse contributed to the breakup of his marriage. “When my daughter was killed, by a drunk driver, my heart broke and hardened, and my life fell apart. Foolish choices led to jail time”. Losing everything, he lived on a farm in Geneva County. When that no longer worked out, he lived for a while in Marshal County.
The Streets – In 2011 he wound up in Birmingham. With no connections here – drinking and sensing no hope – he lived on the streets. When cold weather and rain kept him from sleeping in the open (often in a cemetery), he slept under bridges or viaducts, using discarded construction material as a barrier against the cold and rain. He sometimes got a meal or sandwich from a church or group serving weekend meals in the parks. He sometimes he got leftovers from restaurants.
Close Calls – During one period, with temperatures in the teens, while sleeping in an abandoned factory he got pneumonia. When he returned there for his belongings, he barely escaped as the roof collapsed around him. And last summer he was stabbed while sleeping in a cemetery.
Real life – It was soon after that when he made his way to BBM for a meal, and here sensed a hope that he hadn’t known in so long a time. The combination of the promise and hope of God he heard in BBM’s Chapel services, and his observations of the men who had been as lost as he was, who were now changing their lives through the Mission’s New Life Program, spoke to his hard heart. “I wanted what they had”. When he applied to get into BBM’s New Life Program, one of the two staff members that interviewed him was a man who two years before had been in the same place Doug was in.
Today, when asked what is different in his life, he said, “Among other things I know to totally surrender my old life, leave it in the past, and follow Christ, who knows the way.” I want the rest of my life to honor the God who reached to me when I was so far down. No matter what I don’t have, He has a plan even for me. I know from my past – and from God’s Word – that in my own strength I only fool myself – but in Christ I can do all things”.
Sammy Floyd says that as he was growing up with his family in Cherokee County, that he knew right from wrong. While he had no inclination toward church, and he didn’t have a personal relationship with God – there were times when he sensed that because of the absence of such a relationship – his life was missing something.
As he moved into adulthood with no real compass to his life, he says, “It became very easy to compromise values and self-justify my actions”. After his marriage came to a sudden end, he indicates that his lingering attitude of resentment, combined with his drug use, eventually led to jail time. “When I was finally released from jail, rather than try to change my ways, I continued on a downhill slide in drugs and depression. Within a year I attempted suicide – and I almost succeeded.”
With encouragement from family and others, he was able to get into a drug rehab program in Birmingham – a program that was Christian. “There, as I met others that were from similar circumstances but who were further along in the program – men that seemed to have real peace and joy – it inspired me to pay attention and ask questions. It was becoming clear to me that I needed Christ in my life.” However within a couple of months after Sammy gave in to the pull of drugs, he found himself removed from the program. Sensing the potential impact of this, when it was suggested to him that he contact Brother Bryan Mission, he quickly did so. After being screened for BBM’s 9-month New Life Fellowship program, when he was accepted he was enormously grateful for a new opportunity.
Nine months later as he completed BBM’s program, with his new life exhibiting a clear commitment to rely on the leadership and strength of God, he was accepted for a year-long Christian Service Internship at BBM. And by the grace of God, last May, Sammy who first came here as one who had hit bottom, joined the staff of Brother Bryan Mission. Today as he oversees our Learning Center (while enrolled in college) he’s in a great place to impact others who come to us the same way he did. As he now serves God (something he never imagined), he says, “Now I find myself in prayer about every aspect of my life – and I am enjoying life, like I never knew was possible”.