By Kay Etheredge
On our first date my husband took me out to eat. On our second date he took me to a mission. It was a mission in downtown Birmingham that I had driven past many times and read about but had never been inside. He was preaching at the Sunday night service. I played the piano so we could sing. My hands shook, not only because of my musical ineptness, but because I had never looked into the eyes of the homeless. After the sermon, a scruffy man who smelled bad and had teeth missing came over to me and said, “One day I hope I can learn to play the piano.” I don’t remember what I said but I’m sure my voice quivered as much as my insides did. I do remember what I said when we got back in the car. I burst into tears and said, “Don’t ever bring me here again! This is the saddest place.”
My date didn’t give up on me which he easily could have at that point. He asked me out again and again and I soon became his wife. And he is now the Executive Director of Brother Bryan Mission and I’m glad he didn’t take me at my word in the dark in that other mission’s parking lot. My piano skills may have improved a tiny bit if any, but one thing has changed. I now am not afraid to look into the eyes of the homeless, and I now know that doing so will change a person to their core.
When I was saved as a teenager, my mom gave me a copy of Religion in Shoes to read. She had checked it out at the library and thought I would like it. This is significant because I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. My mom drove to the nearest library, the Pratt City Library, and checked out that book. And I devoured it. I loved the stories of how Brother Bryan gave away his own family’s coats and shoes to help the homeless. I had no idea that decades later, I would be involved in such an intimate way with the mission that bears his name.
We lived in two other states and had children in each of them. We moved back to Birmingham and had our third child. My husband went to work part time at the same mission where I’d made my declaration. We had services there once a quarter…on Sunday nights…and we took our children. Our oldest daughter was terrified. It was the one time that I could be sure that she would cling to my hand…tightly. We would walk past the men who were smoking in the garage area and my hand would be almost bleeding from her grip. She walked so close to me that we both almost tripped. Our youngest daughter became disruptive in one service and I got up to take her out. A godly older woman whose husband was a staff member caught my eye and motioned for me to sit back down and I did. Since Jim was preaching he was unable to help me. Later the woman whispered to me, “These men need to see how hard it is to raise a child. Don’t ever take her out”.
I was reading an Advent reading last week in a book called The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. In this particular reading she mentioned Rahab, the harlot, and how she was instructed to leave dangling a crimson cord from her window and she obeyed. I thought about how all these generations later she is known as Rahab, the harlot. Rahab, the woman with a label. Rahab, the harlot, who went on to marry Salmon, a Jewish prince. Why then isn’t she known in scripture as Rahab, the Jewish princess? Why is she not known as Rahab, the mother of Boaz who became the Kinsman Redeemer of Ruth. Rahab, who was the great grandmother of King David, and ultimately in the direct lineage of Christ.
We all carry labels of some kind, and the men at Brother Bryan Mission may have carried them around for years, decades, a lifetime. My prayer this week—the week before Christmas—the week before the birth of our Redeemer, is that we will all learn to look into the eyes of the men here. Pray for them—that labels will be erased and they will know their Redeemer through the ministry and teaching and testimonies at this mission. Because they are just like you and me. Rahab, the harlot, was just like you and me. Maybe her label is carried all through scripture so that we can see her great need for a Savior…just like you and me.
And the crimson cord that Rahab the harlot dangled from her window has a name as well. In Hebrew it is called a tikvah. The same word in Hebrew that means “hope”. My prayer during this Advent season is that the men here will know there is hope for them. There is hope for me. There is hope for you. Lying in a smelly manger, Hope came for us all.