By Kay Etheredge
The Brother Bryan Mission graduations are always great. I liken the atmosphere at graduations to a holiday with family kind of feeling. The men who are graduating put on their best outfits, comb their hair, and prepare, sometimes with no small amount of nervousness, what they will say. Maybe they will never fathom the level of encouragement and joy these graduations bring to their families who attend and to the staff of BBM who daily invest in their lives.
Last night Cathedral Church of the Advent hosted the graduation and provided supper beforehand. It is always so nice to be at Church of the Advent…the beautiful building itself engenders a great degree of reverence and anticipation. The supper added a special feel of being around the table with family. We heard from Marty, who received his GED just this week at the age of 61. We heard from Al who has a very dramatic testimony of having had a brain tumor and how, through God’s help, he endured grueling brain surgery and 26 radiation treatments. Al is one of the most vivacious people at BBM…always asking how he can pray for others and carrying with him his scripture memory cards. He knows more verses by memory than pretty much anyone I know. He has challenged me without even knowing it to memorize the Word. All the men spoke clearly and bravely about God’s grace in their lives to help them overcome dependence on drugs, alcohol, food addictions, pornography, and more.
This morning I came into work at BBM. Almost immediately there was conversation about a man who had walked away from his job last night and nobody knows where he is. I heard phone calls being made to area hospitals from an office down the hall…each call opening with a polite but desperate inquiry about whether this man might be a patient. Others in another part of the mission were calling the jails. He was not found.
As I began to record the program fees with other staff I noticed a familiar name was missing from the list. I asked why his name wasn’t there. I was told he left last week after coming in under the influence of alcohol. It was heartbreaking because several weeks ago I had heard this man speak at our church and the things he said were so very moving and sincere and it was obvious that he possesses a very tender and kind heart.
As I heard the hospital calls taking place I thought about all the times my husband and I have done the same thing…searching, searching for someone we know has strayed from the sure and certain Light of God’s path. We have driven through seedy trailer parks looking for any sign of a battered gray pick- up truck hoping that we might be able to persuade the person to come back. We have called hotel rooms begging men to stop drinking and to let us come and get them. We have visited a nearby park in the pouring rain pleading with a red headed friend to just get out of the rain, to not finish that bottle he has in a rumpled paper sack, and watched as tears rolled down his face as he said, “I’ll be fine. The rain doesn’t bother me”. As we got back into the car I cried myself and said to Jim, “Who wants to be cold and wet? Who chooses to stay on the ground in the cold and rain?”
Jesus tells the story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep…one wandered away and he was left with ninety-nine. He left all of them and went and searched diligently until he found the one lost sheep. Each one of us who is living redemption can identify with the one lost sheep. We have been the lost sheep. It is endearing to see the staff here at BBM search for the one sheep…calling and caring and hoping against hope that this one sheep will be found. Last night there was rejoicing and celebration and laughter and the joining of family around the table. It seemed so fitting and right. This morning there was the news of the wandering away of sheep and those who search and hope and pray and want to believe the best even as reality begins to say something different. There are the ninety and nine who, at least for today, are healthy and content with grazing contentedly nearby. And there is the one…always the one…who felt like life outside the verdant pastures was somehow better…somehow more appealing. And there are shepherds here at Brother Bryan.
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah.
Lyrics of Reckless Love by Cory Asbury