Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Dying and Death of Julie Brown

Julie Brown sat in the front row of the church with a friend she had brought along. He had not been inside a house of worship for years and was an atheist. Julie, at least in recent weeks, had been attending one regularly: New Day Covenant Church in Boulder, Colorado. She had been camping out in the hills of Boulder, Colorado, for about a year, making do as one could—without any income or official social support. Then she developed a cough that would not go away. She came into town for help and received the dreaded diagnosis: cancer. After this, she attended a barbeque at New Day, and began attending there. During one service, she came forward, knelt before the large, striking, wooden cross at the front of the church and confessed her sins with Pastor Doug White, who knelt beside her. The church became her family.

That Sunday in September of 2007, she listened to every word of my sermon, “Finding Power Over Error,” which was derived from Acts 13:1-12. As I exposited several principles for extending the gospel and dealing with spiritual opposition, her gaze never faltered, her ears were open as wide as her eyes, and as wide as her heart.

After the message, she immediately greeted me and thanked me for making the message so clear. “I have never heard the gospel so clearly,” she told me with gratitude. During the Bible study that followed, Julie listened attentively to Pastor Doug White’s teaching on The Book of James. She asked good questions and made thoughtful comments. But she had no hair. Julie had donned a wig for the church service—in order to look respectable—but now it was gone. The chemotherapy had done its usual work. In a voice hoarse from treatments, and with few teeth left in her mouth, she participated in learning more of the gospel. She was an avid student of the Scriptures that morning.

I will never forget Julie Brown, although I met her for only a few hours one Sunday morning in a small church. I prayed for her often, and received updates from Pastor Doug on her condition. He told me that she brought many of her homeless friends to New Day. Julie fit the sociological category of being homeless, but she found a home in Christ and in his Church that meets at New Day. She indeed had more of a home than many who live in Christ-less mansions of mammon, as so many in Boulder do. She did her level best to evangelize her street friends. She remained cheerful and funny and brave to the end. She died under the loving care of a Christian community. Her cancer treatments and her hospital and hospice car were volunteered by kind souls. And in her dying, she gave life and grace to many—as several testified in my presence today at her funeral.

Julie’s funeral at New Day Church was not attended by any biological family members. Instead, her church family and many of her homeless friends sat and heard a brief and biblical message by Pastor Doug as well as testimonies by Julie’s friends. I spoke briefly on the theme that Julie had “ears to hear” the gospel. Jesus often concluded one of his teaching by saying, “Let everyone hear who has ears to hear.” Teachers need learners or we are not teachers at all. Julie was more alert and responsible to my message than many of my students at the theological graduate school where I have taught for fifteen years.

Yet how could I, a professional egghead, reach Julie, a rough and ready homeless woman, with the Message? It is simple: the World of God is living and active, breaking down barriers and building bridges through truth (Hebrews 4:15). Julie learned some lessons that day—and, more importantly, learned more about God through the messages she heard from Pastor Doug and through the love of his church. These were lessons that she did not forget. As Pastor Doug said in his message, “the eyes of her heart” were opened to see the glorious gospel of Christ (Ephesians 1:18).

Julie Brown, a woman only in her late forties, is dead. Our prayers for her physical healing were not answered. You will not read any other obituary about her. All her belongings are in a small back room at New Day Church. Her beloved dog, Baby, has a new master. But Julie has a new home—in heaven.

12 comments:

Marty "the fly" Rosenbloom said...

thank you for this article. I appreciate it when you write from the heart with tenderness.

Tom said...

Doug,

That is a fine tribute. God bless those who reached out to Julie. Indeed, it seems that in allowing them to know and minister to her, He already has.

Southern Dreaming said...

I wish I could find a church that preaches the gospel. I've all but given up.

Doug White said...

Thank you for your sincere post Dr. G. It was an honor and a privilege to be Julie's pastor. We were so blessed as God used Julie to scatter seeds of mercy, compassion and love at New Day Covenant Church in Boulder. Funny, Julie thought that she was the one who was most blessed when she was welcomed into the fellowship of the local body of a church! May we ongoingly blossom in Spirit-filled abundance as God made His appeal through Julie Brown to bring about His glory. Downtown Julie Brown we grieve your loss but we also rejoice as you have entered the eternal living hope. We are looking forward to joining you (together with all of God's saints) one day on the Otherside.

Yossman said...

Christians are in a way the 'continuation of the incarnation'. New Day Covenant Church seems to understand and practice that.

Peter Malik said...

Thank you...

John said...

It is a blessing and encouragement to read the obituary for a faithful saint. Thank you!

Jim Pemberton said...

...and I look forward to meeting my faithful sister in Christ on that day. Your prayers for healing were answered: she is to have a glorified body that will not decay made for her by the Great Physician.

Sarah Scott said...

Amen, Jim-- beautifully said. Thank you, Dr. Groothuis.

Jeff said...

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints. - Psalm 116:15

Paul D. Adams said...

"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Enjoy your victory, Ms. Brown! Thanks for your life story and a reminder of redemption's power.

Joel said...

Dr. G,

Funny how God brought her down from the mountain with a condition that directly allowed Him to do work on her heart and thus, reconciling an even greater condition in her.