The Dying and Death of Julie Brown
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.