Our lives changed in January 2010 when we met a group of men living around a fire barrel under I-65. We began to spend time with them, eat with them, and learn about their stories. Genuine friendships were developed and we began walking with several of them through the long and messy process of rebuilding their lives.
Things didn't always go smoothly. In fact, things rarely went the way we planned. There were many long, hard conversations that we worked through and we learned a lot about their backgrounds and struggles and our own prejudices and preconceived ideas about how things should work. We had to work hard (and we still do to this day) to navigate a number of barriers that existed because of our different backgrounds, upbringings, and experiences. But the one thing we always had in common was that we were men that were able to talk to each other like men.
As more and more people on the streets of Birmingham learned about Urban Purpose, we began to get to know a lot of people outside the original group we met living under 65. People wanted to talk to us about addiction recovery, housing options, and employment opportunities. And it wasn't just men calling us to get together to talk through their issues and situations, we began getting a number of calls from women that were in really difficult situations.
One afternoon I (Mark) was having lunch with Danny and he asked about the ministry and how things were going. I shared with him about the struggle we were having ministering to the women that were reaching out to us for help. I told him about all of the difficult situations and awkward conversations this created. We talked about the inefficiency this was causing because Jim and I had to do everything together when working with women in order to keep us from any compromising situations. Danny was interested in what was going on and asked if we had thought about any possible solutions. I told him that we had been thinking and talking about hiring a female to come on staff with us and help work with the women that God was now putting in our path. The only problem we faced was that we weren't in a financial position to bring on a new staff member.
Several months later Jim got a call from Danny and was told that Shades was going to provide three years of salary for us to hire a woman to join our staff. We were blown away by the generosity of the church and their desire to help equip us to continue to do what God has called us to. Rachel Coleman is now a part of the Urban Purpose staff and has been a tremendous addition to our team. Shades' desire to invest in Urban Purpose has allowed us to be more effective in ministering to and walking with women in need throughout our city. We're thankful and humbled to be a part of the Chapters campaign and we're excited about how God will continue to use Rachel's addition to our staff to advance his kingdom.