Three Monks and a Mother of Five

Words by Shelly Brown

Illustration by Chris Koelle

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Three monks and a mother of five are driving down the highway …

But wait—let me start at the beginning. After attending a wedding in Nashville, I decided to stay an extra day and visit friends. As I started to get on the ramp of I-440, there they were. Adorned in blue floor-length robes, wooden prayer beads that hung like shiny wallet chains, and wooden crosses around their necks—three monks with their thumbs up asking for a ride with shameless audacity. As I drove past them, the voice of my logic reminded me that I am a 5’2” woman traveling alone, that there were children at home, and that I did not need to be murdered.

Then a softer voice urged, “You’re supposed to get them.” I leaned in. I leaned into faith and, knowing that I have protection far greater than my OnStar service can provide, I turned around. As I pulled up, I waved to them, and with joyful surprise they walked to my car. I asked where they were trying to get, and with thick French accents they replied, “Atlanta.” Guess where I was headed the next day? Yep… Atlanta. I told them to get in and that I would take them to the Atlanta airport the following day. They had a 5 p.m. flight to catch and were relying solely on God’s providence to be on time—and there it was, a woman who decided to lean into the little voice.

I wasn’t leaving Nashville until the following morning, so I decided to find them a hotel room for the night. The closest Holiday Inn was a mile away, so we started our adventure. When we arrived, the woman at the desk gave me the exact look you would think one would give when a woman walks in with three monks. I told her I needed a room for the evening. But guess what? No room at the inn. There was also no room at any of their other locations because of several conferences in town. As we walked back to the car, Brother Joachim, Brother Carlos, and Brother Joseph Marie asked if I minded taking them to a homeless shelter to spend the night so they could minister to the people there. They wanted to celebrate the kingdom of God with as many people as they could while they had one last night in the U.S.

As I pulled into the Nashville Rescue Mission, the brothers prayed together for the opportunity to touch as many hearts as they could while they spent the night, to love the good, the bad, and the ugly. I gave them the address of the closest church I could find that offered 7 a.m. mass and told them I would pick them up at 8. They had no cell phones, so I told them I would meet them at the front doors.

The rest of the evening, as I visited with friends, thoughts of these three men lingered in the back of my head. I shared the story with my girlfriends who were equally intrigued, shocked, and terrified for my following day’s four-hour road trip from Nashville to Atlanta. I made promises to them that I would call when I returned home safely. After staying overnight with my friend Anna, she woke up early to cook us breakfast with coffee, and I think possibly to enjoy my company for the last time.

I made it to the cathedral where the three gentlemen stood, again with lovingly joyful looks on their faces to see that I had kept my promise. We got in the car and started a journey that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

We started our trip as any proper modern American road trip does—Starbucks. As soon as we got out of the car to walk inside, a feeling that is all too familiar in our culture came over me: “What will people think?” Here I was with humans who live their lives dedicated to walking as Christ did and helping the homeless, and I felt embarrassed to be seen with them? No ma’am. So I leaned in and didn’t leave their side the whole time we were there. I knew it was the cultural residue of caring about image more than quality of life that I normally find easy to fight. I can go out with no makeup, I have no problem telling people I’m really not doing great, and I can be honest about how many things I don’t know. I just haven’t ever walked into a Starbucks with three monks. So I gave myself some grace and got our coffees. With abundant gratitude they sipped their coffees as we pulled back onto the highway.
I love to listen to people’s stories. I feel so honored when people open up about what is real in their lives. And I wish I could detail every story the monks told.

They shared with me their favorite scriptures, sang blessings, and told me how beautifully meaningful the homeless shelter had been the night before. One man at the shelter had just had his entire life fall apart. At 32 he had lost his newborn baby, his wife, and his job in the span of two years. A friend was picking him up in Nashville after his one night in a homeless shelter. They said the man had tears in his eyes because he felt such joy in knowing that they were meant to be there together for that one night. I wonder if it was the fact that they were monks, or just the fact that someone listened to his story, someone cared? I also felt the overwhelming serendipity of there being no room at the Inn—the Holiday Inn—giving them the opportunity to be there for this man. They spoke about the protection they had from the men in the shelter. The shelter’s tenants were so honored to have the Brothers as guests that one man stayed up the entire night to watch over them and their things. Brother Joseph Marie even woke up to a man covering him with his jacket. They were covered, protected, and loved by the men they came to serve.

During the drive, we covered the topics of faith, meditations, childhood stories, traveling, and lessons learned through trials.

Brother Carlos had been an architecture student with six months left to finish his degree when he began to feel an emptiness he couldn’t shake. So he stepped out into faith and left school to join the brotherhood.

Joseph Marie knew he wanted to serve but didn’t know how. He had gotten into partying in college and couldn’t seem to fill the empty space with booze. One night, he was mugged and shoved into a car. With his bag stolen and two strange men on either side of him, he prayed harder than ever before. They dropped him off and he made it home safely. The miracle was that his bag was returned with all of its belongings, which he felt happened because God heard his prayer.

Their stories and circumstances were all different, but their reason was all the same: they felt empty and couldn’t figure out why. Culture doesn’t teach us to feed emptiness with less, but that’s what they chose. They told me that people of faith swim upstream. They told me that it was hard but it was adventurous. The comment that stood out the most for me was when Joseph Marie passionately stated, “I have the most beautiful life that anyone could ever live.” These were the most joyful people I’d ever met, and they were all sworn to vows of celibacy, poverty, and begging. That’s right—no sex, no money, and no luxurious options for food. In their lives, there was nothing to fill the void but faith.

I was asked at one point, “What do you wake up in the morning for?” My first instinct was, “My kids.” While they thought my answer was beautiful, I literally meant that they wake me up every day, but I kept that to myself. Their answer? “To praise God. Every day.”
As we pulled up to the Atlanta airport, I felt honored to be the one to get them to where they were meant to be at that moment. They sang a blessing over me and handed me pendants of the Virgin Mary. The pendants were designed by a sister at their monastery to whom Mary had appeared in a dream. In the dream Mary’s hands were filled with gemstone rings. Some sparkled with vibrancy and depth, while others were dull and lackluster. In her dream, the sister asked why they were different. Mary explained to her that God wants joy and happiness for our lives that is beyond our imaginations. He wants for us to live with vibrancy and depth, but sometimes the blessings are dulled and hidden simply because we do not ask.

The Brothers walked into the airport at 2:40 p.m. for their 5 p.m. flight to Paris only because they asked for God’s provision. I have no idea who else they were able to bless on their way home, but I know that I was one of them. They filled voids with faith, loved people boldly, and lived fearlessly all because they asked. They gave me an adventure to share and a reminder to always lean in and trust that we will always be covered, protected, and loved—if we only ask.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9, 10 NKJV)

*Disclaimer: Good Grit does not recommend picking up monks on the side of the highway… but sometimes we do.