27 October 2014
With a contagious faith and generosity legendary in his family, his church, and his neighborhood, it's hard to imagine Rudy Brown stealing, dealing drugs, or fending for his life in Seaside Park. Once in a while crowds converged there for concerts or ballgames. But in Rudy's experience, everyday reality for his crowd was different. Nothing good happened in that park. And he was familiar with all of it. Too familiar. Rudy couldn't walk through Seaside Park without looking over his shoulder or making sure that somebody had his back. Still, one cry began burning in his heart, "I want a way out!"
In early May of 2001, Rudy's closest friend took his own life. His thoughts reeled with the question they had discussed just days before: "What's the way out of this dead end life?" Rudy was 27, and a single father to five-year-old Rushawn. Already, most of his friends were in jail or had suffered early deaths by suicide and overdose. But he managed to hang on for his son, hoping he could find an answer to his question and a future for his little family. He also remembered the words of his grandmother, "I'm always praying for you."
An invitation to Seaside Park changed everything for Rudy and his little boy Rushawn. In late May 2001, the Luis Palau festival came to Bridgeport, Conn. Rudy had never seen the park filled with so many safe people! He was surrounded by people who smiled. People who cared. And some really Good News. It was a completely different park from the one where he was accustomed to spending his time—in very different activities. As he listened to Luis Palau's gospel message he realized that the "way out" he was looking for was Jesus Christ.
In late May of 2001, Rudy found the way out at Seaside Park. Now he's showing the way every day to those who have walked the same path.
Growing up in Bridgeport had its unique milestone. "If you made it to your 21st birthday alive," friends joked, "you'd really accomplished something." Rudy remembers his life as a Bridgeport boy—broken family, addicted father, and teenage trouble with the wrong crowd. His life was typical for his community where drugs and violence ruled the day, and people scrounged for purpose. "Life," says Rudy, "was not going anywhere."
But in Rudy's heart he had always longed to do good—to help people. Even before meeting Norma, and Jesus, he always wanted to be a blessing. He was stuck in despair. The only Gospel witness he had known were the words of his grandma: "I'm praying for you." When his closest friend died, "it made sense to drop into a church," said Rudy. "I was looking for healing from the sorrow and pain I was living with."
That same month, his aunt invited Rudy to be in her church wedding. It was his first trip down to the altar, arm-in-arm as a groomsman with a bridesmaid named Norma, his Aunt's close friend. Norma had been sober and clean for three years, since completing a one-year recovery program at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission. A beautiful picture of transformation, she glowed with a profound love for God. When she invited Rudy to come to the Bridgeport Festival with Luis Palau and see to Kirk Franklin perform for free, the answer was an easy "Yes!"
On the first night of the festival, Rudy leaned toward the stage, hungry for every word about hope and eternal life, freedom and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. As Luis Palau shared the gospel message, he realized this was his "way out." Out of depression. Out of addiction. Out of a dead-end lifestyle. Here was everything his heart was longing for, including a future for his young son. His over six-foot frame knelt to receive Christ.
Since then, Rudy and Norma have walked down the aisle a second time. They married and began an adventure together in Christ. Their sons, Rushawn and EJ, commend their dad for his involvement in their lives. And their reputation for loving their neighbors is legendary.
Rudy's life-long desire to do good and help people found a home when he attended and completed nursing school, much like his mom and sister. Today, he addresses the needs and concerns of those who need in-home care. Norma completed Optometry school, becoming the first black, female optometrist in the state of Connecticut. Norma still meets regularly with the women of Bridgeport Rescue Mission—teaching, discipling, and walking them out of lives of abuse and addiction through the love of Christ. Both are active members of a church in the Bronx, where they will volunteer in NY CityServe & CityFest—one more story of the Gospel coming full-circle: salvation, transformation, and giving back.
On any given Sunday, you'll find Rudy near the entrance of his church in The Bronx, where he is a deacon and a minister in training. He knows how to spot people in need, and those who enter the church with outward signs of addiction. He knows how to come alongside the lost, invite them to walk with Christ, and show them the way out. He's been there himself. And he met the Shepherd of his heart at Seaside Park.