Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
A few days ago I received the notice of Rev. Joe Brown’s passing.
In contrast to some other great men of God, the passing of Rev. Brown, who for nearly six decades faithfully served hundreds of thousands of the poorest of the poor, “dump dwellers,” as he called them, eking out a survival in the mountains of refuse outside Tijuana, Mexico, will probably not be featured in more than just local headlines. There will likely be no heads of state marking his passing or big name religious leaders sounding funeral bells in great cathedrals. The reason for that and for his “bare-bones ministry” the lion’s share of all contributions going to the poor (very little for ministry announcements and updates), will be made obvious when you read my original feature on his ministry, re-printed below.
But for his supporters, family, and friends who will be gathering for his “Celebration of Life” at the Brown Community Center, 10718 Hwy 126, Mapleton, Oregon, 97453, next Saturday, August 25, 2019, from 1 pm to 5 pm (“Potluck dishes welcome,” reads the postcard announcement of the event), although there ought to be such acclaim, and those gathered will definitely celebrate this man’s life and work, we know he is being feted in much grander style, just now–and will be for all eternity. Quite grand, indeed, and in keeping with the honor due all great men of God, whose “good and faithful service” while yet here was “well done.”
Rest in peace–and in honor–Rev. Brown.
Honoring the “Mission of Joe Brown”: 56 Years–and Counting–Serving the “Dump Dwellers”
Originally posted Oct. 7, 2016
I found a small, unexpected package in the mail yesterday, but the return address was familiar: “Mission of Joe Brown, P.O. Box 537, Mapleton, OR, 97453.”
For over thirty years, I’ve had what I regard as the honor to have supported Rev. Brown’s ministry to the poorest of the poor, including abandoned and orphaned children, literally scraping and scrapping for some kind of living in a massive dump outside of one Mexico’s biggest cities.*
But Rev. Brown’s solicitations for donations usually come in a standard, white business envelope, the updates about what the ministry has accomplished with previous donations typed up on a couple of pages of plain, white paper.
Sometimes the letters include black-and-white, photo-copied pictures of children or families who live in the dump, the “dump dwellers,” as they are known. A small slip of paper is included for any prayer requests we might have for him to pray over in return, and Rev. Brown never fails to express his deep gratitude for our contributions, no matter how minimal they might be. A smaller, plain, return envelope is tucked in as well.
But this time, there was something else–in the package–a book, a thumbnail image of the cover is at the top of this post, along with his contact information (which I have added).
Not that Rev. Brown and his ministry have not been featured in print long before this, his first actual book (to my knowledge). In fact, my first introduction to his ministry was as a reporter, back those thirty-some years ago, on assignment for one of my first freelance writing jobs for a regional Christian newspaper called the Christian News Courier. We were a small, mostly volunteer outfit ourselves, publishing and distributing to a readership in the Pacific Northwest.
As I prepped for the interview, I read through several existing articles on the Mission of Joe Brown featured in other newspapers across the nation, along with a feature in The Reader’s Digest. I knew he had also been a guest on many radio talk shows, one or two with a national following, as well as the subject of an interview on a local television station, KEZI.
And everybody, I realized by the end of my research, seemed to pick up on the same thing I did when I interviewed him: his humility, and the bare-bones simplicity of his ministry.
There are no glossy brochures or other PR materials in any of his letters of request for donations. No pictures of fancy new buildings–or any other kind at the Oregon headquarters which is his home (although the Mexican authorities finally allowed him to provide a few buildings, there, one, a medical clinic, as I recall).
Those who donate to this ministry will receive no invitations to go on cruises or tours or donor banquets, indeed, those who accompany Rev. Brown on his as-can-be-afforded trips overland to Mexico need to understand that the history of these mission trips include the time he was shot at nine times (but, praise God, he wrote, not hit, although he heard bullets whizzing by), and the time a group of aggressive-looking men, one with a drawn knife, approached him as he pulled up to distribute donations packed in the back of the truck (once again, he was spared) and other harrowing events that are not for the faint of heart (several such anecdotes are included in the book).
The Mission of Joe Brown, as I learned doing my research back then, and as I have continued to learn through the years, was and still is entirely for the benefit of the poorest of the poor, widows and orphans, the abandoned and the abused, who forage amid the stench and trash of acres of refuse for what scraps of food, clothing and shelter can be found. Literally. In short, this is no Spring Vacation Youth Group–even adult group–Tour to help build a church and take a side trip to an amusement park or tourist trap.
The Ministry has no website or other media presence that I am aware of, and after all this time I know why: money saved is another blanket for, say, a six year-old orphan who tries to keep warm on cold nights by foraging for scraps of cardboard. Money saved is another box of rice and can of beans for a single mother with no education and abandoned by the father of her two children; money saved is medicine for the kinds of diseases and infections endemic in such environments at the edges of civilization–especially, third world type civilization.
And, because of the faithfulness of Rev. Joe Brown through the years, 56 and counting, and the trust he has established with the local powers-that-be by his selfless ministry to the poor among them, money saved is, now, even an education for some of the children, even more medical services, and an actual community of modest homes, such as they are, that provide the kind of safety, warmth, and protection its residents have never known before.
Which is why I love this ministry and why I will always support it.
Sure, the newsletters have a few typos now and then and some grammar glitches, and maybe the black-and-white pictures are a little grainy.
And maybe the book isn’t going to be a best-seller with introductions by famous Christians.
Maybe it doesn’t even have contact information such as I included, above, for interested persons (maybe the next edition will have contact information? I’ll email the suggestion).
But I can guarantee that everybody who has an opportunity to give to this ministry will be greatly blessed, if just that, in this age of big-business, mega-ministries where the leadership sport multi-million-dollar jets and live in Hollywood-styled mansions while the poor in their communities forage for what provisions they can find, here is a ministry that, literally, practices what it preaches.
Rev. Brown not only preaches the saving, healing, and “providing” grace of Jesus Christ, he lives it. Overhead equals gas and tires for the truck or more than one truck, if available, to make the trip to Mexico. That’s about it. Donations go to food, clothing, medicine, and the other basic necessities of life for the dump dwellers.
See what I mean?
Which is why I am writing this, here, and encouraging readers who also feel so led to get the news out, and see if there is also a place in your heart for the dump dwellers–and those who serve them without fanfare, fuss, or fat expense accounts, just the love of Jesus Christ “for the least of these.”
Along with the mailing address and phone number beneath the book cover image, here is Rev. Brown’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* The remarkable story of how his ministry began is included in this new book, along with other anecdotes from throughout the years of his service there. Contributions to the Mission of Joe Brown are tax deductible, by the way. But even if they weren’t I would still donate.