Just when I think the Lord’s children are giving Him a startling array of new headaches, ranging from an “Evangelical Manifesto” in Dallas to the Rev. Al Sharpton being arrested in New York to Barack Obama’s toxic dance with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, out of the shadows steps an Episcopal priest in Nashville who silently assures me the Christian army is still the world’s most mighty.
Becca Stevens, at 46, is still every bit as pretty as she was when she was the Homecoming Queen at the University of the South, but in the last 10 years she has become far more beautiful and it is not just because she uses a line of bath and body products made by her own Thistle Farms.
No, she’s just back home from an exhilarating overseas trip where she and a handful of other Nashvillians have just taken their little company global. But lest you think she has joined other U.S. companies by “out-sourcing” to make more money, she’s in the bigger business of saving lives in the name of her Lord, Jesus Christ.
Becca is just back from Rwanda to start a new branch of her marvelous Magdalene Project. Back in the late ‘90s, she started a home for prostitutes in Nashville where they could right their lives, regain their dignity and stand tall once again.
To fiancé this mission, this mother-of-three founded a not-for profit company called Thistle Farms, which makes a very successful array of soaps and salts and lotions that make women pretty. It was a natural, these women who were at life’s rock-bottom suddenly busy as beavers producing cleansing soaps and balms in a way that put an emotional and psychological salve on their own hurts.
There cannot be a shred of doubt the whole concept was blessed from the very beginning because today it is thriving in a glorious way but for the Rev. Stevens it is not enough, nor will it ever be enough, as long as women are being brutalized in every part of the world.
“I have this renewed call about trying to love the world,” Rev. Stevens said in today’s editions of the Nashville Tennessean. “I want to love the world, but I need to make sure that it happens one person at a time that I encounter,” she added, probably having no idea that as she did so she sounded so very similar to the Lord she worships as a chaplain at St. Augustine’s on the Vanderbilt campus.
Becca’s heart doesn’t surprise many people in Nashville any more. She was voted the “Most Likely to Succeed” when she graduated from Overton High, but her actual zeal was triggered years before when her father, a much-revered Episcopal priest at Nashville’s St. Matthias, was killed by a drunk driver on his way home.
It was then that her mother had to “reinvent herself,” in Becca’s words, and, as the late Anne Stevens did so by going from a child-care worker to the executive director of St. Luke’s Community Center, she set an example for Becca that has washed literally thousands of people in Nashville by its ripple effect.
The Magdalene Project is the most notable and once, when she was asked how on earth a priest would be drawn to street prostitutes, she said this: “There is a fine line between being a priest and being a prostitute. In the church there is Mary the Virgin and Mary Magdalene the prostitute.
“What holds us together as women, our humanity, is much stronger than our separateness. One of the lessons of Magdalene is that this is not completely foreign to us as women. We all share this. All women, no matter who we are, have had to use our sexuality, and sold part of ourselves, to get something we need, or to be where we have to be,” she told a writer for the Nashville Scene several years ago.
That interview was printed when Becca was named as the city’s “Nashvillian of the Year” and, since it was written, she has worked her way to the point she is offering hope to the most ravaged women in perhaps the whole world – the Rwandans.
Not only was she absolutely exhilarated at the sight of the African women wearing protective goggles and rubber gloves in their traditional tribal dress as they made Thistle Farms soap, it was just as rewarding to take them to the market where everything from shovels to vegetable seeds was bought. “Sometimes it’s just the fishing pole people need; they already know how to fish,” she told the Tennessean.
And so it is that Becca has now harvested a new crop of thistle, for which her soaps are named. You see, in the introduction of her products on the Thistle Farms website, she explains it pretty well.
“To me, being a thistle farmer means that the world is our farm, and our job is to see the beauty in the areas that have been abandoned or deemed unworthy of cultivating. Our fields include allies, lots behind malls, railway clearings, and the poorest sections of town. When we harvest a thistle it means that we still see the beauty in all of creation, and that nothing should be left to be condemned.“
That then is the message I need today, not some manifesto or being arrested at a protest or a kooky set of sermons that now litter the political landscape. And as I add Becca Stevens to my list of heroes, it’s better than an even bet she’s on the good Lord’s list today too!