God’s ways are mysterious and astonishing. And it’s impossible to predict the miraculous ways God prepares hearts long before they come to know Him.
Brad Acre grew up in Alabaster in a Christian home. They went to church as a family from the time he was young until he entered high school. His sophomore year, he began attending Kingwood Christian School, where they held chapel every Wednesday.
“I had the mindset,” Brad says, “that I was going to church on Wednesdays, so I didn’t need to go on Sundays. Then of course, once I graduated, I quit going to church all together. I never had a real relationship with God.”
He went on to get his undergraduate at UAB. Then, in May of last year, Brad was rooming with a friend in an apartment in downtown Birmingham when two people unexpectedly knocked on his door. They introduced themselves as Hanna Taylor and Sarah Witkowski.
Brad describes the meeting.
“They were going door to door offering prayer to people. So initially, I told them I didn’t need prayer, and I was just hoping they would leave. Maybe 10-15 minutes went by, and as I was doing laundry, all of the sudden I just thought, ‘Who am I to say I don’t need prayer? Of course I need prayer.’ At the time, my 17-year-old sister had just found she was pregnant. I thought, ‘Even if I don’t ask for myself, then I’ll go ask for my sister, because that’s a tough situation.’ I went out, and they were still knocking on doors, so I just waited until they were done, then I went and talked to them for about 30 minutes, and we prayed.”
Hanna and Sarah invited Brad to do a Bible Study with them once a week, and he decided to go for it.
A couple of month later, the Singles Ministry at Brook Hills had a gathering at Sarah’s house, and they invited Brad.
“That was the first time I’d been around a lot of people from Brook Hills,” Brad remembers. “And everybody was just so loving and kind. It was really awesome and refreshing to see that. The church that I grew up in was not like that – you could tell there was no genuine affection for brothers and sisters. Then to see that genuine love coming from strangers directed at me was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.”
Brad began attending a co-ed singles small group led by Philip and Jill Waters throughout the summer. While there, he decided it was time to visit Brook Hills. “And I loved it. Just absolutely loved it. It was Word-driven, which was brand-new to me. I hadn’t ever experienced true Bible-based preaching. Every time we talked about an issue, we were pointed to where Scripture addresses it.”
One Sunday after church, Brad asked Hanna and another friend, Noor, if they’d like to go to lunch.
“Noor said, ‘Oh you’re hungry?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘hang on, stay right there. Don’t move.’ And he ran off. We waited, and he came back shortly with another older couple, and they immediately just said, ‘Please come over to our house and have lunch with us!’
"So I went over there with – once again – strangers, and was just so welcomed. She had prepared this elaborate meal. And the way that they treated us and everything just stuck with me. I had a different view of what Christianity was supposed to be and what following Christ was supposed to look like before that. When I saw what matches up so closely to the Bible portrayed in these people, I knew this was where I wanted to be.
Meanwhile, God was preparing the heart of a girl named Rebecca, who also came to Birmingham to attend UAB.
Rebecca attended church with her mom and older sister when she was very young, but when she grew a little older, they stopped going. She always thought when she was old enough to decide for herself, she’d go to church. But she put it off, thinking she’d have time for it all later.
During Rebecca’s senior year of highschool, her sister became very sick. A rare autoimmune disease brought her very near death and caused her to be hospitalized for several months. Rebecca’s family would rotate staying with her sister in the hospital that year.
Then, Rebecca’s sophomore year at UAB brought with it a realization. “Whenever things like that happen, you kind of realize, we’re not the ones that get to choose that we have time for all of that later.”
She began attending a local church, and in response to her faith, she was baptized.
“When you first go all in, you feel like you’re on level 1000. You feel untouchable and just on fire. But that’s not how you are all the time, and so when you drop, it can be hard. I felt like every service, I just wasn’t learning a lot. I wasn’t really being taught how to read and study the Word for myself, and there just wasn’t any growth spiritually.”
Rebecca began to share her thoughts with her assistant coach and friend, Haley Wilson. Haley and Rebecca began doing Bible studies together, and Haley invited her to Brook Hills.
“I thought it was just great how Pastor Matt walks you through how to study on your own. He also makes sure we look at the context around a passage, instead of just finding something that relates to us. So we are really seeing what God’s Word says for itself, and then we can respond and change in that way.”
Rebecca began going to Singles Ministry events with her friend Haley and joined Tom and Ginger Vigneulle’s small group. “They were so welcoming and intentional with us,” Rebecca says. “The Singles Ministry really played a big part in our growth. It was really encouraging.”
Brad and Rebecca had met before. They had a class and worked closely together one semester at UAB, and when Brad got a job at the golf course where Rebecca also worked, they would talk then too. But the Lord had a plan for them both. It wasn’t until they were both plugged in at Brook Hills and growing in their relationship with Him that they began to truly get to know each other.
Brad shares, “God’s timing had our paths crossing and crossing, but we were never on the same path until at just the right moment.”
Soon, Brad was ready to be baptized, and Rebecca was able to baptize him. They got engaged, and as a result of the way others at Brook Hills had invested in them, they knew they wanted to make a commitment to the Brook Hills faith family and become members.
“It was a pretty easy process.” Rebecca explains, “We just signed up for a Saturday, the homework was basically just taking time to writing your testimony. Then, we met with an elder, Wayne Kendrick, and his wife, Donna.”
“That was our favorite part,” says Brad.
“Definitely,” Rebecca continues. “We ended up meeting with them a couple weeks before our wedding and got to know them a little through that. They were just really easy to talk to. You feel like you’ve known them a really long time. And just a few Sundays ago, they brought us a framed little gift, a blessing with our names, a letter from God through Isaiah 43. It was just the sweetest thing and meant so much to us.”
We’re all part of God’s intricate plan. He weaves our stories together in surprising and breathtaking ways that ultimately put His glory and creativity on display. We may not know what hearts He is preparing to hear about and know Him, but when we are obedient to love others and share the good news, we can trust Him to bring opportunities for us share with those who are ready to hear.
Brad and Rebecca Acre have both been attending Brook Hills for a little over a year. Brad is in grad school to get his teaching certificate, and Rebecca is an Assistant Golf Professional at the Country Club of Birmingham.