They were a sight to see. Three adults on horseback, riding down inner city streets. People swarmed, asking who they were and what on Earth they were doing with horses in the roughest parts of town.
For Tim and Lynn Tuggle, it was just another part of their journey. But for Christie Cox, it was a journey that changed her life.
A Simple Ministry
Christie met the Tuggles at her aunt’s funeral. The husband and wife duo caught her interest when she learned they were traveling across country on horseback. Their mission was a simple one: Ask anyone they met to pray for the country and follow God’s lead for their next step.
“I just got to talking with them and hearing their stories,” Christie remembered. “It was at a time in my life when I was questioning a lot of things, and it was just like the spark that I needed to be re-energized spiritually and to go after the things that I wasn’t going after at the time in the Lord.”
At the end of the Tuggles’ horseback journey, Christie reconnected with them and joined them in October of 2014 for round two of their mission. This time, though, the horses traveled in the trailer pulled by their truck.
“We were doing the same kind of things they were doing when they were on horseback,” Christie said. “We would go into the streets in the projects and the ghetto areas, places that were really rough, and we would take the horses. And if you just take a horse down the street, especially in an inner city, people just flock to you. … It was just this really awesome opportunity to immediately share the Gospel with people, and they were open to hearing it because they were so fascinated by the fact that we had a horse. It just seemed so simple.”
A Change in Plans
While Tim and Lynn always made some kind of plan, Christie said their planning became more hour-to-hour instead of week-to-week or even day-to-day. Sharing their story with churches and ministries was their main goal, but they often changed directions if Tim felt God leading them a different way.
Like when they saw a young woman walking on the side of the highway. It was winter in North Carolina, and it was cold. They offered her a ride, and she jumped in their truck. She explained she was on her way back from a job interview. Shivering from her winter walk, she politely answered their questions and listened as they explained who they were and what they were doing.
But the more questions they asked, the more Christie could see this woman’s demeanor changing. She began hesitating, and her answers seemed more forced and guarded.
“Then … it was just like she cracked,” said Christie. “ … She just broke down and said, ‘My boyfriend beats me, and his mom is always telling me how worthless I am. He locked me in my room the other day, and he’ll just leave me in there all the time if I don’t do the right thing.’ ”
She went on to explain — in graphic detail — how her boyfriend beat her and choked her and kept her from seeing her two children who lived with her mother in Virginia.
Tim pulled the truck into a parking lot and told the young woman they would take her to her children. Right away, if she wanted.
“She was just deliberating in her mind, and then she said, ‘I can’t leave him. Because he’s the one that gives me drugs, and I can’t leave him.’ And so we just sat there in that, knowing this was the reason why she hadn’t left him completely.”
Fighting the frustration of this choice, Christie listened as Tim shared his own experiences with drugs and addiction with the woman. He spoke about the Gospel and asked the woman if she knew Jesus. Yes, she said she did know Him. But she admitted she wasn’t doing a good job of following Him.
“That was so insightful to me,” Christie remembered. “Here’s this girl who is living what I, in my sheltered, Christian life, would identify as a worldly lifestyle, caught up in alcohol, sex, drugs. … She obviously has encountered Jesus in some point of her life, and she knows she’s supposed to follow Him, (but) she knows she’s not (following Jesus.) And she can say it out loud. That was humbling to me.”
God’s Broken Heart
Christie began pouring out encouragement. She told the woman she could leave that life, that she had value and didn’t deserve the abuse. Then, they waited for the woman’s decision.
“It was dead quiet. You could see her holding her breath, trying to figure this out. She was all clenched up, fidgeting, looking out the window. … All the struggle in her came up to this final moment, and it just shifted. This stoic, hard, stern person came out of her, and she was just like, ‘Take me home.’ … And I just fell apart inside.”
And so they took her home.
The woman silently got out of the truck, shutting the door on a chance to escape from her bondage. Christie fumed at the rejection. She wanted to follow her, to talk her out of her decision, to persuade her not to go home. But Tim reminded Christie they can’t control people. God offers grace freely, but if people say no, they respect that.
Christie still thinks about the woman who walked back into her abuse and addiction. She wonders where she is, how she is doing. But Christie knows that moment in the truck wasn’t just an opportunity for a young woman’s freedom; it was a way God revealed His heart to her.
“…That’s what the Lord has spoken to me through that story. ‘This is tragic; welcome to my world.’ Welcome to the heart of God, who is devastated when people walk away. I had to sit in that with Him and experience it.”
Despite the fact this story of that young stranger doesn’t have a happy ending, Christie said she now lives with the passion to share God’s freedom with more people. Right in the middle of their brokenness. Because that’s where she saw the heart of God.
You can read Christie’s full story of her journey with the Tuggles on her website, christiecox.com.