By Toni W. Riley
When meeting Brad Kirkman, a person immediately feels a certain charm — the Andy Taylor type of charm that instantly makes you feel comfortable and realize this guy is kind and genuine.
The son of Dorris and Shirley Kirkman, Brad looks back on his adolescent years and remembers the fields behind his home on John Rivers Road that provided hours and hours of opportunity to learn about life. He attended Pembroke Elementary School where many of his best friends were military kids and moved away often, he didn’t have any nearby playmates and his brother was five years older, so he had to learn to make his own adventures.
“I might have been alone, but I was never lonely,” he reminisced. The fields gave him abundant room to explore. He developed a natural curiosity and imagination. One day, he’d be fishing or climbing trees and the next, he was a soldier or a spy. His outdoor exploration not only taught him where to step to avoid cow “piles” but also where to step later in life. It was a great way to live and wasn’t overly complicated.
Things changed when he was 12 and his father died of lung cancer. Three years later, he and his mom moved to Kenwood Drive, and he lost his niche as a country kid.
Even with these changes, Brad found stability at church. For him, Casky Baptist Church served as a mother hen, taking its members under its wings to nurture and protect them.
“Casky Church was the most solid thing in my life,” Brad said. “I never had a negative church experience.”
While his depth of faith comes from the church’s teachings, he credits his youth leaders for advising him on the most important decision he would ever make — who he would marry.
“Bill and Janet (Hall) told me when I dated a girl to ask myself, ‘Is this the person I want to spend the rest of my life with,’ and if not, don’t invest in the relationship.”
Brad used that philosophy while dating, but no relationship really “cha-chinged” until he met Lori Bentley. She was a high school senior when he was a sophomore at Hopkinsville Community College. They dated two years and were broke college students at Murray State University when Brad really knew Lori was “the one.”
“I didn’t have a quarter to my name,” he said. “We went to play ping pong and I couldn’t buy a ball.” But Lori didn’t mind and suggested they do something else.
“Right then, I knew she was the one and would stick with me through thick or thin,” Brad said, with a huge grin spreading across his face. He and Lori were married in June 1997 after she graduated from Murray.
Fast forward to early 2010. Brad and Lori have two children, Emma, 7, and Cooper, 2. Brad was working for Schott Gemtron in Madisonville and Lori was the part-time director of children’s ministry at Second Baptist Church. Although they were living a comfortable, middle-class life, they felt something was missing.
“We would come home and pull in the garage of our Springmont Drive home and not know our neighbors,” Brad said.
Two experiences around that time convinced Brad that the faith he developed at Casky Baptist was directing their lives in a different direction: One was a visit to Challenge House and the other was a Christian men’s group that was organized at his work.
“When we visited Challenge House 3, it was a wreck and in the process of being remodeled, but Lori and I thought it was awesome,” Brad said.
The couple began to feel a calling for the Challenge House ministry – but sort of ignored it.
The men’s group was reading the book “Radical” by David Pratt, which called into question a host of comfortable notions that are common among today’s Christians. The book suggested a radical response “to live the gospel in ways that are true, filled with promise and ultimately world changing.”
Brad expressed his frustration to Lori when the radical men’s group had been turned down as volunteers by two nonprofit organizations in Madisonville. It was then that his wife challenged him.
“If you want to do something radical, why not move to Challenge House,” she asked. It was then that the couple realized it was God’s plan for them.
“We felt that if God wants us to do this, he’s going to take care of things,” Brad said.
Even though the housing market was down, they sold their home, and Brad got a new job in Hopkinsville at Cumberland Hall. On Thanksgiving 2010, they became the ambassadors for Challenge House 3.
Now five years later, their home on Fowler Street is a gathering place for neighborhood children. Brad uses the faith he developed at Casky Baptist Church every day as he builds relationships with the families in the neighborhood.
Brad is known as the “Bicycle Man” because he is always available to fix someone’s bike. On Wednesday nights, he drives the Second Baptist Church bus to pick up children to go to the children’s church ministry.
The Kirkmans said they’ve seen growth in the young people who come to the house regularly. Brad has heard them tell each other to behave and to not use bad language at Challenge House.
Brad said he didn’t want to be just the “Bicycle Man,” so he found another way to live his faith as the “BEKind Guy.” In September 2014, he made a small wooden sign, on which he engraved the words “BEKind” with a router. He posted a picture on Facebook, and his signs were a hit with his friends and neighbors. Since then, he’s made over 100 signs and even has a waiting list.
The signs are 20 to 30 inches long and 6 inches wide, and he signs them in a subliminal way — the capital letters in the sign are his initials.
Brad admits that he likes to create art and doesn’t like to sit still, so he decided to create signs with a happy saying.
“I thought if I was to die how would people remember me,” he said. “I would hope they would remember I was a simple guy that showed kindness. I want these signs to be my trademark, to know that BEKind is what I stand for.”
By Toni W. Riley