Today he is a dynamic pastor and one of my dearest friends—closer than a brother and more like Jesus than any other person I’ve ever known.
Back in the day, I would not have wanted to meet him on the street, any street. All he wanted to do then was kill “whitey,” as he called white people. I’m white, and I’ve never relished the thought of getting murdered by any man, much less an enraged black man. Marshall Brandon’s story came out of the 60’s racial struggles in America. It followed a predictable path from abuse to anger to addiction and imprisonment, but it did not end there.
He was abused as a child and goaded into gangland. His need to protect himself from his circumstances trumped his innate intelligence and favor with people. He looked for a hero in his father, and when his father failed him, he sought celluloid champions. He fought because he endured physical abuse from his mother; he vowed that no one else would beat him. Enlisting to fight for his country was an escape, and he went to Vietnam as a naive, hero wannabe.
Instead of a John Wayne movie, his Vietnam experience was more like a Black Nationalist on an angry high. Marshall got loaded both with marijuana and the reality of racism at home and in Nam. His fellow soldiers flooded him with news of US race riots and propaganda pieces shattering his myth that any white man could be a hero. He experienced and witnessed his black brothers fall prey to the racism of commanding officers, and he looked at it as bullying—he abhors bullies. Never one to back down from a fight, he gained a fighter’s reputation with his peers and with his officers, almost stepping into eternity as a result.
He came home an addict with a taste for retribution against the system that kept his black brothers and sisters in modern-day bondage. He outfitted himself for war, but the drugs…
The drugs almost ended him just as his fighting almost had. His addictions grew, and he resorted to armed robbery to get money to buy drugs. Marshall describes his post-Vietnam self as “busted, disgusted and couldn’t be trusted.”
Prison offered another turn toward a valued life, but thus far Marshall insisted on ruining any help offered to him. He knew how to work and abuse the system and continued “doing his do” throughout his time in the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. He worked his way to day passes, college visits, and early release.
Once out, Marshall deepened his fractured reality and almost solidified his chasm with God and man. He loved a woman yet preferred to remain comfortably numb with drugs. The fissure was nearly permanent until he had an encounter with the living God.
After becoming a pastor, Marshall returned to Vietnam as the leader of a short-term mission trip. In 1967, he shouldered a rifle; in 2006, almost 40 years later, he carried a Bible. Such was the incredible God-driven transformation of this man.
The problems of race and drug addiction of the 60s are tragically still with us, and Marshall’s story is one of extraordinary triumph. His path to redemption points today’s readers to peace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
I’ve just finished writing his memoir. Two agents are interested in representing this book to publishers. Marshall’s and my hope is that it is published with extensive distribution so that our audience sees God’s work in Marshall’s life and in turn come to saving faith in Jesus.
He wants to glorify God in everything he does. He’s still victimized by racism and now, ageism, but he trusts God more than ever and longs to share His story.
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