1. Marcus Gray: Living Life For God
“Every moment was intense. I was, say five--six years old. Even simple things like walking to school you were afraid.”
Growing up in the projects of St. Louis, Marcus Gray never felt safe. Even his own family couldn’t protect him. His father was a drug addict and his mother was schizophrenic.
“So I had the responsibility of really overseeing my mom. There would be times where she wouldn’t even recognize me. She could, curse me out or call me names or, you know, just start treating me as if I’m her enemy or something like that. My dad would be gone days on end, blowing time, you know, getting high. Everything was just unstable.”
Marcus spent a lot of time with his grandmother, the only safe haven from the chaos.
“She was jolly, nice, sweet, kind. She was a Christian, so she would share stories and testimonies of things God had done in her life. She always let me know God loves you, he created you, He wants a relationship with you. And being around her just felt like I was an actual kid.”
Despite his grandmother’s influence, Marcus began to rebel, and started picking fights with other students at school.
“In many different ways I feel like I got to protect myself, I liked the fear that I could put in someone’s heart just with my presence. It made me feel in control. I feel like I need to be a man, you know, just like at home I need to be a man. They’d have to call the police to the school. And that’s when they said, Marcus, you’re outta here.”
Marcus was expelled from school when he was sixteen. Later that same year, his grandmother died of a heart attack.
“When she passed away, I felt like I lost a part of my own soul, a part of my being had been cut off. Because she was my everything. I just remember trying to be strong, but not having the ability to. My natural bent was to check out and to retreat, you know, stay in the clubs, do whatever would distract me, block me, numb me from reality.”
His new girlfriend invited him to church instead.
“Eventually I decided to go because of the hopelessness. I felt like I’m trying all of these different things to bring about what I actually want, which is relief.”
The preacher’s words moved him. “What I was overwhelmed with from the Gospel message that day was Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. And I was so overwhelmed with this love, you know, Jesus’ love, and I remember thinking like, he does love a bad person. And it sounded exactly like the things that my grandmother would tell me.”
Marcus prayed to become a Christian that day.
“My words to the Lord that day was something like, I’m tired. I can’t do this anymore. I remember saying, ‘Will you forgive me?’ It just made me feel like, I got a fresh start. And I’m cool with God. I’m cool with the person that made me.”
Today, Marcus is married to Crystal and pursuing a degree in biblical counseling. He’s also known as the hip-hop music artist “Flame.” His mission is to reach out to others through Christ-centered music.
“My heart is really to walk with people throughout the long haul, side by side, helping them process what has happened in their life, so I take my life experiences, I take my theological training, and I get to smash it all together and make it rhyme. God has truly done a work in my heart, just as far as family and how—how I love my parents and how I think about my past. His love is so big and it runs so deep that he can tolerate all of who I am, through and through--and still consistently care for me. He’s loved on me in a unique way by dying for—of course the—the world and the church, but in particular, Marcus, you know, Marcus Gray. And when I think about that and he’ll invite me to his heaven, that’s what really rocks me about the Lord.”
2. John Collier: A Dirty Cop Comes Clean
By Rod Thomas
When John Collier was a child, his house was not a home. It was more like a battle zone.
"My father had a background of violence," John tells The 700 Club. "He abused alcohol and drugs. He was a womanizer, and he pretty much terrorized our home."
John’s anger toward his father grew. He stayed in trouble at school and ran away from home twice.
"There was always that little boy in me that loved my dad. Then there was that other side of me that started to hate him and never want to be anything like he was."
John was only eight when his parents divorced. While his mom loved him, she could no longer handle him.
"I didn’t realize that John had so much anger inside of him," Mary Toneff, his mother, says. "I know that he liked to kind of fight, and then John started getting into trouble."
After a failed attempt at running away, the police officer that brought him home left a lasting impression on the young boy. John saw something in this stranger that he never saw in his dad.
"That police officer actually seemed to care about me or take an interest in me," he says. "When he did, I wanted to be like him. I saw him as the hero. So that’s something I wanted to pursue. I wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement."
John was eventually placed in a foster home. His foster parents gave him the support and guidance he needed, but the anger was always just below the surface.
"I wanted to be everything my father wasn’t. I think that part of that anger and that hatred I carried propelled me to be like an over-achiever. It accelerated this something in me. It drove me."
After college, he started a career as an Indiana state trooper. Meanwhile, during this time, his dad was in and out of prison. His mom had become a Christian and reached out to her son.
Mary recalls, "I was so proud of him becoming a state trooper, but right down deep in my heart, I wanted him to know Jesus. At every chance I got, I would witness to John about how the Lord had transformed my life."
John wasn’t interested in his mother’s faith. His main focus was his work as a state trooper, where his service was exemplary.
"I had received a lot of awards from the superintendent," John says. "I’d been assigned to the governor’s detail. It was like everything I did was to basically just credit myself, pat myself on the back."
But, after a heated dispute with a supervisor, the model officer found that the rebellion he had as a child was still there.
"Something kind of rose up inside of me, something I couldn’t quite understand and I couldn’t control. I resented those who were in authority over me that I worked for, and so I began to act out. Part of that was through alcohol and then I started using drugs. I became like a rogue cop, just kinda doing my own thing. People that I would stop on the highway, if they had drugs in their possession, instead of arresting them like I had done in the past, I would take their drugs. If they had their money, I would take that, and I would say, 'Hit the road.'”
One day, John’s mother got a visit from the police. He was under investigation. She says, "They were telling me about John and I couldn’t believe it. I said, 'My son’s a great state trooper. He’s got all kinds of awards and everything. You can’t be talking about the same person!' I was devastated. I couldn’t believe that this was really truly happening."
John lost his badge, and his respect for the law.
"I had skills I had learned as a police officer and I used those skills to begin breaking into businesses, taverns and grocery stores, those types of business where I knew there would be cash on hand," John says.
He was caught breaking into a store and was sentenced to 18 months behind bars. After his release, he tried to stay clean, but the lure of fast money was too great. One night, he cracked open the safe at a local business. Just as he was about to empty it out, the police showed up. John ran.
"They chased me probably for 30 minutes or so, and they caught up to me. Then I knew it was over for me."
As a repeat offender, John was given 8 to 15 years. It was just too much for his mother to take.
"The first time you say, 'I forgive.' The second time I was very adamant about not wanting him in my life every again. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t have a son anymore," Mary says.
John responds, "I felt pretty much rejected by the whole world at that time, and I just wanted my life to be over."
A prison chaplain began visiting John, sharing the message of God’s love and forgiveness of sins. That reminded John of his mom’s words.
"I remember what she had told me about the Lord and how He loved me and how He had a life for me," John says. "I’d been in jail about four months, and I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I just decided that it was time for me to turn my life over to Him and put my life in His hands."
His mother knew he needed her, but she couldn’t forgive him.
"I said, 'I’m not going. I don’t want anything to do with him.' I was very adamant about that," Mary says. "The Lord spoke to me and said, 'He is flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, and to deny him is to deny Me.'”
John says, "She came to see me some time later, and we began to build a new relationship. It developed and grew out of a common bond, and that became Christ."
John was released from prison after eight years. By then his father was on his deathbed. John went to him with a message.
"I said, 'Dad, I’m here because God sent me to see you. If I die today, I know where I’m going. If you died today, I want you to know where you’re going.' I prayed with my father, and he accepted Christ. After that day God used me to disciple my father up 'till the day he died."
John started an outreach ministry to prisoners. He also met his wife Laurie in church. He knows that his life has been changed by the faithfulness of God and a praying mother.
"It took several years for this mother to continue to pray, but John is where he’s at now," Mary says. "He’s preaching. He’s teaching. Praise God! Wonderful things have happened in his life."
"I’m so grateful that God has always been there for me through the good and the bad," John says. "One thing I can honestly say is my best day without Jesus was never as good as my worst day with the Lord."