Brandon lived through an incredibly horrible event which he had just shared with me, one that was right out of the scariest horror flicks. He was just a teenager when his father, estranged from his mother, in a drunken stupor, walked into his house in the wee hours of the morning and stabbed to death Brandon's mother and little brother while they slept. His father proceeded to set their house on fire and in the process set himself on fire, severely burning himself. He was later arrested in the hospital and eventually found guilty of killing his wife and son, Brandon's mother and brother.
Brandon happened to be living with his father in a separate apartment at the time so he slept through the tragic death of his mother and brother.
There was one other person at the house that night, Brandon's young 12 year old cousin, Joey who happened to be spending the night in the house with Brandon's younger brother. Joey escaped being a victim, as Joey explained to his mother, "I used my basketball moves to get away." He had awakened to see Brandon's father stabbing his cousin in the bed next to him and when he ran from the bed, was chased around the house by the man with a bloody knife. He ran from the house to a neighbor's where he summoned the police and his parents.
Brandon was sleeping soundly when he was awakened early in the morning by the police, along with Joey's father, Brandon's uncle Neal. Can you imagine being awakened to the news that your father was in the hospital with third degree burns and your mother and brother are both dead, killed by your father!
Fast forward four years, to our meeting. I had been told there was a young man named Brandon who wanted to spend some time on the mission field in South Africa. I was to interview him and get an impression whether he was mature enough and capable to spend the summer with Pastor Willie Dingler in Johannesburg. So I had called and set up a meeting at a coffee shop in San Antonio. When I told my wife about the meeting and the name of the young man, she quickly remembered the name and the story. You see, Neal, Joey's father, is Barbara's step brother, and we were well aware of the tragedy. We had attended the funeral of his mother and brother. Neal and Patty had taken Brandon in and raised him through his high school years. They were a strong Christian family and along with their two teenage sons and daughters, provided a safe and encouraging place for Brandon to heal from the awful tragedy.
As I sat with Brandon in the coffee shop, he shared his story about his dad killing his mom and brother and burning down the house. When he got to the part where he said he was awakened by the police, he hesitated just long enough for me to break in with, "and your uncle Neal?". He couldn't figure out how in the world I could have known that detail. This is where I had a good laugh and explained that I was related to him in a round about way and that I knew the story.
After we talked some about his adopted family, he went on to describe how God had healed him and then shared how he was in the process of trying to forgive his father.
I gave the thumbs up for him to go to South Africa and he spent the time there ministering to all types of people. Especially powerful were the many times he shared his story in the prisons of Johannesburg. Pastor Dingler told me he had never seen one person have such an impact on people, especially the prisoners. Many would be weeping as they listened to the unbelievable tragedy that Brandon experienced and the healing, restoration and forgiveness which God had provided.
God's story is still being written about Brandon as he prepares for married life. He's engaged to be married this summer. And God's working not only in his life but also in the family of Neal and Patty as they and their children, including Joey, serve God in ministry in unique and incredible ways. I seldom doubt that God can turn tragedy into blessings but I'm often surprised and amused with how He does it!