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In His Place    Printer friendly page

A teen’s camp commitment changed his family forever

by Catherine Claire

Markquise fought heavy eyelids as he lay in his sleeping bag. It was only the second night of camp, and already, something miraculous had happened: He’d given his life to Jesus.

With his mind whirring, it seemed strange that Haluwasa camp was so still. Crickets chirping instead of sirens blaring and the drowsy banter of boys instead of the angry shouts of drunken passers-by seemed oddly out of place to a boy who had lived his 14 years against the violent backdrop of Camden, New Jersey, recently labeled the most dangerous city in the United States.

He ached to know that he would have to leave camp in just a week. But he ached even more for his mother—who’d been in and out of prison—and especially his brother and fellow camper, Anthony, to know Jesus.

Brother to Brother
With swimming, rappelling, boating, games, Bible studies, and chapel, the week at camp seemed to fly by. Despite the pace, Markquise and his camp counselor, Julio, developed a bond. Markquise knew that Julio could help him with the deep concern he felt for Anthony.

So on the path between Teepee Town and the soccer field, Markquise, Anthony, and Julio sat down for a guy-to-guy talk. Tag-teaming, Markquise told about the change in his life that week, and Julio shared from Scripture. Anthony seemed grateful, but it was hard to tell if anything more significant happened in his heart. The moment, however, became a marker—the point at which Markquise’s relationship with Christ became visible to others.

Life Change
When Markquise returned home from camp, others began noticing the change in him. One Saturday, Markquise’s grandmother overheard him having a church service in the living room with his friends Tommy and Melvin and his brothers. Markquise was preaching. Later, his grandmother asked, “Mark-quise, you gonna be a preacher?”

“No,” he said with a smile, “I’m gonna be a doctor, but what I’m telling them is right here in the Book; they gotta listen.” Such was Markquise’s simple faith.

That faith expressed itself in countless ways. Later that summer, Markquise wrote to Julio and asked him to pray for his mom, who’d turned back to drugs.

In the fall, Markquise spent the money he’d earned from his summer job he held while not at camp on school clothes for his siblings. That winter, as the cold winds whipped through the dangerous Camden streets, he twice gave away a coat to friends in need.

And when he was offered a scholarship the following year to attend a private school in the idyllic town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, Markquise, an honor student, turned it down. The decision was easy; he knew that his family and his city needed him too much.

Continual Witness
Just before Thanksgiving, on November 25, 2002, 16-year-old Markquise was cooking dinner for his younger sister Jennelle.

Seeing the time, he stopped what he was doing and told her he’d be back. He grabbed a jacket, and then walked his brother, Anthony, to night school, as he was in the habit of doing since Anthony had begun skipping class.

On his way home, he noticed a neighbor struggling with raking leaves. He stopped and offered her help. Task completed, he continued on his way.

A few blocks down on Benson Street, the autumn air exploded with gunshots. The sound wasn’t an anomaly in Camden. But this time was different. This time the flurry of bullets cut Markquise’s beautiful life short.

The shooter, a young man, had mistaken Markquise for Anthony, who owed him money.
At the funeral, many people ap-proached Markquise’s grandmother, Marion, speaking of the good deeds— of which she had never known—Markquise had done following his summer experience at camp. She heard how her grandson had frequently stopped to feed the homeless at a church on his way to the basketball court, and how he had talked a friend out of suicide. Everywhere he’d gone, he had touched lives.

Marion also saw at the funeral the Paddens and the Derkins, the Prison Fellowship Angel Tree volunteers who had helped get Markquise and his siblings to camp. On their way out, Marion stopped them and said, “You’re the reason why my boy is in heaven. Thank you for taking him to camp.”

Young Example
Markquise’s short life blazed more brightly than many whose days outpaced him by decades. He learned what it meant that Christ died in his place, and then he lived out that reality by daily giving himself away. Unwittingly, he, too, paid with his life for a debt he did not owe.

Three years have passed since Markquise’s death, but his legacy continues. In his name, the school and community have established a scholarship fund for a student displaying Mark-quise’s character qualities.

Tommy and Melvin still regularly stop by to visit his grandmother and strive to live up to Markquise’s example. Julio, his counselor, shares Markquise’s story with campers and counselors to emphasize the brevity of life and the urgency of the gospel. And Marion has been able to extend forgiveness to Markquise’s killer, knowing that is exactly what Markquise would have wanted.

Catherine is a senior writer for Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship ministries in Lansdowne, Virginia. She’s also involved in planting a church in southeast Washington, D.C., with her brother.

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