A testimony from one of our Nehemiah Project interns this fall, Brandon Beck.
Every believer has a testimony – a story to tell of how God changed their life and brought Himself into their story. Some stories leave us weeping, some laughing, and some inspired. The same can be said about testimonies. Each one is unique in that there is no one like you and only you can tell your story. Testimonies although each unique, each share some things in common – the Gospel, which is God, our sin, His holiness, His Son, His grace, the Cross, the resurrection, His love, and His salvation. Notice the only thing that is our own and that we bring to the table is our sin. This is grace. That we have nothing to offer and nothing that is our own except our sin. All testimonies of Disciples of Christ share this. My testimony is no different. It consists of my sin and His grace.
I am Brandon Beck, born in the depths of Butler County, and when I was 13 my family moved to Jackson. Up to this point in life my family hadn’t really attended church except for maybe a time or two a year. My mom grew up in the Church of Christ but had since abandoned her faith and my step dad, well he beat to his own drum. Moving to Jackson we lived right up the road from a small Baptist church and it wasn’t long before my mother, who was hungering for something more in life, started taking us to church. This was fine for me. Church was kind of boring, but there were guys my age that liked sports as much as I did. So we went, I heard the messages being preached and what I got from it was that God is good, Jesus died and rose again, and I can go to heaven if I believe in him. Seemed like a great deal for me. I go to heaven if I repeated a prayer or said I believed in Jesus., where everything I loved was; including football, baseball, friends, and being surrounded by clouds.. I’m in! So I was baptized when I was 14, along with my mother. She knew and understood the concept of “her sin and His grace”. This was still foreign to me, though I believed myself to be a follower.
Not knowing about my sin and His grace had its impact on my life growing up. I cared for few things, girls and trying to hook up with them, friends and drinking with them, and football. I sought pleasure in sin and things I desired most. I had dreams and aspirations of playing college ball and hopefully the NFL. I prayed every night for it. After high school I had a few small offers and decided to sign with a small school out of St. Charles. It wasn’t the Michigan’s or Mizzou’s that I had dreamed of, but I told myself it was a start. Then around July 4th of 2006, I was watching Fox news and they were talking to a group of young people and asking how many of them were going to enlist in the military. When only one or two raised their hands, something inside me said, Why not me? So two weeks later there I was being shipped off to infantry basic training. Basic changed me, both physically and mentally. It has those effects on people, and for me I learned a little about being a man. I learned about respect for authority, about pushing myself when I had nothing left, and about my responsibilities not only for myself but to others. These things I had never learned growing up. My stepfather was not much of a father and my biological father lived an hour away and had his own struggles in life to deal with. After that it was on to Germany to be in a mechanized infantry unit there. Going to Germany was great for a 19 year old who loved drinking, especially when the requirements of drinking in Germany were as simple as being able to see over the bar. So I spent the next year in Germany training and drinking with my new brothers before our unit was set to ship out to Iraq. I was excited to be doing something and finally to be using my training. But God had other things in mind, and Iraq marked the beginning of a turn of events that God would use to bring me to Himself.
I spent 14 months in Iraq and saw things that changed my outlook on life, and forced me to grow as a man. The city we were in was Sadr City, and at one time was labeled the most dangerous place on Earth. I saw death up close and personal for the first time, I was separated from the ones I cared for most, and I was in the middle of a war were people wanted me dead. And yet I never questioned my faith, always believed I was saved, but never really knew God. I could have easily died there in that city, without God’s grace ever coming to my life, and eternity would have been spent separated from him.
After 14 months in Iraq, I was ready to go home, ready to leave that hot, dry and miserable place. With one month left on my tour, a fellow soldier mentioned some “muscles” I had in my neck. After having a doctor check it out, I found out that these were, in fact, not muscles. They were lymph nodes. The doctor sent me immediately to fly out to Baghdad and from there I was sent back to Germany. There at the hospital after undergoing a biopsy I found out that I had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Cancer. I didn’t know what to think, I was then sent to Walter Reed Medical Center in D.C. for a month of preliminary treatment and then shipped home to begin my chemotherapy treatment. At first I was a little worried but the doctors assured me this was very treatable. They told me I would be spending the next 6 months or so at home, so I was happy – happy to be back home and catch up on all the time with family and friends that I had missed.
After the chemotherapy started to get worse and I lost my hair and some weight, I started dating a girl. I found my identity in this girl because she made me feel good about myself. I felt ashamed of the way I looked and being sick and I had always prided myself in being in great shape and trying to look “good”. This relationship was unhealthy and sinful because I set this girl to be the God of my life from whom I derived my hope, my joy, and my sorrow when things weren’t going well. This was the sin that God would use to shower His grace on me. After finishing chemotherapy and getting orders to go to Fort Bliss, TX, I wanted her to go with me. So I asked her to marry me. I had to hold onto her and the identity I found in our relationship. We married and moved to Texas. After being there a short time, she realized that this wasn’t the life she wanted. Heading back to Missouri for a check-up she told me she was not returning to Texas with me. I was broken, but I tried as much as I could to hold on to our relationship. I said whatever it took for us to stay together, we agreed that I would finish out my last year in the Army and she would stay in Missouri. After a month of being apart, she told me she wanted a divorce.
Being in Texas when she told me this, I was broken. Here was the person that I had made the God of my life and she no longer wanted to be in it. I was depressed, I hit the lowest point in my life and was alone, I thought. Through this God placed a couple people in my path who told me about the grace of God and how he had changed their stories. I started reading my bible, beginning in Matthew I began to get a picture of this Jesus that I had claimed all my life to be a follower of. It was in Matthew chapter 7 verse 21 that I finally realized that I didn’t know this Jesus who I claimed to follow. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” This was the first time that I realized my sin, how my whole life was controlled by this sin, and how there was nothing I could do to rid myself of it. My whole life I tried be a better person or do the right thing, but sin continued to rule my life. Furthering my reading in Matthew, I came across the grace of God for the first time. I saw this God who gave up his one and only son to die on the cross for my sin, to make it his own and bear the punishment that I was due. But he didn’t stop there, He rose him from death to give us hope for a future with Him. From this point on God worked in me, and I repented of my sin, and my life was changed forever. Jesus was now a part of my story. God changed my desires and my will. I was no longer unaware of his grace-I was now baptized in it.
I soon found out that I was entering a new battle, not one with bullets and bombs, but a spiritual one. I would love to tell you that since my conversion everything in my life has been great, but as fellow Christians you know it doesn’t work like that. I still sin and God has rebuked me and restored me time and again. God has blessed me abundantly since then, I was fortunate enough for the last two years to play college football at SEMO, I will attending UMSL in the spring for the accelerated nursing school program, and I am a part of a committed body of believers at CBC where I am now a part of the Nehemiah project.
In the amazing events that took place in my life, I think it shows the depths that God had to go to get me to stop trusting in myself and trust in him. Iraq, cancer, chemo, and a failed marriage is what it took. My testimony looks different than a lot of peoples, but I believe in a lot of ways it’s the same as everyone else’s. I faced death in Iraq, but don’t we all face death in this life? I had cancer, but don’t we all have struggles and hardships in life that we can’t control? I had a failed marriage, but don’t we all sin and fall short of the glory of God? But by God’s grace he has defeated death and we have an eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. We can cast all our cares on him for he cares for us, and he will throw our sin as far as the east is from the west. God’s grace has an answer and is the answer for every person’s story. So I would encourage you as a believer in Christ and a fellow partaker of this same grace that was extended to me, to use your story to shine God’s grace on those who have never heard of it. No matter how small or insignificant you believe your testimony to be, God’s grace is the part that matters.