Funeral Message: Marlin Brown
Marlin grew up with us. Dad baptized him as a boy. I think our family was a kind of entertainment for Marlin when he was a kid. Being an only child and living on the dairy farm was quite a bit different than sitting down to eat with the ten of us at our house. I know, Marlin belonged to Leon and Dorothy, but he's always been part of our family, too.
I knew Marlin back when he slicked his hair down, parted on the side, and wore those black horn-rimmed glasses. That was the look you fell for, wasn't it, Jean? I also knew Marlin when he had his big Afro, Marlin's Mod Squad look. And, I remember when Marlin had curly permed hair, back when Marlin and Jean were kind of their own odd version of the Captain and Tennille. Those were the days.
Looking back now, I was blessed to have a wonderful window into Marlin's life and ministry. When he served with Dad in Windsor and then again in Grandview, I was so blessed to have Marlin and Jean a part of my growing up years. And as I was exploring a call to the ministry myself, Marlin got me involved, encouraging me to stick my toe in the water and see what it's all about.
Quite a team they were, Melvin Hill and Marlin Brown, in both churches, a Paul and a Timothy, that become a Paul and Barnabas, and since those days, Marlin became a Paul himself, a godly mentor and example to many of us.
We all know what a wonderful organizer and administrator Marlin was. At First Baptist, Grandview, Marlin organized three separate and complete Sunday Schools to go with two worship services each week. One of the Sunday Schools was for over two hundred children who rode the eleven church buses that covered the area bringing boys and girls to church. I was one of Marlin's volunteers, as a bus captain and as a helper in children's worship which Marlin led, playing the piano and teaching the Bible story every week to a rowdy and rambunctious congregation of kids.
And Vacation Bible School in those days was almost beyond our imagination. It grew so large that it became two schools, one week for the east side of town and a second week for the west side. Nearly eight hundred children all told. Two whole faculties to enlist and train. We hear that, and we think Marlin must have lost his faculties. I was a college student by then working nights in the summer and Marlin asked me to head up recreation. I said, "No problem." He said, "Now, Drew, you'll want to get some help and make a plan, what you're going to do." I said, "No problem, Marlin. I got this." So on the first day, with one helper, one kick ball, a wiffle ball and bat, I waited in the yard until they brought out the first group, about 70 four-year-olds. It was the longest morning of my life. I learned to listen to Marlin.
I look back on those experiences now as a pastor and I think I would have said, that's enough. One Sunday School is just fine, a normal size VBS will be all right, a bus or two for those that can't get around, but not Marlin. Always reaching out, always doing more, finding room, finding a way, because at the core of his being, Marlin believed every person matters, every child is a potential child of God.
While Marlin was at Grandview he cared for the old as well as the young. Marlin started a telephone class for homebound people. Way before the internet and websites and live streaming, Marlin set up a conference call Sunday School class for those who were isolated and alone. I know about that, too, because my grandmother, Vesta Barnes, was in Marlin's class. Grandma would get up every Sunday morning and fix her hair and put on her dress and sit at her kitchen table with her Bible and her lesson and wait for Brother Marlin's call. Each of the members would greet one another and they shared their prayer requests and prayed together. Then Marlin would teach a twenty minute Bible study there on the phone. Grandma cherished that time. It was church to her.
Now, this was just a few minutes before Marlin would have to say goodbye to his class and run upstairs to lead that children's worship I was telling you about. And all Dad had to do was preach.
Years later, it was my great joy to come here to serve alongside Marlin in Harmony Baptist Association, and to be his pastor, and Jean, too, of course. I treasure the fourteen years that we could serve together and work together, here at First Baptist and in our association.
I think about Marlin's compassion for people and his missionary heart. In his long tenure as Director of Missions, this area changed a great deal, becoming a much more international population. Marlin did not view this change as a problem but as a calling and an opportunity to be on mission, right here and right now. He led us in the establishment of the first Hispanic Baptist Church and bringing Efrain Baeza here to lead the work. Every month Marlin and I had lunch with Efrain and a few others, planning for the future, praying over needs, seeing God work in amazing ways.
Marlin also led in support of a new Slavic congregation. Sometimes things went smoothly and sometimes we had to iron things out. Through it all, Marlin always kept his vision and his sense of humor. I remember when we attempted to have a trilingual worship service here at First Baptist, bringing us all together. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The problem was, we had translators from English to Spanish and from English to Russian, but no one who spoke both Spanish and Russian. So we noticed right off that this was getting complicated. We just got through the welcome and it had taken over twenty minutes. I remember looking over at Marlin, sitting there on the front pew. He just held up his hands and shrugged and gave me that grin of his.
You see, to Marlin, and to all who would follow Jesus, every person matters and every person is a potential follower of Christ, no matter their background or status in life. Marlin had a huge heart, tender compassion for all kinds of people. That's why he did what he did, and lived as he lived.
- Mobs of children in Vacation Bible School
- Kids riding the bus to Sunday School
- Homebound saints isolated and alone
- Teenagers like me trying to discern God's call
- Immigrant families needing a fellowship of believers
- The carnival workers at the State Fair
- His neighbors across the street
- The hurting in the hospital
- The lonely in the nursing home
- Sunday School teachers struggling to teach more effectively
- Country churches that can't seem to find and keep a pastor
- Congregations in crisis or conflict needing wise counsel, needing a peacemaker
- Discouraged pastors ready to throw in the towel
Who of us would do as he has done? How few of us have the compassion, the selflessness, the patience, let alone the gifts and skills to do as he has done? As I honor Marlin's ministry and memory in my heart today, I can't help but pray as we all might pray in these moments: "Lord, give me a heart like Marlin Brown. Let me care as much, that I might serve as well. Amen."