Triumph Over Tragedy 

by Teresa Harris

Brandon Oliver was a typical middle class teen-handsome, likeable and full of life. A good kid in the midst of life changing decisions. Was he going to hang with the "in" crowd, or not?

His parents taught him that Christ was the ultimate answer to any question – the Way, the Truth and the Life; but there he was, teetering on the brink of indecision. Would he turn his back on what he’d been taught, and "do his own thing"? Well…Maybe. At least for a little while. But God and Brandon’s parents stepped in, just in time. When his life abruptly ended—at the age of 17—it was certain that his future was sealed. He was safe in the arms of Jesus.

Brandon’s life was to be an incredible blessing. Beyond what anyone understood at the time—even though, oddly enough, Brandon himself predicted that he felt his life would impact many thousands.

His loving and Godly parents—Gary and Toni Oliver—stepped in. Gary, a gospel artist, traveled extensively in his ministry. He’d been through his own stages of "growth"—both naturally and spiritually. He understood the struggle his son was experiencing. He remembers telling Toni, "Honey, why don’t we take him out of school and homeschool him. I’ll let him travel with me and be my assistant out on the road. I’ll put his school work on the laptop and we’ll work together in the plane or wherever." Looking back, Gary says, "We thought we made a decision, but God said, ‘No! I made a decision.’ The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. The Bible says, He establishes our thoughts."

Brandon spent the next several months with his mom and dad. Between road trips, the family grew closer and Brandon was drawn away from the temptations that the old environment had presented. The "quality" time brought about a turnaround in his life, as well, God used two young girls, Tina and Nina Brady to witness to Brandon. Eventually, Brandon totally surrendered his life to Christ.

Friday, October 9, 1998. On what seemed like a typical fall day in Hendersonville, TN, a northern suburb of Nashville, the members of the Oliver household—Gary and Toni, and their three children, Hayden, Brandon and Brittany—went about their activities as usual. That afternoon, Brandon phoned his dad in the car to request permission to "hang" with his friends. "You going to be good?" his dad inquired. "Yeah dad, I’m going to be good. It’s going to be cool."

Returning home later that evening, Gary and Toni sensed that all was not well. "I have a really, really bad feeling about Brandon," Toni said. "I think we need to pray." What kind of feeling?" Gary asked. "I just saw him try to walk in this room, but it was if he were a characterization, like his head was out of shape. He couldn’t walk, he kept stumbling and falling." It was about 10:00 p.m. They got up and prayed. It was a long prayer and a sincere one. "Lord," just put him in your hands." Still uneasy, they committed their son’s welfare into the hands of the Almighty and went to bed.

About 1:00 a.m., the phone rang. "Has anybody called you yet?" a familiar voice said. It was one of Brandon’s friends.

"Called us about what?" Toni asked.

"Brandon has been in an accident."

"What kind of accident?" Toni said

"I don’t know. I just came up on it and they were taking him to the hospital."

Rushing to get dressed, Toni and Gary frantically grabbed their clothes and headed for Sumner Hospital. On the way, they called to ensure that the whole thing wasn’t some sort of cruel hoax. It wasn’t. Upon arrival, there were several kids already at the hospital. Dozens more poured in. Gary and Toni were asked to go into a separate waiting room. Their minds raced. If Brandon has been critically injured, would he ever be himself again? IS BRANDON DEAD?

The confirmation of their worst imaginations stunned them. Brandon’s head had been crushed between a tree and the door frame of the vehicle. Upon investigation, it was discovered that Brandon had gotten in the back seat of a car with a couple friends to go to a neighborhood grocery store for some chips. After dropping off the passenger in the front seat, the boys were nearing their destination, when suddenly, the driver, a 16-year-old without a license, hit the gas pedal. The car careened out of control and hit a tree. The driver was not seriously injured. Brandon was fatally wounded.

In the days that followed, Gary and Toni best describe the outpouring of love from friends near and far. "In two days, we saw the body of Christ coming together. The pure love and pure responsibility that a body has, if you cut yourself and you’re wounded, all the blood cells will run to that area and protect and mend it."

The Oliver family was overwhelmed by the support of ministries nationwide. "Bishop Jakes has been a long-time friend, confidante, mentor and overseer to me." Gary said. "He asked me, ‘What can I do? I said, "Bishop, I’m so confused, I don’t know what to say to anybody, but I sure would love for you to come and speak if you would." Bishop Jakes immediately adjusted his schedule to attend the funeral services. Likewise, others across the country began making their way to Nashville. Bishop Eddie Long, the Oliver’s new pastor attended, Bishop Carlton Pearson, Pastor Rod Parsley and Pastor Mark Hanby attended. Other ministers, pastors and bishops attended, Donnie McClurkin and several of Gary’s music industry colleagues also were present to pay final respects.

Gary remembers, "Everyone of them said to me, ‘You’re going to understand something out of this that you probably never sensed. You’re going to see how much the body of Christ loves you."

In two days, the funeral, held at Trinity Broadcasting Network (at the personal invitation of Paul and Jan Crouch), was a homegoing service that brought Brandon’s purpose into clear focus.

It’s less than a month later, and Gary and Toni are sitting at a restaurant in Nashville relating this story. The pain is evident, but much more apparent is the strength that only comes when you are rooted and grounded in Christ.

"I know that God is multi-faceted," Gary explains. "There’s beauty in every side of Him. There’s so many purposes and so many reasons underneath all of it."

Nearly 400 kids attended the funeral. Many had been a part of the "in" crowd that Brandon had so desperately wanted to be part of, months earlier. Now they were clinging to each other; crying, shaking and grieving. Brandon’s life and death had ushered them into this room, for this time and this purpose. As the services ended, Pastor Rod Parsley extended the invitation to accept Jesus Christ and hundreds of kids and even many adults flooded the altar.

In that singular moment, Brandon’s purpose was fulfilled. Friends that he’d witnessed to, people who’d watched him from afar, people who would then see this powerful service on television—thousands were drawn to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

"We have heard the results—via cards and letters," says Gary. "From kids that watched the service on TV, who got down before the TV and gave their heart to God. There have been parents who have come to the Lord because their children got saved."

"I talked to a 19-year-old boy the other day who said, "Man, I used to just stay drunk all the time. I couldn’t wait to get away from the house and find some beer and hang out with my friends. But ever since this thing happened with Brandon and the funeral service, I gave my heart to the Lord. I haven’t touched one thing since and I’m going to stay this way."

According to Gary, boxes of cards and letters are still pouring in.

But how does a family go on after such a tragedy? Statistically, it’s been found that up to 85 percent of families that lose a child end in divorce. "I don’t know what happens in those situations," Gary says, "but from our standpoint, this has done nothing but make us even more committed to each other and to our remaining children, Hayden and Brittany. There is a desire in us more than ever before to make sure that the purpose of God is not voided or forfeited in any way in their lives or ours."

As tragic as the circumstances of Brandon’s death were to his parents, their faith has enabled them to see beyond that darkness. Gary has even been blessed with a song from it. "I wrote a hymn two days ago out of this whole thing," he says. "An anthem type hymn that is very modern, very contemporary. It’s because I saw a side of God I had never seen."

Reprinted by Permission Gospel Today.