|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 hed been taught, and "do his own
Maybe. At least for a little while. But God and Brandons
parents stepped in, just in time. When his life abruptly endedat the age of
17it was certain that his future was sealed. He was safe in the arms of Jesus.
Brandons life was to be an incredible blessing. Beyond what
anyone understood at the timeeven though, oddly enough, Brandon himself predicted
that he felt his life would impact many thousands.
His loving and Godly parentsGary and Toni Oliverstepped in.
Gary, a gospel artist, traveled extensively in his ministry. Hed 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 dont
we take him out of school and homeschool him. Ill let him travel with me and be my
assistant out on the road. Ill put his school work on the laptop and well 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
householdGary and Toni, and their three children, Hayden, Brandon and
Brittanywent 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, Im going to be good. Its
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 couldnt 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
sons 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 Brandons friends.
"Called us about what?" Toni asked.
"Brandon has been in an accident."
"What kind of accident?" Toni said
"I dont 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
wasnt some sort of cruel hoax. It wasnt. 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.
Brandons 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
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
youre wounded, all the blood cells will run to that area and protect and mend
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, Im so confused, I dont 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 Olivers 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 Garys music
industry colleagues also were present to pay final respects.
Gary remembers, "Everyone of them said to me, Youre
going to understand something out of this that you probably never sensed. Youre
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
Brandons purpose into clear focus.
Its 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.
"Theres beauty in every side of Him. Theres 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. Brandons 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, Brandons purpose was fulfilled. Friends
that hed witnessed to, people whod watched him from afar, people who would
then see this powerful service on televisionthousands were drawn to accept Jesus
Christ as their Savior.
"We have heard the resultsvia 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 couldnt 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 havent touched one
thing since and Im 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,
its been found that up to 85 percent of families that lose a child end in divorce.
"I dont 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
As tragic as the circumstances of Brandons 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.
Its because I saw a side of God I had never seen."
Reprinted by Permission Gospel Today.