Marcus Doe is no stranger to loss and pain. Orphaned at 11 years of age and feeling let down by a God who seemed to consistently ignore his prayers, Marcus’ fantasies of vengeance became his only coping mechanism.
It took Marcus a long time to tell his story. The first time, he writes in his book Catching Ricebirds: A Story of Letting Vengeance Go, was during an interview for a teaching job.
In 2016, he not only detailed his past in a memoir but also opened up about it to Christianity Today.
"I was born in Liberia, West Africa," he begins. In 1990, 'Freedom Fighters' were staging a coup against President Samuel Doe, for whom Marcus' father worked. There was a target on their backs and Marcus was ordered to stay with his brother and sister-in-law.
For months they were at war, "the hardest season of my life," Marcus tells Christianity Today.
"The rebels were ruthless," he remembers, "murdering innocent people on the barest of suspicions.
"While we hid, we ate one small meal a day, mostly rice and greens. Meat and clean water were scarce. Hope was scarcer. As children, we prefaced every statement about the future with, 'If I live through the war, I will...' We lived on fantasies of food. We hadn't been to school in six months."
Marcus prayed every day his father would not die, just as he had prayed his mother would not die before she had passed away from illness a year earlier.
But when President Doe was assassinated and the war ended, Marcus got news his father had been killed.
"Whenever I was by myself, I cried," he says. And he no longer believed in prayer. He was now afraid to pray for his brothers' and sister's safety.
"I wanted to find the soldiers who made me an orphan and make them pay," Marcus says.
"Wartime fantasies of food were replaced by fantasies of revenge."
By 1993 Marcus was living in Boston as a refugee when his brother — his only known living relative — was taken to hospital in a coma after a heart attack.
"Someone else close to me was going to die. I had nowhere to run [for comfort]," he recalls. "For hours I wept in complete darkness."
One more time, Marcus asked God to heal and protect his brother. He confronted Him for all the things he blamed Him for — the death of his parents, the war, their suffering, his disappointments, and now his brother's illness.
But he also blamed himself and *his dreams of revenge, which he knew were destroying him from the inside.
"I realized in that darkness that I could keep those fantasies alive, or I could relinquish them once and for all," Marcus says.
"I begged God to forgive me. I would let go of revenge and rage. I asked God, from the sincerest and deepest part of my heart, to save my brother."
That prayer was answered.
Next, Marcus worked on forgiveness.
"Flowers of faith and hope bloomed," he says, "[but] they were sometimes choked by the vicious thorns and weeds of hatred. For years I had comforted myself with the fantasy of killing the man who had killed my father. The roots of that destructive pattern went deep."
He decided he would still find his father's assassin, not to kill him, but to forgive him, and he sat for hours at his dining room table practicing the words "I forgive you", willing himself to mean them.
Two decades after he had left, Marcus returned to Liberia.
"But I did not meet my father's killer," he says. "He had died in the fighting ... Even so, I forgave him."
With that came healing, and peace, and the ability to focus on the future without being haunted by the past.
He is now working to help Liberians who have suffered from the brutality of civil wars in the country.
"Wherever Jesus' words of forgiveness are spoken," Marcus says, "the future is bright with hope."•