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Soldier killed with Bible nearby

SEBRING, Fla. (BP)–The thought of her son’s Bible fluttering in the wind beside his still body in Iraq brought a certain comfort to Marcus Mathes’ mother after he was killed in a mortar attack April 28.

“It was just comfort because I knew he was on a mission and the Word was there at his fingertips,” Sue Sawyer told the Florida Baptist Witness.

A member of First Baptist Church of Lake Josephine, where Mathes also was a member and was baptized as a youngster, Sawyer said she believes her son was faithfully following what he thought was the right thing to do by volunteering to serve in the military.

“I thought, ‘… [H]ow far he’s come,’ and if it had not been for the Army he wouldn’t have been there spiritually, which is what tells me this was God’s plan,” Sawyer said.

Mathes, 26, an equipment truck driver with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Polk, La., reportedly died alongside a friend, Sgt. Mark Stone, 22, of Buchanan Dam, Texas, when they were standing by their trucks preparing for a mission in Baghdad.

Family members were told Marcus’ Bible was found next to his body.

Married to Julia Ehrman Mathes since 2002, the young soldier and his high school sweetheart had become closer in the past few years, Sawyer said, after he began reading his Bible more earnestly -– and Julia began reading a copy of Stormie O’Martian’s “The Power of a Praying Wife.”

Julia Mathes, 24, told the Tampa Tribune that her husband, who was promoted posthumously to the rank of Army sergeant, could be “serious” and “take charge as needed” but there also was a softer side that put others first. This selfness nature is most likely what prompted him to enlist in the military shortly after 9/11.

“He was so sweet,” Julia Mathes said, according to the Tribune. “We talked not long ago about how we decided his gift from God was making other people happy. Even if he was upset or something, he made sure everyone else was OK. That was his gift.”

Sawyer said Marcus was about 4 years old when she joined First Baptist and began taking him and her other son Kyle, now 27, to services. Divorced at the time, Sawyer said she had grown up in the church but had gotten away from it -– much like Marcus had until the past several years. When young, the boys attended Sebring Christian School and asked her why she didn’t “go to church” with them, although their grandfather picked them up for services each week.

“The day they told me, ‘Mommy, we are the only ones in school that don’t go to church [as a family] …,” Sawyer trailed off, remembering how she began looking for a place to worship with the boys and how Marcus became excited when she told him First Baptist had a children’s choir.

“That tells you a lot about Marcus’ outlook on life,” Sawyer sighed.

Even today, Sawyer said she continues to work in the church nursery largely because she believes families need to have a positive place to take their young children.

Kevin Ahrens, pastor of First Baptist of Lake Josephine, said Sawyer is a faithful part of the ministry at the church where he has served since July, and although he had not personally met Marcus, he is familiar with his testimony and witness from afar -– and he prayed for the young man.

“His mom told me he was glad to go over to Iraq in October because many of the people he replaced were family men and ladies who were going to be able to get home for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Ahrens told the Witness. “He accepted special orders to fill these positions and said it was an honor.”

Ahrens said he had the impression from others that Marcus was involved in the church’s youth ministry when he spent summers with his mom, even after moving to live with his biological father, Ralph Mathes, now of Tampa, after he was a teen. His younger brother, Zach Sawyer, 17, leads praise and worship at the church, Ahrens said, and Marcus played enjoyed playing the guitar.

“He was living his faith just like all the other great patriots we have here who joined after 9/11,” Ahrens said. “He just wanted to do things right.”

Marcus Mathes will be buried at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell May 6. A celebration of Mathes’ life will be at 11 a.m. May 10n at First Baptist Church of Lake Josephine.

Sawyer said she was speaking to a person recently about those who gave the “ultimate sacrifice” and crediting God with having given the “ultimate sacrifice.”

“My son was only doing what we’re all put here on earth to do -– to follow in God’s steps and to make the sacrifice that He gave -– to do the same,” Sawyer recounted.

“But you lost your son!” the person said.

“No, he wasn’t mine to begin with,” Sawyer related calmy. “God loaned him to me and I was blessed for 26 years. Marcus did what he was put here for 26 years on this earth to do.”

With her voice fading, Sawyer continued talking about a comment Marcus put on his MySpace page about a month ago: “‘I did what I came here to do. I sent somebody home,’ and I saw that and in my words, I thought, ‘Mission accomplished.’

“And where do you go from there?” Sawyer asked rhetorically. “And he went where he was meant to go. He went home to be with the Lord.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan, Managing Editor