By Mark Ellis —
If there was any man seemingly beyond redemption, Kirk Martin personified that man. Full of violence and hate – having made a pact with the devil himself – only God could fashion the creative strategy to pull his feet away from the fiery abyss.
“I always thought God loved some people, just not me,” says Martin. He was the adopted fourth child of a loving family that prayed at dinner. Confirmed at his church in Livonia, Michigan, he quickly began to stray from his godly roots.
At seven-years-old, two older boys that “went to church” held him down and sexually assaulted him. “God doesn’t love you,” they said after the attack. “God will hate you if you tell anyone. You better not tell your mom and dad because they’ll hate you too.” He bled for days because of the assault, but never told his parents.
A couple years later, a friend introduced him to marijuana on the school bus. “There were signs showing up of me getting in trouble,” Martin admits. “I was always lying, stealing, and beating other kids up,” he says.
His father’s response was swift and severe. “I remember cowering in the corner of the room and him bashing the snot out of me.”
“We hit you because we love you,” his mother told him, although she was never aware of how heavy-handed Kirk’s father was. “I remember hearing all the time that God loves you… so I put two and two together at a young age and figured that every bad thing happening was because God loved me and I didn’t want that kind of love. So that is what really started pushing me away.”
When Martin was 11, authorities charged his minister with embezzling $175,000 from their church over a 10-year period. “One week later he dropped dead from a heart attack. I thought God got him because he was bad and God must have loved him too.”
A brawler in the military
He joined the military at 17 but only lasted six weeks. “I quickly learned I had a hair-trigger temper like my father,” he confesses. “I was picking fights with everybody.” He could hit “like a freight train” so his fights were brief – often a man would fall after only one punch.
But he met his match with a tough southern boy from Georgia, who refused to go down. “He had a jaw of steel,” Martin recounts. “I told him the first chance I get on the rifle range with live ammunition I’d put a bullet through his head.”
“They told me I was no longer able to touch weapons,” and superiors ordered a psychiatric evaluation.
As he sat in the hospital rubber room, a military doctor confronted him. “What’s up, private?” the man asked.
“I hate people,” Martin replied. “I would like to kill people.”
“That’s not good, because wherever you go, there’s going to be people,” the doctor advised.
On the mean streets
Martin returned home to Michigan briefly, experienced some trouble with the law and then he ran off to Virginia Beach, where he was homeless for several months. He let “astute-looking businessmen” take him to their hotel rooms for gay sex. “I would give them whatever they wanted and then I would beat the life out of them and take all their money and credit cards. Back in that era, they didn’t go to the police. It was when being gay was not ok.”
“I went to New York City and got involved in some dark, dark things,” he recalls. “If I got caught I would have lost my freedom for a long time.”
“There was more than one time I snapped if someone said the wrong thing to me,” Martin says. “Friend would pull me off someone who was lying there in a bloody mess.”
Afraid for his life because of something he had done within the “brutal” company that he kept, he left New York and returned to Michigan. “I took a step back and calmed down,” he says. He cut his hair and went to work at a grocery store to keep a low profile.
Martin had always nurtured a musical gift. At 23, he joined some friends in a heavy metal band they called “Frigid B—-.” During this period, immediately before and after he got into the band, Martin did some soul searching.
“I thought there was something wrong in my head,” he says. “Dying didn’t scare me. Being beaten up didn’t mean anything to me.” He cried out to God a few times, looking for a sign.
In the silence, he arrived at a troubling conclusion. “You ignored me, so now I hate you,” he told God. “You don’t love me and this is who I am. I’m destined for darkness and there’s no way to fight it.”
“I turned into quite the freak,” he confesses. “I got heavily into acid and cocaine and selling drugs to kids.”
Heavy metal group
As the lead guitarist and principal songwriter for the band, he derived a certain measure of status from his performances on stage. “Everywhere I went people wanted to give drugs to me,” Martin says. “Finding young ladies to fulfill my evil, perverted desires was very easy. They were practically throwing themselves at me.” Sadly, girls as young as 14 were hanging around his group.
Martin admits that every cop in his county wanted to take him to jail at one time or another. Ironically, the band practiced in a basement studio next door to the police station. Years later, he asked a police officer why they never arrested him.
“We busted people for drugs but they wouldn’t turn on you because people were afraid of you,” the officer told him.
Martin returned home to visit his parents before his group went on tour along the East coast. “I had my head shaved and tattoos all over my body,” he recalls.
“We’re going to tour the world and screw everyone’s f—ing heads up,” he announced defiantly to his parents. “What do you think about that?” They didn’t know what to say.
Martin’s band bought a handicap bus, converted it, and traveled south seeking fame and notoriety. As the band toured in Florida, the bus broke down. After playing all over Florida two of the founding members of the group told Martin they were leaving. “They realized I was a complete fruit loop and they were sick of me. They thought I would do something to piss people off and someone would do a drive-by on us.”
Martin broke down as a result of the setbacks. “I thought it was God picking on me again,” he says. He went out on a deserted baseball field and fell down on his face.
A pact with the devil
“I hate you God,” he announced. “Jesus, I spit on your name. I hate Christians and everything about Christianity,” he said.
Then, as he clawed the field with his fingers he made his pact with the devil. “Satan, give me what I want and I will twist as many young people as I can get my hands on. I will send people to hell with music.”
A few days later, his manager called to say he had a recording contract for the group, something Martin sought for years. His pact with the devil seemed to be paying off! Martin changed the name of the group to “Hate Plow” and quickly replaced the two missing members.
His ability to play seemed to deepen as his lyrics grew darker. “God is a liar; your parents are liars; everybody is a liar except me,” he sang. He started seeing two attractive strippers who were bisexual.
Martin felt on top of the world, completely fulfilled in his own twisted way. But in the depths of his darkness and hatred toward God and all things Christian, God sent the most unlikely messenger to get his attention.
One morning Martin sat in a MacDonald’s restaurant at a table in the corner. He was one of only a few customers in the restaurant until another man came in and unexpectedly sat down at his table. It seemed odd, because Martin’s intimidating façade did not ordinarily draw strangers.
“The guy was short, fat, with a funky tie, a yellow sweater vest and bushy white beard,” Martin recalls. He looked a bit like Santa Claus but wore a yarmulke. His tie had “a million different weird designs” on it.
“What’s up, pops? Martin asked, somewhat surprised by the stranger’s approach.
“What’s up, pops? the funny-looking man aped as he stirred his coffee.
“Hey, what’s happening dad,” Martin said.
“Hey, what’s happening dad,” the man repeated.
Infuriated by the man’s apparent mockery, Martin jumped to his feet, bent over and put his nose next to the man’s face. “I cursed him. I called him every foul thing I could think of.”
The man didn’t repeat the string of invectives, but the ice was broken. “Look, God sent me to tell you He loves you,” the man began.
This statement really infuriated Martin – he wanted to pull the man’s face off, but before he could lash out, the man said, “God wasn’t responsible for you being abused when you were a little boy. He didn’t make that happen.”
“Your dad really loves you,” the man continued, “he just doesn’t understand how to love you. He did what his father did to him.”
After more revealing conversation and some small talk, the man concluded by saying, “God is waiting for you to turn your face toward home.” Then the mysterious man abruptly stood up and left the restaurant.
Martin chased after him. “He was 15 feet ahead of me and we went around a row of hedges and he disappeared. He was only out of my sight for five seconds.”
Despite the strange encounter with a person Martin now believes may have been an angelic messenger, he went back to business as usual. He didn’t tell anyone about what happened.
God shows up
A month later, at 3:30 a.m., Martin was lying in the bus sound asleep when he felt the bus shake for a moment. He awakened to a powerful encounter with his Creator. “God came into the bus, tapped me on the shoulder, and allowed me to see what I had become. I hated what I saw.”
His life flashed before him in a matter of moments. “I felt like a little boy in a big department store who lost his family and lost my way.”
He laid there, sobbing and crying for hours. “God, please kill me or change me, because I don’t want to be this anymore,” he sang like a lost boy. Then he fell into a deep sleep.
When he awakened at 2:00 in the afternoon, he walked outside and everything seemed different. “The clouds were a little fluffier, the grass greener, the birds chirpier.”
The next morning, he was struck by a change in his normal routine. Normally, he would get high, grab his guitar, and start working on his music. Inexplicably, he had no desire for those things anymore.
Even the longing for a record contract — something he worked toward for years — left him. “I didn’t want anything to do with it anymore,” he says. “The whole thing stunk.”
Ten days after God’s rescue operation ushered in a profound change in his heart, he developed kidney stones. “I decided I would go back to Michigan to get surgery. I told the guys I would come back, but I never went back. I didn’t want to go back.”
After his surgery, an old friend came to visit him. His friend shared some recent challenges in his life. “My wife left me and I was going to kill myself,” the man confided. “But God came to me and changed my life. Now I’m serving Him. I believe God told me to give you this Bible.”
He invited Martin to church, something for which he never had any previous interest. Later, Pastor Bill Tulip began to mentor him and became a spiritual father. “He spent a lot of time with me and refused to let me go,” Martin says. “It took a lot of years. I had to work through a lot of major issues.”
As Martin looks back, he realizes he wasn’t seeking God or salvation when he was born again. “The light came into the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not,” he says, quoting the Apostle John.
“A light bulb came on and I was alive,” he says. “I was no longer blind to who He was and why He was there. I realized God wasn’t the bad guy.”
“He opened my eyes and let me become like a little boy again. I was totally awakened to who He is. Everything changed instantly. All of a sudden, I was thinking different, feeling different. If that’s what born again means, then that’s what happened to me,” he proclaims.
After growing in his faith, Martin began traveling, ministering, leading worship and sharing his story throughout North America. In 2002, while ministering in northeastern Ontario, Canada, Martin met “the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.” Six months later he married Lesley, an accomplished piano player and worshiper. They travel and minister together, touching many lives.
God has blessed them with three beautiful children and they continue to serve God and write worship music. More recently, God placed a new desire on Martin’s heart “to be a light in a dark community.” He sensed God’s leading to start a new kind of heavy metal band. His new group, “Mercyhammer,” will not be a “Christian band” but a band of Christians, who write music not about Christ but more about what Christ did for him personally.
“I’m in love with God and He’s in love with me and that’s never going to change,” says Martin. “I was a mess and he turned me into a miracle.”
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