‘Why I moved to Tennessee’ A pastor’s story of murder, mistaken identity and faith

A lot of people are moving to Tennessee these days, and some have great stories. But, we bet you haven’t heard one quite like this.

In a small country church in Greenbrier, Tennessee, it’s obvious when Pastor Jack Martin opens his mouth to preach that “he’s not from around here.”

Brother Jack Martin was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father was a painter, a drinker and a bar brawler. His mother, a saint. When she died on Christmas Day, Martin says he spun out of control.

“I rebelled. I started smoking that day when I was 12 years old, just rebelled because I missed her so bad,” Martin said.

Eventually homeless, life on the backstreets of Belfast was tough until he met the love of his life. She dragged him to church, even if he was drunk as a skunk.

“I tried to get rid of God. Evolution, Big Bang, I wanted to rid of God, so I could do my own thing,” Martin said. “The more I tried to get rid of him, the more he became real in my life.”

Jack Martin became a pastor, and his fearless preaching caught the eye of the wrong people. Northern Ireland was a violent place, with no peace between Protestants and Catholics.

“There was always turmoil there with bombs exploding and things happening, the troubles,” Martin explained.

Those troubles showed up at Martin’s Belfast home, first with threats.

“The phone rang and my 12-year-old boy answered, ‘we are going to kill your daddy’ they told him. He cried for weeks. Every time I go to the store, he wouldn’t let me out of his sight,” remembers Martin.

The threat became real one night when a car full of armed men came to kill him. But they went to the wrong address and killed his next-door neighbor.

“They were calling my name one night and shooting in his house and shot him dead,” Martin said.

The family slept on the floor of a friend’s house. The police told him to leave that night. But stubborn Jack was going to stay. That is until a preacher friend in Nashville called him and offered advice and a job.

“Jack, he said, ‘we can lower you in the casket, but what about your three little children?’ I said, ‘you’re right, let’s move,'” Martin said.

And so, Jack Martin, who had never stepped foot in Tennessee became a pastor at the Green Ridge Church of Christ – that was 38 years ago. A decision made with haste, made from fear – but the best of his life, and he takes no credit for it.

“I am not a saint. I had a horrible life, but my life was governed by God, and God had a plan for me, every step of the way,” Martin said.

Brother Jack Martin is riddled with cancer again. He puts it all in the hands of God, who he says has never let him down.