Cathy and I first met Marsh White in the early 1980’s at Kanakuk Kamp in Branson, Missouri. We had heard there was a former outstanding football player at the University of Arkansas working as a counselor at the summer camp our son John was attending. As we looked out across the athletic field that afternoon someone pointed to a large Black American with three or four young, skinny campers who were either clinging to him or being carried by him. We were told, “That’s Marsh White doing his thing.” We were introduced to this shy, gentle man who would have an impact on our family in the years to come.
After we got to know Marsh on a personal level in the ensuing years we learned he had been recruited by Coach Frank Broyles of the Arkansas Razorbacks to play football, and he was the second Black American to play football for the school. Marsh was an outstanding high school football player in his hometown of Bonham, Texas. Marsh said he was living with his grandmother in Bonham, and coaches from TCU were also heavily recruiting him. Two of the black coaches at TCU told his grandmother, “A white coach from Arkansas is coming down here to steal your grandson and take him back to Arkansas, and you may not ever see him again.” According to Marsh when Coach Broyles arrived she was waiting on the porch, and when she saw the Arkansas license plate, she ran him off with a broom. Coach Broyles probably had never received such an ungracious reception. Obviously the coach returned and Marsh went on to have a distinguished playing career as a Razorback. Following college he was drafted into the NFL to play for several years for the New York Giants before retiring completely from football.
Marsh worked in the summers as counselor to young campers at Kanakuk Kamps in Branson, Missouri while attending Bible college in Dallas, Texas. His heart for ministry involved personal evangelism, Bible teaching and preaching, and the Dallas- Fort Worth area offered many opportunities. His teaching ministry included Southwest Bible Baptist Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary.
In the late 1980’s I received a telephone call from Bill Burnett who was then a Christian counselor living with his family in Van Buren, Arkansas. He and Marsh had remained good friends since football days as Razorbacks. Bill said Marsh was very sick with a kidney disorder in Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and with no medical insurance was in a bad place financially. Bill gave me Marsh’s telephone number and I connected with him to recommend he come to El Dorado where I could arrange hospital care and consultation with our excellent urologist, Dr. Robert (Mickey) Murfee. Marsh came immediately and was found to require a kidney operation which Dr. Murfee did while I assisted him. Marsh was such a large man the operation was physically difficult for us, but Dr. Murfee did an excellent job and Marsh began healing quickly.
He spent the next 2 weeks in our home with Cathy and our children providing loving post-op care, and all of us enjoying the sweet fellowship with him. It “just happened” our youth group at First Baptist Church had a mission trip planned to inner city Chicago, and when time for the trip arrived Marsh was strong enough and agreed to go as one of the chaperones. All who made the trip said they never felt any sense of danger or threatening looks from any of the people in south Chicago because of the imposing presence of gentle Marsh White.
Marsh made many personal mission trips overseas including ministry into Russia, Africa and England. He told me of episodes of smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain into Russia when such an offence usually resulted in imprisonment. On one occasion when standing in the custom’s line for inspection of his luggage in Moscow, Marsh had two huge suitcases full of Bibles. He related, “Here I am a large Black man with two monstrous suitcases surrounded by white Russians, and I couldn’t have been more conspicuous had I been waving an American flag. Just before I was to be checked the customs agent who was to check me was called away and the man in the other line told me to “go on” without ever opening my suitcases. Only God could have done that.” Marsh exclaimed.
In the ensuing years Cathy and I would occasionally get ministry updates from Marsh and letters of encouragement for our own ministry in El Dorado. Marsh moved around so much he was hard to track, but we always knew he was ministering Jesus in whatever location he happened to be. We lost track of him for the past ten years while living in Branson, and were not aware of his final illness until we received word he had departed this life. His obituary stated he died quietly on July 13, 2016 in the Baylor Scott-White Hospital in Rowlett, Texas. Our friend closed his eyes to this world and opened them in the physical presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My remembrance of Marsh White will always be of the gentle giant we first saw carrying a bunch of kids at Kanakuk Kamp and later watching him as he engaged with people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. Whether he was carrying or leading, he was always pointing people to Jesus Christ, and when he finally saw Him on July 13, 2016 he heard Him say, “Well done my good, gentle and faithful servant. Now you may enter into your rest.”