Choosing to Forgive in the Face of Unspeakable Tragedy Transforms Pastor’s Life
The quiet of the night is interrupted by the piercing ring of Pastor Darren Frank’s phone. Groggy and confused, the leader of the Church of Living Waters answers the call. It’s the Rosenberg Police Department, and they are urging the well-known community member to get to his parents’ house as soon as possible.
“I rush over there and there’s already crime scene tape up,” Frank said. “I keep asking what happened, but no one will tell me what happened.”
As baby-faced policeman, new to the force, exit the home of the pastor’s mother and father, their faces are pale and sickened. Despite Frank’s requests to know what is happening, veteran police officers bar him from crossing the police tape.
“I went up to an ambulance and my dad is in one of them, covered in blood,” Frank said. “I looked into his eyes and he was shaking. I knew at that point my mom was dead. But before anyone told me that was true, my dad said three words that changed my life. He looked up at me and grabbed for my hand and said, ‘I forgive, James.’”
Frank’s heart sank. He knew then that his brother-in-law Albert James Turner was involved in the heinous act that he soon found out took the lives of not only his mother, but his sister.
After leaving his father to be cared for in an ambulance, Frank moved towards a police officer, pressing again for information.
“They told me that James broke into the house through a window. He woke up [his] four kids and brought them into the room where their mother was sleeping, holding her five-year-old daughter, Kennedy. He wakes her up and in front of the four kids, kills her.”
Frank’s oldest niece somehow escaped her father’s brutal attack and awakened her grandmother who was across the hall. The two called 911 and Frank’s mother, Betty Jo Frank, met her daughter’s killer at the top of the stairs.
“He brutally attacked my mom,” he said. “But the amazing thing that happened then was that in the 911 tape you can hear my mom say, 13 different times, as she’s being brutally attacked, ‘James, Jesus loves you. He’s the only way for you. James, you have to meet him.’ The very last words she said were, ‘Jesus loves you, James.’”
After killing Frank’s mother, Turner stabbed Frank’s father, long-time pastor, Gene Frank, in the back of the head and escaped out of the home.
When Frank heard what had happened to his beloved parents and only living sibling, he too was in shock. But before he had time to process any of what he’d been told, the policemen ushered him to where the children were waiting in a patrol car.
“When I opened the door and saw their little faces, I was [speechless],” he said. “They had blood from the tops of their heads to the bottoms of their feet. They were drenched in blood.”
Frank scooped them up and loaded them into his car and took them back to his home where he and his wife bathed them and sat with them while they cried. But despite the Franks best efforts to keep things calm for the frightened children, chaos was all around them.
“My dad was in the hospital, we had news people knocking on our door, and we had helicopters flying over the crime scene,” he said. “But we just hung onto God.”
One night when Frank brought the whole situation to the Lord in prayer and he felt that God was telling him to tell the children they were safe now. But, he didn’t know how he could tell his frightened nieces and nephews that everything would be okay when their father was still on the run.
In the next few weeks Frank had alarm systems installed and several church members and local law enforcement personnel volunteered to keep watch at night.
“I had a gun right here on my nightstand and then we had a gun somewhere else in case I got shot,” he said. “I can’t tell you the extremeness that we were in with this.”
Turner’s name made it to many of the state’s top ten most wanted lists and the Frank’s story soon attracted the attention of America’s Most Wanted creator, John Walsh.
“He was the first one that really came to us in any kind of media and said, ‘I’m going to help you and we’re going to find him,’” Frank said. “They interviewed my niece Karissa because they said if they put her on TV, people are going to find this guy.”
A few weeks later Walsh was promoting the program’s 1000th episode on Live with Regis and Kelly and brought a clip of the interview with Frank’s 13-year-old niece from the upcoming episode. The exposure was enough to catch Turner, who was spotted in a mall in North Carolina.
“We get a call from the police department and they’re all cheering,” Frank said. “I told the kids that their father had been found and the first thing they did was run outside. It was like, ‘we can do something now.’”
But the Frank’s joy was short-lived because of Turner’s impending trial. The pastor knew he would have to come face-to-face with the man who murdered his mother and only sister and he dreaded the moment. Although Frank’s father was permanently disabled by his wounds, he told his son that the American justice system was not Turner’s ultimate judge.
“My dad said, ‘son, we don’t make the decision of what happens to him, the Lord does. We’re not his judge. It really helped me,” Frank said. “They were asking us if we wanted to try for the death penalty and all I could think was, I have his four kids now. I’ll have to live with this decision for the rest of my life. I don’t want the kids to come back one day and say, you’re the one who [sentenced him to death].”
Despite knowing that God was Turner’s ultimate judge, it didn’t make seeing him in the courtroom any easier.
“They bring James in and he’s shackled. I can’t tell you the emotions I had,” he said. “Then he looks me eye-to-eye and laughs so loud at us that they have to remove him from the courtroom. I can’t tell you what that pierce of a laugh did to me. From that day on, I was being tormented by the enemy.”
Every night after his encounter with Turner, Frank would wake up hearing the devilish laugh.
“I was being tormented. I couldn’t sleep at night,” he said. “[The enemy] was coming after me, and I couldn’t get out of it. Just a few months later I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to get up out of bed. I’m saying, ‘God just take me.’”
As Frank laid there waiting for death, his wife came in and spoke the words he needed to hear.
“She said, ‘Darren, I need you. I need to you get out of this bed. You’re not the only one involved in this. We need you,’” he said. “I can’t tell you what that did to me. It was the first time after this great tragedy that I said, I’ve lost a lot, but I’m not going to lose my bride. I’m not going to lose these kids.”
In that moment, Frank got down on his knees and told God he needed his help. He felt as though the Lord was telling him that the way out of his despair was through forgiveness—something his wounded father had so freely given after losing so much.
“I came very quickly to ‘I don’t feel like forgiving James,’” Frank said. “I kind of felt like I was the only one left in my family to hold this against him. But I knew I had to forgive him because my wife needed me to get up.”
So, Frank made the decision to forgive Turner. That is what forgiveness is, he said—a decision.
“Every day, I would say, ‘God I need your help. I make a decision to forgive James, he owes me nothing. He never has to come talk to me. I take him off of my hook and I put him on your hook. Please help me, God.’”
But even armed with his prayer, Frank struggled to keep his commitment to forgive.
“I made that decision daily, but some days I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “But because I forgave him seven days, I’m going to [forgive him] eight days. I did that for 365 days and at some point I started to feel God’s love for me.”
Frank describes the feeling as a ray of sunlight, shining down, warming everything in its path. The pastor says he wishes others who are bound by the torment of unforgiveness could feel the relief and joy of this kind of love.
“The hurt and pain is a lot of different things in people’s lives,” he said. “Everything before the decision to forgive is torment. Then once you make that decision you have to stand on that for a long time. Then, eventually, with God’s help we start to overcome the hurt and pain and torment.”
The pastor has come so far in his journey to forgiveness that he has even come to the point of praying for his former brother-in-law.
“I don’t want anybody to go to Hell. I don’t think Hell is for anybody,” he said.
Because he had come so far, Frank was able to fulfill a request his father asked of him.
“My dad was living in our home and I was taking care of him. Because of his injuries he could no longer walk or eat by himself. He said, ‘Darren, I want to move back to my house,’” Frank said.
The pastor’s immediate thought was, no.
“He asked me to pray, but I never prayed because I didn’t want to have to tell my wife or ask her about it,” Frank said. “But the second I started praying, I felt like God was saying move back.”
Although church and community members advised against the move, the Franks, their two biological daughters, their four adopted children, and Frank’s father all settled back into the home where tragedy struck just a few years before.
“The three daughters now live in the same room where my sister was murdered,” Frank said. “But it’s a supernatural move of God that there’s so much peace in there now. Any time something goes wrong, they run into that room and meet Jesus there.”
Today, Frank’s nieces and nephews are thriving, and his oldest niece, Karissa, has even shared her testimony at several youth events.
But despite a happy ending to a tragic story, others are still baffled by Frank’s decision to forgive.
“People will tell me if you can forgive after all of that, then I can forgive,” he said. “And that’s why I share the story. I want people to know that meeting God through this tragedy has transformed my life.”