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Pastor Ken Bevel has fond memories of racing to greet his dad in the evenings when the elder Bevel returned home from working at a local steel plant in Jacksonville, Fla.
But after his father’s casual drinking evolved into a substance abuse problem, Bevel said his happy family quickly deteriorated.
And like a lot of young black men whose fathers were absent in their lives, Bevel said he turned to the streets for the guidance he should have been getting from his dad.
“I sold drugs, and I used drugs,” Bevel told students, staff and faculty at Livingstone College on Wednesday. “I graduated high school with a 1.8 GPA and figured I was going to end up dead, in jail or on drugs.”
Fortunately for Bevel, he was wrong.
Today Bevel and his wife, Lauana, have two children, Kyra and Kaleb. He’s the senior associate pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering technology from The University of Memphis and an MBA from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
Bevel has starred in two hit films, “Courageous” and “Fireproof,” which also starred Kirk Cameron of “Growing Pains” fame.
But he was quick to say on Wednesday his life didn’t get on the right track until he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.
After barely getting out of high school, Bevel wasn’t sure what to do so he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. “I loved everything about it,” he said, “but I slowly started slipping away. Even if you change places, if your mind never changes you’re the same person.”
Eventually, Bevel’s first sergeant called him into his office at Camp Lejeune to warn him he was headed for jail. Bevel didn’t heed his advice and a few weeks later his sergeant called him back to his office to have him arrested.
“I left there very, very broken,” Bevel said Wednesday. “I was depressed.”
He said he thought about committing suicide or going AWOL. He also thought about his mother, Velma Bevel, who always prayed for him, so he dropped to his knees and began praying.
Bevel said his life dramatically changed a few weeks later when he was approached by some men in a Walmart parking lot. “They asked me if I knew Jesus Christ as my personal savior and I said, ‘I don’t, but I need to.’ ”
He said he accepted Christ right then; meanwhile charges were still pending against him.
“Shortly after that a lady shows up at the base and said to me, ‘I just want to let you know they’ve dropped the charges against you. Where do you want to go?’ ”
Relieved and thankful, Bevel said he’d go anywhere and was sent to Okinawa, Japan.
As he continued obeying God, good things started happening in his life, and in 1997 while still in the Marines Bevel enrolled at The University of Memphis.
“At the same time I was studying, I was going into crack houses and pulling guys out and telling them about Jesus Christ,” he said. “And years later the reason I was picked to be in those movies is I was willing to tell people about the gospel. Before I was in ‘Fireproof’ the only acting I’d done was as a tree in a pre-school play.”
In the 2008 hit “Fireproof,” Bevel portrayed firefighter Lt. Michael Simmons and was a close friend and mentor to Cameron’s character. In “Courageous,” which premiered in 2011, Bevel played police officer Nathan Hayes.
“When I look at my life now I’m blown away, absolutely blown away,” Bevel told Livingstone students Wednesday. “Whatever gifts and talents and abilities you have that God gave you, you have to use it for God.”
Bevel retired as a captain two years ago and now counsels men, advising them to find their identity in Christ.
“Society paints this picture of us running through life chasing all these things down, like nice cars, suits, etc.,” Bevel said. “Eternity’s my reward.”
He specifically addressed young men, telling them not to make excuses if their fathers aren’t in their lives.
“I’ve been there, done that, read the book, got the T-shirt, drove the car and passed the grocery store on the way,” he said. “If there’s not a man in your house, you be the man. If not you, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?
“You’re at an institution where people are trying to teach you how to navigate the canals of life,” Bevel continued. “Somewhere out there God is going to use you. You’re going to be the next person up, and you’d better be prepared to go where He’s going to send you.”
Bevel was introduced by Dr. Herman J. Felton, Jr., Livingstone’s senior vice president. The men were childhood friends who lost touch but got reacquainted and became close while serving in the military.
Before his speech, Livingstone College’s Gospel Choir performed two selections, bringing the audience to its feet. After Bevel spoke, Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. praised him for being honest with the students and encouraging them to put God first and strive for excellence.
“He said this morning what we’ve been saying all along,” Jenkins said. “If not you, who? If not now, when? If not here, where? That’s what it’s all about here at Livingstone College…”

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