By Sheena Barnett
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – A little laughter was mixed in with tears as friends and family gathered to mourn Marshuan Braxton on June 28.
Braxton, 17, died June 21, when a wave swept him into the Pacific Ocean while he was on a mission trip to Costa Rica with the youth group from New Albany First United Methodist Church. At his funeral at the New Albany Middle School gym, his friends, church members and fellow football team members remembered Braxton as a great friend and person of faith. The rising senior was a member of the New Albany High School football and track teams, the choir and step team.
“We had English together all four years. He’s one of the reasons I passed the class,” said his friend Tanner Watson, garnering a few chuckles from the crowd. “When I didn’t know what to write about, he’d tell me, ‘You’ve got to get this in; you’ve got to pass. I ain’t going to sit in there by myself.’”
Watson said he’d miss his friend. “He was my best friend, and a good friend at that,” he said.
The First UMC Youth Choir and the New Albany High School Chorus sang Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Karl Capaning, a member of Braxton’s youth group, spoke of Braxton’s love for singing.
“If he wasn’t there, the choir didn’t function like it usually did,” Capaning said. “(Singing) made him happy, and seeing and hearing him sing made everyone else happy as well.”
Braxton’s friend and classmate Taylor Watson remembered Braxton’s passion for life. “Marshuan was a driven, passionate young man,” he said. “Whatever walls stood in front of him didn’t last long.”
Friend Bobby Coltharp echoed Watson. “He was the greatest person I’ve ever known in my life, by far,” Coltharp said.
Braxton’s grandmother, Elnora Howell, remembered her grandson as a devout Christian. “He was a true missionary for God. He was so excited to go on this mission, to serve god in a foreign country,” she said. “Brother Marshuan would want us to smile. Regardless how heavy my heart is, I’m going to smile for him.”
Braxton’s aunt, Vera Braxton, wrote a poem in memory of her nephew, which was included on the back of the program.
“You have touched so many, so many hearts; And we know it was your time to part,” a portion of the poem reads. “We love you, miss you and want you here with us/God knows best, so there’s no reason to fuss.”
According to New Albany District Superintendent Jerry Beam, the missionary group arrived June 20 for what was to be a one-week trip. The purpose was to help build a gymnasium and a new sanctuary at Jesu Christo Es El Señor Methodist Church in the rural village of Villa Briceño.
After worshiping with another missionary group Sunday morning, the group had lunch and then stopped for some sightseeing en route to their destination.
Braxton and other youths were standing on some rocks looking out over the ocean when an unexpected wave smashed into them. Four youths went into the water and three made it back to shore.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said she was “deeply grieved” by the death of “a remarkable young man, a great leader,” and praised Braxton’s dedication and generosity.
Ward, who has sent her own children on mission trips to Costa Rica, said the country is considered a safe destination and she understands that it must be difficult to come to terms with the tragic accident.
Ward said the United Methodists lost three volunteers during efforts after Hurricane Katrina but Braxton was the first of their missionaries killed in Costa Rica.
This was Braxton’s first mission trip abroad although he had served extensively throughout the South, including cleaning up along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and working locally with disadvantaged children.
Kim Day, Braxton’s Sunday school teacher, said the fact that he was one of the few black members at a predominantly white church was a testament to his welcoming nature. “He was a real life force,” said Braxton. “He was a wonderful witness to all of us.”
Ward said the support of church members in Costa Rica has been a “beautiful witness to the connection of Methodist people around the world.”
Galen Holley of the “Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal” contributed to this report.