When Judson Akin graduated from high school, he didn’t have much of a plan. He wasn’t going to college, and he didn’t have a trade. He didn’t feel like he had much to offer.
That is, until a recruiter from the Marine Corps sat down across from Akin and offered him something that to him sounded a lot like a calling — a warrior lifestyle.
“I didn’t skip a beat — I said, ‘Sign me up,’” he said.
Akin had grown up in church, walked the aisle as a little boy and rededicated his life as a teenager, but even so, he’ll tell you God wasn’t in the picture when he made that decision. It wasn’t about being a Marine for Jesus. He’d been hanging around with rowdy friends, and the pull of his own desires was stronger, he said.
“I feel like that was a crossroads where I could’ve stayed here and gotten back into church and been pulled back into God’s path, or I could go in this direction and it’s probably going to take me away from God’s path,” Akin said. “I chose that road.”
And he chose it without regret.
“From the second I went to boot camp, I realized that this is what I was made for, at least that’s the way it looked in my eyes,” Akin said. “I was very good at it. Everything came easy to me, and I loved every part of it. I decided at that point that being a Marine was what I was meant to do.”
‘ALL ABOUT ME’
It became a personal mission for Akin to be the best Marine he could be.
“I had ventured so far away from God’s path that there was no ‘what does God want from me’ — it was all about me and making a name for myself,” he said.
He went to Iraq first, then Afghanistan.
“During my second deployment to Afghanistan, I was so far off of God’s path that everything was about me,” Akin said. “I was selfish, arrogant, anything you can think of. I was angry, I was bitter, I was mean. Instead of having role models, I wanted to be the ultimate Marine.”
And just like that, two four-year enlistments had nearly passed, and it was time for him to enlist for a third — a no-brainer for Akin. Except that God intervened, he said.
Around that time, he made a few missteps that complicated his reenlistment. And if that wasn’t enough to seal the deal, he tore his Achilles tendon.
There was nowhere to go but home, and home he went with his wife and son — and no identity, he said.
“Being a Marine was literally the only thing I thought I was good at, so this was really tough for me — a hard pill to swallow,” Akin said. “I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do, what I could do. I felt like a failure to my wife and son. It just ate at me, the mistakes I made. I felt like I had ruined my career.”
Depression set in, and after a while, Akin was struggling with thoughts of suicide. But at rock bottom, he finally did something that didn’t come naturally at all — he asked for help.
First, he told his wife, and she was able to get him some help through the medical community.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today, I don’t think,” he said.
And second, he went to visit Matt DeBord, pastor of First Baptist Church, Clanton. He had retraced his steps to the last place in his life where he felt true joy, and that wasn’t the Marines — it was church, he said.
“It was the only place I could think of to go,” Akin said. “Matt was the pastor there when I joined the Marines. When I walked in to talk to him, it was like a flood. A big load of it came off of me. I at least knew the right path now of where to put my burdens, struggles, where to place all this stuff. That was a crossroads.”
A DIFFERENT PATH
And this time, he chose the path that led straight to Jesus.
At first, Akin didn’t do it for himself — he did it for his son. He wanted to be there for his son and for him to be in church, even if Akin thought of himself as beyond redemption.
But over time, what Akin began to see was that God used every single part of his story to bring him to the place he is now.
“God causes all things to work together for good,” he said. “He will let your Achilles get snapped so that you’ll be on the right path and be doing His will.”
It’s a story Akin shares every time he gets an opportunity. He’s shared it with his church and with the youth group.
Chris Ferguson, minister of youth and missions at First, Clanton, said Akin is a great role model of faith for them.
“Judson is an amazing example of what happens when God steps into a man’s life and transforms him,” Ferguson said. “I didn’t know Judson in his military days. It’s hard to picture him the way he describes himself. Why? Because I see a man who loves Jesus and others. That is all God.”
‘TAKE THAT STEP’
Akin said he’d love to talk with others who are at the point he was and tell them to take a step in the direction of Jesus — to visit their pastor or knock on the door of a neighbor who has a strong faith.
“If you’re at your low point, what’s it going to hurt to go knock on a church’s door or reach out to somebody you know who is a believer? Just take that step,” Akin said.
-By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist is an entity of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and is mailed into more than 55,000 homes, with a total readership of about 200,000. More than 3,000 subscribers receive the PDF edition each week, and many more engage the conversation on social media.