Some might call Quovadis Marshall's conversion to Christianity at 17 a coincidence. He calls it the providence of God.
Quovadis—known to most as "Q"—was living in his hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, and making a string of poor decisions. Q was involved with a gang, and his life was growing increasingly dangerous. He had already been shot at.
Q knew something had to change, so he prayed and asked God to help. The next morning a pastor knocked on his apartment door. The pastor was there for his usual monthly Bible study with the prior tenants of the apartment, whom he didn't know had moved. Q thought the chance meeting was too good to be true, so he and the pastor kept the study going.
Today, Q is the 38-year-old pastor of Hope City Church, a new and vibrant congregation in Waterloo. Pastor, church planter, and advocate, Q started dreaming of ministry not long after becoming a Christian. But it wasn't a straight path from his teenage conversion to his life as a pastor. There were a lot of challenges ahead—challenges that would later inspire him to speak out for justice that restores.
'DON'T CONFUSE DETOURS WITH DEAD ENDS'
"It took a lot of time. A lot of bumps in the road, a lot of detours," says Q. His biggest detour? Prison.
At 19, Q robbed a convenience store. He stole less than $50 in cash but was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
While behind bars, he got involved with Prison Fellowship® and eventually enrolled in the program now known as the Prison Fellowship Academy®. In the Academy, Q returned to his walk with Jesus and began to take his faith more seriously than ever before. "It gave me a way forward to continue the journey of restoration that the Lord had begun in my heart as a teenager," he says.
It became clear that prison was more than just a deviation from his Christian walk. "I believe detours exist to lead you toward your ultimate destination," says Q. "I don't confuse detours with dead ends."
GETTING BACK ON COURSE
After his release, Q and his wife moved to Kansas City in 2011 for missionary work. He stayed connected with Prison Fellowship and was named the director of spiritual development and later worked on policy and advocacy.
In these roles, Q's goal was to help incarcerated men and women put things in the proper perspective. "It's hard to be what you can't see," he says. "We have to give them a vision for something different. The vision isn't really you or I—really the vision is Christ."
Through it all, Q grew in his faith, and others noticed. Former Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske said, "Since his release, Q has been a godly husband, father, and servant of the Lord. He is a prayer warrior."
He was back on course, following the God who saved him all those years ago.
A DEATH AND A DREAM
Then Q's mother passed away in 2013. Her death led him to question his mortality and the possibility of eternity. His one and only life wouldn't last forever. His dreams of church planting resurfaced.
In the summer of 2015, Q and six others committed to seeing these dreams become reality. They started gathering in small groups and held their first public worship gathering Sept. 13, 2015. The dream became a reality. Hope City now sees more than 800 worshippers enter its doors each weekend.
Q has come a long way, but he's still reminded of his past. Though the convenience store he robbed as a teen is no longer in business, the building is still there—a block away from Q's church. He walks past it every day.
But Q is determined not to let his past dictate his future. That's why he uses his voice to speak out for incarcerated people, who, like him, are made in the image of God and have a future.
ADVOCATE FOR CHANGE
As a pastor, Q has continued to partner with Prison Fellowship, advocating for justice that restores and remembering those in prison. He is a featured signatory of the Justice Declaration. He lobbied for Iowa senators and other lawmakers to pass the FIRST STEP Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill.
In July of 2018, Q and his family met with Sen. Chuck Grassley to discuss the FIRST STEP Act, which was then languishing in the U.S. Senate. Among other things, he told Grassley how programming, including the Prison Fellowship Academy, was instrumental in his own transformation. He also shared how important family visitation is for men and women on the inside.
This was all well received by the senator, but when Q asked if he would consider allowing a vote on the bill, which at that time did not include sentencing reforms, Grassley answered with an emphatic, "No. I've worked very hard on criminal justice reform, and sentencing and prison reform must go together!" Grassley said he was hopeful that he would have a chance to share his views with President Trump and persuade him to support a more comprehensive bill.
Q kept pushing, and so did Grassley. Q spoke with local and national media, telling his story and explaining the power of positive programming, like the Academy, for helping incarcerated men and women chart a better path forward. About a month after meeting with Q, Grassley did get to make the case for sentencing reform directly to the president. President Trump agreed to amend the bill, reforming several disproportional sentencing laws.
The president signed the FIRST STEP Act into law in late 2018. Q was thrilled. "The FIRST STEP Act will brighten the futures of families like mine," he says.
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