In the midst of sadness, a celebration of life, faith

December 16, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

DERALD GUESS' children, all nine of them, wore white to his funeral. Two of them - a son, Shamaar, who is 20, and a daughter, Michelle, 18 - sang with smiles on their faces, and they managed to do this just a few feet from their daddy's open casket on the altar of New Covenant Church of God.

I've never seen anything quite like it.

They sang with passion, not pain, and with a kind of professional precision that was remarkable for children bearing tragedy:

"All I know is Jeeeeessssssus! Heeeeeeeee's my everything-ing-ing! All I know is Jeeeeessssssus!"

There were no dirges, no somber sermons, no anger, no outrage, no sobbing children. If you were expecting tears and grim faces, there wasn't much of either yesterday at Derald Guess' funeral.

Instead, there was a two-hour outpouring of praise in words and song - for God, of course, always God, and for this cabdriver from Edgewood who believed in him with every ounce of his being.

And there were even words of forgiveness - from ministers, from family members - for the person who killed Derald Guess.

It was late morning now, exactly one week after someone - police suspect a teenager who might have been out to prove his violent bona fides to a Harford County street gang - shot him to death, and now Derald Guess' modest little church in Hickory started rockin' as his children, dressed in festive white, sang a song their daddy wrote:

"All I know is Jeeeeessssssus! Heeeeeeeee's my everything-ing-ing!"

And the more than 200 people in the church and the hallway leading to it stood and they clapped in rhythm to the bright, soul-baring song. Shamaar and Michelle sang like blissful talented contestants on some Christian version of American Idol:

"All I know is Jeeeeessssssus! Heeeeeeeee's my everything-ing-ing!"

Men and women, black and white, tall and short, and old and young and middle-aged raised their hands to praise the inspired voices of the children of a murdered man.

"That's what it's all about!" shouted the pastor of the church, Chris Dutruch, as the song ended in a long ovation, Dutruch's Louisiana accent giving the moment some evangelist punch.

By "what it's all about" Dutruch meant the funeral as a cause of celebration of Derald Guess' life - his life as a man, father and husband, and his life as a "warrior for the kingdom of God." That's why his children wore white to church. That's why they could stand and sing by his casket, and Michelle even sang twice, her second song a solo: "I'm Lord and Conquerer because Jesus is on my side, and him I do abide."

Dutrutch was one of several ministers who eulogized Derald Guess. He called him "a wonderful giant of a man." Others called him "awesome," and "courageous," and "brother."

Said Dutrutch: "Brother Derald was more than a casual Christian. He was not a part-time Christian who wanted full-time benefits."

Guess was active in the church, and he taught Bible study classes. He loved young people - his own and others, particularly those in middle school. He counseled troubled teenagers while he was in the Army, lived at Aberdeen Proving Ground and helped establish a prayer hour, then a chapel there.

"I have a passion for kids," Guess told Dutruch. "I want to help them through life, as they are turning into teenagers."

Like the one accused of killing him.

Charged with Guess' fatal shooting is a 17-year-old high school dropout whom some of the Guess children knew, according to The Aegis newspaper. Harford County sheriff's investigators believe he might have killed Guess as part of a rite of passage into a street gang.

So we have this jackpot of a tragedy - good man, father of nine children (ranging from 3 years old to 20), and he is killed a few weeks before Christmas while working to support this large family, and the suspect is a kid the victim wanted to save from the streets.

"The one that took his life was the type my husband wanted to win to the Lord," said Guess' widow, Michelle.

"I wish Brother Derald had had a chance to work with that young man, because he would have helped that young man," said the Rev. John Cox, a friend of the family who came from Alabama for the service.

Michael Guess, the 18-year-old twin of Michelle, stood, tall and lean in a long white suit coat. He had announced over the weekend forgiveness of the teen accused of killing his father, just a few days after the shooting. And now, in the crowded little church in Hickory, he acknowledged that some people, those who did not know his father or the Guess family, might have been confused by the scene - praise, smiles, laughters and spirited song after the senseless loss of a good man's life. And no tears.

Michael explained it this way: "I got the peace of God in me."

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