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Community gathers as much loved son of Ballykeel Jason Martin laid to rest

Mourners gathered today to lay to rest the body of Jason Lee Martin who tragically lost his life in a house in Ballymena on Saturday 27 June.

The sense of both shock and pain was palpable as the Ballykeel community gathered to pay their respects to a well known and much loved young man, and to support the family at such a devastating time.

Several hundred mourners followed the funeral cortège around the estate led by a single piper and flanked by the local football team. Everyone knew Jason, and everyone liked Jason.

A light in the community and source of strength and support to many lives over the last few years, Ballykeel Presbyterian Church minister the Rev. Martin McNeely, comforted the family and led the service.

Rev. McNeely shared the following tribute to a young man who will be lovingly remembered:

1Cor. 16:13 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do, be done in love.”

“My name is Martin McNeely, minister of Ballykeel Presbyterian Church. I want to extend to Angela, Jamie Leigh, Kerry, Jacob, Noah and the entire family circle, the condolences of my Church family, Pastor Thomas Todd and his Church family, and the entire community here in Ballykeel. I’ve been with you as your minister in many happy times as well as sad times. Unquestionably this is one of the worst times - in an estate which has suffered in the extreme.

“5 brief observations:

Firstly on behalf of Angela and the family, they want me to thank a number of people. Because of the traumatic nature of Jason’s passing, the family want to acknowledge the work of the PSNI and the emergency services for everything they did in the early hours of Saturday morning. They especially want to thank Wendy and Marie the PSNI liaison officers and the PSNI officers (young lads, probably the same age as Jason) who were first on the scene. The family want to thank Darwin Stevenson, Lizzie McMurty, Helen McBurney, the business community and all the community of Ballykeel, Ballymena and beyond who have raised so much money. Thanks are due to journalists who treated the family with respect and sensitivity. Lastly, the family want to acknowledge that on the day of Jason’s death, the family of Noah Donahoe in Belfast also experienced tragic news, and would want to publicly record their sympathy and prayers for them too.

“Secondly, we need to talk about Jason. Ironically it seems, there’s little more to be said. So much has been recorded on social media, personal conversation, in our tears, in our laughter. We’re emotionally exhausted. And yet the reverse is also true - we could talk for years about Jason Martin and no doubt will. He had a huge appetite for life, for friendship, (one of the most popular men in Ballykeel), for partying (which he did to excess - let’s be honest!), for sport (Ballykeel, Riverdale, Chimney Corner, he loved Rangers, NI and of course Liverpool). He was a typical loyal working class lad, he was in the ABoD and played in the LSOU band. He was just a very funny guy. Less than a week ago, I last saw him at the pitches with Barry and young Mark McKay. Mark was about to put them through their paces. I said “You’ll have no trouble with these athletes Mark”. Jason gave me a smile and a look as if to say “No problem whatsoever!” The reverse unsurpsingly was the case. For all his appetite for football and fitness, we all know the big lad loved his BHOP and Big Al’s pizzas. He just had a big appetite!

“Thirdly I want to talk to Jacob and Noah. Now you two boys are too young today to understand what is happening. So I want to say a special word to you, knowing that one day, you’ll read this or hear this being said. And I very much hope to be able to see you both in the years to come. You’ll think about your daddy a fair bit over the next few years. It’ll be really tough when you start to become men yourselves around 13-14 years of age. But you’ll have videos and pictures and stories, which will constantly be told about your daddy. You will be surrounded by loving women and strong men who will keep you both right. Now your daddy wasn’t perfect. None of us are. But if you turn out to be half as funny, half as friendly and half as sincere as your father, you will be very funny, very friendly, very sincere men. Your names are Bible names; Jacob means “to come after or follow” You know both of you, you’ll never walk alone. Noah means “to comfort”. I pray that you will know the comfort of God through Christ in coming years and remember this: all your daddy wanted to do was love you. He truly did love you both. And he would have wanted to have loved you more. More than anything.

“Fourthly, and we really haven’t got time with CV19 restrictions to open up about this, but the fact is we really do have problem with diabolical sin in this estate. Sin of the devil, sin which attracts the anger and displeasure of God. Now sin impacts us all individually. Made though we are in the image of God, I’m still a fallen selfish sinner, we’re all sinners, for which we will have to account when we die. Sin also impacts us as a society and takes various forms. We could point to depression, drug use or alcohol abuse. We could point to mindless violence and paramilitary gangs. We could indeed talk today about death. This is now the fourth young man I have buried in 6 months from South Ballymena. Every single one of those young men would have known and grown up along side each other’s families. And as you well know, in my 13 or so years here, there have been many other families devastated by sin. After years of this, and after much research and reflection, the specific sin that is destroying us more than anything else, is the distorted view that we have of what a man is meant to be. Now, again, this is for another day, yet I can assure this community there will be very specific plans about tackling this problem very soon in my Church and in this estate. Plans which will benefit the dozens and dozens of young men - grieving the loss of Jason today. To them and to us all I would say this: We need to raise the bar in terms of what we expect a man to be. We need young men who will want to get married, get settled, have children, talk to them, hug them, tickle them, stay with them for the long haul. We need men who are true friends. Sober, Godly, wise, honest, loyal. Men worthy of real respect. Men our loved ones and our children will lean on, adore and look up to. Men who bring us joy and laughter and cause communities to rejoice.

“Which takes me to the 5th and final point. Such a Man was Jesus Christ. A Man adored by His Father, God. A Man worthy of all respect and adoration. A true hero, a true Saviour. A Man who said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” Now, again, we have all failed to live for the will and law of God, not least myself. But Christ has not failed. Christ died on the Cross for all our sin, all our failure. He rose victorious from the grave on Easter Sunday morning and reigns in Heaven today. And through the preaching of Good News, He gives hope to broken, mourning people. He rescues us from hell. He sustains us. He offers mercy to all people. Even grace for those guilty of the worst crimes. Because without grace we only live trapped by the cycle of bitterness and hopelessness which wrecks so many lives in Ballykeel. So I have a challenge today, we as prepare to prepare to bury this son, grandson, father, brother, uncle, cousin and dearest of mates, this funniest of friends - a challenge especially for all Jason’s mates, all the future men, all the future fathers: are you going to be a man of Christ’s grace or not? Is not this the turning point? Is today the day, by God’s strength, we pray, that we seek to repent of our selfishness, and return to our homes ready to be new and renewed men? Ready to return to our work, our football teams, our relationships, willing to lay down your life for others? These are the kind of men God is looking for in Ballykeel today. Good men, worthy of all respect, who’s strength is not in their own pride, but entirely resting on the grace of the Son of God, in who’s Name we pray. Amen.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Jason Lee Martin.