On a charcoal-black April night, with his future weighing heavily on him, Rano Mariotti sought solitude at the historic battlefield of Gettysburg. This is the same place in Pennsylvania where thousands of brave soldiers once gave their lives.
He imagined hearing their voices and the thunder of cannons as he stood on the open field, not far from Little Round Top. Rano came to this hallowed spot hoping it would help him make a big decision.
A few years earlier, as a student at Illinois State University, Rano began seeking his future path. He considered pursuing a career in construction like his father, joining the military or even becoming a firefighter. But he was uncertain about which career to pursue.
During that time, Rano became involved with Cru, where the staff members emphasized serving God in whatever profession God would place him.
Later that year, he attended a summer mission experience for college students. It was a time of intense spiritual growth. Rano began learning to tell others about Christ and was shocked to see how God used him.
"There is no more fulfilling feeling than sharing Christ with others," says Rano.
During that time, Rano had many conversations about his future. Though there is little history of military service in his family, he had long been intrigued with the idea of being a military man. Rano learned about an internship with Cru Military™ at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he would do ministry with the midshipmen. Rano accepted the position to work there for a year.
About halfway through the internship, he was asked to continue working with the ministry indefinitely.
Rano was flattered by the offer, but torn: He wanted to become a Marine.
And that's how he ended up at the Gettysburg battlefield. He was on a retreat with Cru Military™ and they had been studying the battle of Gettysburg. "All men want to be courageous," he says. "It's what every man hopes he would be."
While Rano sat at the memorial spot, his future started to become clear.
He decided to go for it — to become a Marine. Rano believed this was God's plan for him but didn’t know exactly how God would use him.
He wanted to join the Marines as an officer. But he prayed that if this was not what God had for him, that he would not get accepted to Officer Candidate School.
Three months later, Rano heard back from the school: He was accepted.
In February, 2007, 1st Lt. Rano Mariotti deployed to Fallujah, Iraq for a seven-month tour of duty as a platoon commander of 40 Marines. As combat engineers, Rano and his platoon members performed tasks crucial to the war effort, like helping fortify an Iraqi police station and destroying roads and bridges to block the movement of insurgents.
Rano prayed that the Lord would use him in Iraq. Living out his faith was not easy, especially amid the daily stress as a platoon commander who needed to keep the respect of his men. There were times when he had to get in their faces to keep things in check.
But ministry opportunities did arise.
One night, while sitting in a Humvee in downtown Fallujah, Rano asked his platoon sergeant about his beliefs regarding eternity. The question sparked a good conversation and Rano was able to explain the gospel. Another time, when one of Rano's men received some disturbing information from his wife, he came to Rano for advice. Rano listened and reminded him of Christ's love.
Through it all, Rano has found that serving as a Marine is a good fit — that amid the travails of service, his life can matter.
"Wherever God leads us, that's our area of influence," says Rano. "For me, I really desired to be a Marine."
Rano found his destiny. Through it all, he has proved to be a man of courage — as a servant of Christ and as a Marine.
Where is God leading you?
Valor is the Cru ministry for college and high school ROTC cadets and midshipmen, veterans on college campuses, and cadets at foreign military service academies.
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