Nearly every evening, Marcos Witt rode along with his stepdad in a pickup truck to one of the fledgling churches his missionary parents had started throughout north central Mexico—all the while practicing steadfastly on his guitar, mandolin or accordion. Little did he know or even imagine then how God was setting the stage for his future.
Marcos started taking piano lessons at the age of 8, the same year he committed his life to Christ during an Easter weekend service. It wasn’t long before he began providing the musical accompaniment at the churches where his stepdad preached. At 13, his musical prowess on the accordion made him a one-man worship band. By 14, he was enrolled in college-level music studies at a formal music school in Durango, Mexico, where his parents had moved from San Antonio, Texas, when he was a month old.
At age 16, opportunities to study classical music in Vienna, Austria, and opera in Mexico City were knocking on his door, while he studied cello and choral conduction.
“I was being courted very strongly with great opportunities to make a name for myself in the world of classical music,” Marcos told Decision. “And yet, there was this pull of faith, and there were some major peer pressure situations going on.”
Guilt-ridden by some selfish choices and burdened by the weighty decision of his looming career path, Marcos retreated after school one day to a hill overlooking Durango’s massive expanse and cried out to God.
“I felt very deeply repentant,” Marcos said. “And I felt Christ’s love. I felt His forgiveness. I’m weeping when this was going on. It was something that lasted about an hour, hour and a half.”
Throughout his musical tutelage, Marcos’ mom had reminded him regularly of the purpose of God’s giftedness in his life.
“She would say all the time that this music was given for God’s glory,” Marcos recounted. “‘He gave you this gift for God’s glory. Don’t you dare use it for your own glory, or for anyone else’s glory.’ And so, I felt like I had failed.”
But Marcos’ tune changed as he sat on that hill overlooking Durango, alone with God and his school books.
“I remember sitting on this hill and just having a conversation with the Lord,” Marcos recalled. “And I took that stack of music books and I raised it up to Heaven, and I said, ‘I’m giving You my music. It’s Yours. My life is Yours. My heart is Yours. My talent. My gifts. My voice. My piano. Everything is Yours. Use me where You want.’”
Even at 16, Marcos knew the gravity of his prayer and subsequent decision to turn down scholarships to two prestigious music schools and instead attend the same Bible college in San Antonio where his parents first met.
For much of his life he had grappled with bouts of anger and disillusionment over the death of his father, who, at age 21, was killed when the small Cessna 170 airplane he was piloting crashed.
His dad, Jerry, along with another pastor, had been dropping Gospels of John into Mexican villages when someone shot down the plane. Marcos was 2 years old at the time. One of his father’s American friends had to pay bribes to the local mayor and coroner to have his body returned to Durango for burial.
“He’d been persecuted by this one individual who just didn’t like what he was doing,” Marcos said. “One time he tried to douse my dad’s airplane with gasoline. He’d been threatened over and over and, finally, they got him.”
Instead of returning to her family in Marietta, Georgia, Marcos’ 24-year-old mother, Nola, chose to remain in Durango with her three young sons, all under the age of 5, and continue the church planting work she and her husband had begun. Three years later, she married another church planter from Shreveport, Louisiana, and they continued serving as missionaries in Durango for nearly 40 years.
By 18, Marcos’ passion to use his musical talents to reach his generation across Latin America with the Gospel did not harmonize with his stepdad’s views. Contemporary Christian music in the 1970s was at a fever pitch, fueled by the Jesus People Movement. But the growing ensemble of instruments and contemporary Christian music genre wasn’t resonating with Frank Warren.
Drums and electric guitars were instruments of worldly music, Frank warned his stepson. Marcos, however, was being influenced by the burgeoning careers of contemporary Christian artists Andre Crouch, Keith Green, Chuck Girard, Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.
And the Saturday youth gatherings where Marcos and his friends hosted Christian music “jam sessions” at his stepdad’s church sometimes outnumbered the church’s Sunday worship attendance.
Over the next 20 years, Frank slowly became less critical of his stepson’s musical tastes as he witnessed God’s favor on Marcos’ Christian concerts throughout Mexico, Central America and South America, where 50,000-seat stadiums were filled and thousands came to faith in Christ.
“An hour and a half into each concert, I’d give a message, and it was centered around making Jesus Christ the center of your life, keeping Jesus Christ on the throne of your life,” Marcos said.
He credits his stepfather’s lasting influence for his song lyrics, which always find their chapter-and-verse origins in the Bible. “He had that influence on me,” Marcos acknowledged fondly. “I love the Word. I read the Word every day. I study the Word. I love preaching the Word.”
After five Latin Grammy Awards and 30 albums, including tens of millions of records sold, Marcos is the most recognized Spanish-language Christian singer in the world. And as a church planter, he pastored the largest Spanish-speaking congregation in the U.S. from 2002 to 2012. About 10,000 people attended weekly at his church in Houston.
Marcos said he cherishes the opportunity to have sung at Billy Graham’s final Crusade in New York City as well as at a half-dozen Festivals with Franklin Graham across Latin America. This fall, he and Newsboys were the featured artists during Franklin’s eight-city God Loves You Tour along the historic Route 66.
Chris Swanson, vice president of Hispanic Initiatives with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said Marcos has a pastoral heart to mentor and encourage younger Latino Christian artists beyond the music by emphasizing the priority of God’s Word.
“Marcos Witt is one of the great men of God who has been used through the years to evangelize the Hispanic community throughout Latin America and the United States,” Swanson said.
And as Marcos prepares for his 60-city “America Prays & Worships” concert tour for Latino communities across the U.S. beginning in May 2022, he hopes it will be a catalyst for a church planting movement. According to U.S. Census projections, by 2050, the Hispanic population in America could be at least 33%—one out of every three residents.
Meanwhile, Marcos, who lives in Houston with Miriam, his wife of 35 years, couldn’t be more grateful to still be singing for God’s glory. Nearly 10 years ago, the music stopped for him when his vocal cords were damaged while being intubated for reconstructive surgery on both ankles. Doctors feared he might never speak or sing again. And for seven months he remained silent. But thanks to treatment by a world-renowned Mexican voice specialist, Marcos said his range of notes is wider now than before the injury.
“I worship God because He’s God,” Marcos said. “Life’s going to be a whole lot simpler to you when you understand He’s worthy of praise. I don’t give Him praise to try to bribe Him into being good to me. I don’t give Him praise because I need something from Him. He’s worthy of my praise. So, I wrote the song ‘You Are Still God’ in the middle of one of my worst nights.”
Having recovered from open heart surgery for three blocked arteries in January 2020, the father of four and grandfather of three, said that God’s call to cross-cultural evangelism has truly been the best of both worlds.
“There’s a Scripture that says if you lift Christ up, He’ll draw all men to Himself. My songs are always Christ-centered. Always.”
Photos: Courtesy of Marcos Witt