I am so excited to use the month of April in honor of Mark's recovery and journey with Christ. 10 years ago Mark made a life changing decision to enter Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, and he found Jesus there. Over the next ten years he had the opportunity to live out dreams he never thought would be possible, the opportunity to mentor and speak life into men in recovery, and the opportunity to serve the community that helped him get where he was. My goal is to collect stories and testimonies to share with you. With each story you will have a little bit of a better peek into who Mark was a a man, as a Christian, and as a person in recovery. I am so grateful that this world will remember Mark for the man God made him into versus the man labeled as "a menace to society."
I get to kick of this group of blogs with an amazing experience I had yesterday. Pastor Jeff invited me to share at Spiritual Emphasis week for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. The clients in treatment have spent this week worshipping, learning, and praying with one another and being led by Pastor Jeff and the Serenity Village leadership and worship teams. It has been a powerful week that I was humbled to have a small part in. Although Teen Challenge is a big part of Mark's story I had never actually been there. I had attended a graduation, the spring fundraising gala, the walk for hope, and the Christmas concert, but I hadn't been to the treatment center itself. We walked into the space where they hold their chapels on a regular basis. I looked around and saw many men and women, some fully immersed in what was going on and some sitting there reluctantly. As I looked around I thought about Mark. Mark didn't talk much about Teen Challenge. I know just a few things, I know that he heard about Teen Challenge from a friend from the streets and he took a chance on it. I know that he had to wait for a bed and slept in a garage overnight until he got in. I know that he hated it at first. Mark was not interested in early mornings and required reading, and whatever else was asked of him. I also know that he sat in a chair in chapel one day and was moved to give his life to Christ. I know that he spent 15 months of his life developing a relationship with God that would grow his character.
I stood there in that room, and I leaned over to Monica and asked if this would have been the room he was in for something like chapel. She said yes, and I replied with tears "It is kind of overwhelming to be in the space where Mark made the decision that secured his eternity." We both stood there and cried. Because that was what this place was, the place that not only saved Mark's life, but allowed him to be in heaven right now. God hit me with that truth in that moment and I was grateful, because it brought what I came to share full circle.
After the worship set clients shared their own testimonies of how God has been working in their lives. And then Pastor Jeff went up to introduce me. I climbed up on stage and was honest about how I was feeling. I told this group of a couple hundred people that I was overwhelmed to be there, to stand before them with the knowledge that the only reason I had my husband at all is because of what happened in this room, and I thanked them for allowing me in. I then shared some of Mark's testimony, how he grew up in Chicago. How he was exposed at a young age to drugs and violence and chose to immerse himself in the gang life. How when he moved out of Chicago he didn't change much of anything for the better, and was hopelessly stuck in a cycle of drugs, violence and jail time. I shared that Mark made a decision to enter Teen Challenge and change his life. He graduated the program, and went on to live in and be part of Serenity Village. I spoke on how much Mark needed mentorship and guidance and how he didn't make big decisions without counsel. I declared that God worked a mighty miracle in Mark's life, that He allowed Mark to accomplish all of the dreams that seemed impossible at one point. I told of the community he impacted and how missed he is.
I have had the opportunity to share Mark's testimony publicly 4 times since his death, its always the same theme. We have a good, willing and able God. I wanted these men and women I was speaking to to know that God would work that same miracle for them if they just ask Him to. Now, I am getting to the point where I can't just share Mark's testimony anymore, after all my testimony is now tied to his. So I went a bit into my testimony of what I have learned over the last 8 months. I openly admitted that I have questioned God, I have begged for my husband back, I have cried tears over not understanding His plan. But I also told them that it is okay to grieve and to question. I have learned that I am allowed to remind God of the promises He has made me.
I get to remind God of His promise to be my strength.
Remind Him of His promise that even in the worst of times He will not leave me.
Remind Him of His promise that He has plans to give me a hope and a future.
Remind Him of His promise to listen to my prayers.
Remind Him of His promise to fight for me.
Remind Him of His promise to give me peace.
And remind Him of His promise to always love me.
I told them all that as they remind God of His promises that the evidence of His goodness will start to show. I know and trust that God's goodness and grace not only mean that I will see Mark again in heaven but also that I still have an abundant life to live with the rest of my days on earth, despite my current circumstances.
I don't know how many people may have been moved by Mark's testimony, or mine. I can only share and God has to do the rest. For the rest of my days I am committed to protecting Mark's legacy and giving God all of the glory for the Miracle that was my husband, Mark Andrew Thomas.
Below you will see pictures of Mark during Teen Challenge (the very few I have) and a few photos from the event. If you knew Mark through Teen Challenge and have any stories, photos or anything to share please contact me.