For as long as he can remember, Mark Marchak has always loved big cities—the people, the diversity, the hustle and bustle. It was a passion for him to visit major cities, and he was especially drawn to New York City where he grew up as a third generation American from Russian immigrants.
Living through the 60s and 70s, Mark saw dramatic scenes of injustice. Poverty existed around the world. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the elimination of formal segregation, severe discrimination plagued the social norms of the day. Growing immigration was creating cauldrons of demographic change and increased social and cultural injustices. While governments can change laws, social and cultural change must come from the heart.
Many churches in urban areas could not survive during this time. They were unable—or simply unwilling—to adapt to the overwhelming demographic changes.
In trying to understand what to do about the turmoil of prejudice that so many people were experiencing, and why multitudes of churches were unwilling to change, God started to cultivate a growing ache for justice in Mark’s heart.
He was originally offered scholarships at Rutgers University for football and wrestling where he was also going to pursue art. In the face of all of his passions, Mark chose to yield to God’s call to ministry. He rejected the university’s offer and instead enrolled in Taylor University—an evangelical Christian university in Indiana.
God continued to prepare Mark for ministry at Denver Seminary. In the summer of 1975, one month after he graduated from seminary—he was appointed with Missions Door as a City missionary and had the opportunity to minister in his favorite city, New York. Stepping into this chapter of his life, Mark’s heart yearned for ministry teams that had “people of every nation” (Revelation 5:7).
The Goal of Indigenous Leadership
Major demographic shifts are national. This is inevitable and part of God’s design for humanity. Mark soon recognized the most effective way for a church to survive, grow, and make an impact on the community is through indigenous leadership—leadership that is rooted in the soil of the culture in need of the Gospel. So rather than recruiting white missionaries to come to NYC to reach Black, Latino and Asian communities, Mark began looking for new missionary recruits who were born and raised in New York City. Missionaries indigenous to the city have a tremendous advantage over outsiders. They don’t have to learn about the culture they’re working in as they already have a God-given expertise in how to reach lost people in their own culture.
An example of this method goes back to 2001 when Mark recruited two new missionaries— Ray Ramos and Edwin Colon—who were born in NYC. Mark recalls: “They were new in the faith and both were recovering drug addicts. But I couldn’t deny how the Lord prepared these guys. They were eager to learn and share Christ with people like themselves.” Almost 20 years later, Ray and Edwin continue to serve as Missions Door missionaries and have developed a network of Recovery House of Worship churches—churches that have been incredibly effective in reaching addicts and people in recovery. Who better to reach those caught in addictions than two indigenous missionaries who themselves are recovering addicts and who came to Christ in that subculture? “We are all indigenous to our cultures,” Mark says.
After first serving as the NYC ministry coordinator and Northeast Regional Director, Mark’s responsibilities expanded in 2003 when he became the City Ministry Director, overseeing all the Missions Door City missionaries across the U.S. Through his leadership, the City ministry category of missionaries changed from being a white majority, growing in diversity to the point where now a majority of the Missions Door missionaries serving in City ministries are Black, Latino and Asian. “It’s critical to ministry that we begin to look like heaven and what the United States is becoming,” Mark says.
From Here to There and Back
Starting with the love God planted in his heart for big cities, God enlarged Mark’s vision for establishing effective ministries in the great cities of our country and world. With immigrant communities prominently represented in the major cities of the U.S., God led Mark and Missions Door to minister to immigrants and refugees. One of these immigrant communities was from Liberia, the West African nation founded by freed African slaves from America.
In order to escape a civil war, the Liberian refugees fled to the U.S., concentrating in many major U.S. cities such as Boston, Washington D.C., and Sacramento. Some of these refugees coming to America were believers and experienced pastors. As God connected them with Missions Door, several Liberians were appointed as Missions Door missionaries to begin planting Liberian churches. Soon this cluster of Liberian churches sensed God’s leading to engage in ministry not only in the U.S. but also back in their birth country of Liberia. Once the Civil War had ended, they had the opportunity of returning.
The Liberians are valued as indigenous leaders in ministry and are recognized for their ability to reach their home country with the Word of God. While there are truths of the Gospel that are universal, the cultural expressions of those truths are not. “The experts of how to reach Liberians are Liberians,” Mark says. “They want to continue connecting from Liberia to the U.S. as refugees, and then back to Liberia in order to reclaim the Gospel after a brutal civil war. From here, to there, and back.”
Because of the organic connection between immigrants and refugees living in U.S. cities, Missions Door expanded its ministry outreach to Africa, as ministries were started in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, and Ethiopia, all through Missions Door City missionaries indigenous to these countries. Mark’s vision for city ministry had expanded beyond the U.S. and Canada to Africa.
Obedient Steps of Faith
You must speak My words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen… Ezekiel 2:7
These are some of the words that Mark Marchak lived by in his ministry. In this chapter, Ezekiel is faced with people who—regardless of their willingness to listen to what the prophet has to say—needed to hear the Lord’s words.
“Nobody was going to listen to Ezekiel because they wouldn’t even listen to God Himself, but our job is to do what God tells us. God evaluates our obedience to His call,” Mark says. God has proven throughout history that obedient steps of faith in response to His call lead to miraculous Kingdom advancements in this world.
Mark’s acceptance to the Lord’s call at a young age has led him to a facilitating role in expanding God’s network of believers across the globe. After 45 years of faithful service, encouraging God-empowered leaders, discovering organic links for church planting, and fighting for justice, Mark will step into retirement at the end of this year.
His ministry for the Lord will not come to an end, however. He plans to continue using his gifts to teach others about the Word and God’s love for them. He also plans to do art again (specifically painting), a passion that has always been with him to depict ideas and feelings without words.