Marv and Denise Robinson met while working at an office together, and when the Lord intertwined their hearts’ desire to work at a children’s ministry, their love for each other blossomed. Marv proposed on a busy bus in New York City, and in 1975, they were married. Appointed in 1980, Marv and Denise have just celebrated 40 years of ministry with Missions Door, but their story reveals a lifetime of God’s provision.
The Robinsons began their Missions Door ministry in Coney Island, where they planted a church and opened doors for Gospel outreach among the community. Living in Coney Island for 20 years, they compassionately served the poor, including many who lived in homelessness. In 2001, the Lord led them to Rochester, NY, which has been their Jerusalem for the past 19 years.
Summertime is usually the busiest time in the Rochester ministry. Churches send Mission teams to do ministry with Marv, such as participating in outdoor Bible clubs, street evangelism, visitation and work projects, and sharing testimonies with those struggling with addiction or homelessness.
During the school year, the Robinsons help families fill their children’s bags with books, supplies and whatever else they may need for a successful school year. They also plan banquets for the families, determined for them to experience the loving presence of Christ in the inner city. “The mothers have never gone to a banquet with Christ,” Marv says.
Ministry in the Pandemic
Much of the world came to a halt when the coronavirus erupted, and many areas in which Marv and Denise work had to close and become isolated. The children are not able to meet for Bible camps this summer, and face-to-face ministry is limited. But the Lord has been faithful in opening new avenues for the Robinsons to continue their ministry.
“Sometimes things are taken away,” Marv says. “But we’re not just sitting around drinking iced tea. The Lord still has a job for us in Rochester.”
Marv and Denise are connected to a housing complex of 200 families where they do a large part of their ministry. Because of the virus, Bible studies and other projects have had to cease. Even so, Marv will still pass out reading material to these families to kindle hope and draw near to God during this unprecedented time. Marv also faithfully calls about ten people a day and sends out hand-written cards to stay connected with all who are involved in his ministry.
The Lord has been specifically directing Denise to senior adult facilities, where she hosts Bible studies. She sits down with them to talk, pray with them, and show them what it means to be intimately known by Jesus. Unfortunately, as senior facilities are among the highest risk of the virus, Denise is no longer allowed inside. The quality time that she was previously able to offer has been refashioned to intentional phone calls with all of her beloved seniors to pray with them, and sometimes even giving “air hugs” through the glass doors of the facility.
With so much hurt and devastation brought onto society by the coronavirus, and with so much hopelessness experienced by many, the Robinsons boldly claim that “it is even more powerful to know we have the only true message for hope to offer this world.”
There’s no doubt that the year 2020 has brought on many challenges for Missions Door missionaries, but it does not stop at the coronavirus.
A Changed Heart is the Only Remedy
The month of May sparked a movement like never before seen in the United States. A snowball effect from racial injustice exploded through the country and every media channel was spotlighting protests and riots. The movement fighting against racism has left an impact on the country, and it includes Missions Door missionaries.
Marv recalls his childhood when his grandmother warned him of the danger being black in America. He remembers being told to sit at the back of the bus when he was seven years old. He thinks of the time he and his grandmother were searching for an apartment in New York, when a “No Vacancy” sign lit up as they approached the building. Even so, Marv says, “God still worked out the details on our behalf.”
Growing up without the presence of his mother and father, the Lord brought Pastor Walter Taylor (or Pastor Ted) into Marv’s life. Marv was seven years old when Pastor Ted knocked on his door and invited him to Sunday school. At first, his grandmother disapproved and did not permit him to go.
“Never trust a white person,” he remembers his grandmother saying. But with relentless effort by Pastor Ted to bring Marv to Sunday School, his grandmother finally allowed him to go. Pastor Ted soon became Marv’s “spiritual dad”, and never left his side until the day he passed. Marv says, “He was a white man doing what God wanted him to do.”
In the midst of riots and protests, there is also very positive change that is happening. “The most important thing is to recognize the presence of the supernatural moving of God in His people,” Denise says. There is a deeper awareness, and as the Robinsons see so many hearts changing drastically, they see this as something that can only be God’s doing.
“Without the presence of God, without people praying for this to really mean something, this will run its course and people will jump on something else,” Denise says. “A changed heart is the only remedy.”
Marv and Denise encourage God’s people to pray for a teachable spirit. People are now wanting to learn and see change. With humility and a desire to demonstrate God’s love and justice for all, followers of Jesus can lead the way toward racial reconciliation. Without fanfare, that’s exactly what Marv and Denise have been doing for over 40 years of ministry among the homeless and others in New York City and Rochester.