Reached out and shared the love of Christ Jesus and a rose with many oppressed and enslaved women tonight with Out of Darkness, http://www.outofdarkness.org . Many wonderful servants spent their Friday night advancing God’s Kingdom here in Georgia. Feeling blessed to be chosen as one. To God be the glory.
God is answering my prayers and providing avenues for me to reach out and share His loving kindness. I would like to relate two of these to my friends, that hold me up with prayers, love, and support.
This evening I participated in a bible study at the City of Refuge, this always leaves me emotionally charged and grateful. Having an opportunity to studying the Word with women who’s lives and families are broken beyond comprehension and to see the Holy Spirit provide hope in the midst of their despair is a true blessing. Their love and trust in God inspires me, and I am grateful to be able to be a listening ear and prayer partner with my sisters in crises.
On Friday night I will be taking part in the fight against sex trafficking by participating in a “Princess Night” with Out of Darkness. We will be out on the streets of Atlanta sharing the love of a Jesus Christ with the women who are trapped in this unspeakable industry.
I want you to know I am blessed and grateful for this time in my life and I ask that you lift me up in prayer as I serve our oppressed and lost brothers and sisters in Christ. With God’s grace and you by my side we can make a difference.
To God be the glory.
His servant, your brother,
Thanks for being at my side.
Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it. Ezra 10:4
It is hard to believe but it has been one year since our first arrival here in Rome. It has been some kind of year, WOW. I came with ideas and plans and as I sit here today I can say I have gained love and faith. God didn’t necessarily have the same ideas and plans as I did but He did have a plan and in retrospect I must say His was much better and I am glad to have learned that.
Val and I have kept a journal where we share our thoughts each day. Val keeps telling me I should share my experiences with all of you and I keep saying it is hard to (at least for me) open my heart and share the emotions of daily life as a servant of God. And honestly most of my journal entries are too long. So I will pick a few parts of a few entries to share with you.
I spent a several hours today with …. We had our deepest conversation yet about Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. Very open and honest. They are clearly desiring a closer relationship with Jesus …. Good way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. Love you, miss you and thank you for your understanding and love. To God be the glory. M
Last night I went out with the Angel Squad to reach out to the Treasures (women enslaved in a life of prostitution) on Via Cristoforo Colombo and Viale Guglielmo Marconi. I served as the “watcher.” The ladies of the Angel Squad go out in teams of two, the watcher goes with them but keeps a discreet yet safe distance and monitors the activity surrounding the visit. The driver remains with the car ready for a quick departure if one is needed. The ladies share God’s love with them as well as applicable scripture, snacks, convenient toiletries, and information regarding local services that available to help them. It is a very simple and effect outreach. All but a few welcome the encounter and openly share their stories, none are in this situation by choice. They are glad to hear that God loves them, they feel that because of their life style God has/would reject them, so when scripture that tells the story of Jesus compassion for the lost is shared with them it gives them a glimmer of hope. You could see it very clearly in their body language. After each encounter the team records the context of the exchange and the name, country of origin and age of each Treasure. Many of the Treasures were know by the team from previous encounters, some asked for bibles in their native language so the team provides one, in cases where one was not immediately available they would get one and keep it until the Treasure is located again. Last night we had one where they had been looking for this Treasure for more than two months. She was very excited to receive her bible. None of the Treasures were Italian. To God be the glory. M
I am going out Friday night with the ladies to reach out to trafficked women. Remember the Sunday night we had so much fun riding the buses coming home from Peters and we ran into a bunch near St. Paolo’s? Well that’s where we are going. We will be meeting at McDs at 10:15 PM. Another new road on my life journey. “Not all who wander are lost.” M
Good day at JNRC, the guys all know me now and know why I am there. I get a lot of friendly hand shakes, hugs and greetings, they know I care about them and their well being. Even those that were hostile in the beginning have now become friendly. M
At bible study today we read the passion. I am thankful for this group and their faithfulness. I did not ask but during the prayer time one of the ladies said a prayed for you and our family in the US, and gave thanks for your sacrifice which has allowed for me to be able to be here and serve. Several of the ladies were talking about volunteering at St Andrews where they pass out lunch to refugees, they mentioned the man that is always on the street selling scarves with the rolled up hat. Of course I had already shared with them about Nasim, so when I told them that was Nasim they were all excited. It’s a small world. Danielle sent me an email and said my phone should be here tomorrow (for those of you that don’t know my iPhone was stolen). Miss you, love you, and thank God everyday for you. ✌️M
“He’ll be coming and going he had said. One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) C. S. Lewis
Today Nasim showed me pictures of his Mother and Father. He was so proud. He was able to have them sent to his tablet from his uncle in Atlanta. M
In a recently conversation with one of the men at Il Soggiorno the subject of why am I in Rome came up again (as it has many times before). He said, “I see you everyday in different places and you are always giving out food and cloths and things, why?” In response I told him that I was here to share with him God’s love, through my service and care for him and others. He then asked me “well who cares for you while you are here, like when you were sick last week?”
The answer that came to me, I am sure from the Holy Spirit, was first, God. But, I add, there are many people in America that also care about you and me. And those people pray for us, love us, and support us with their hard earned money. Without them I could not be here to share Gods love with you. This concept was difficult for him to comprehend, and in many respects it is hard for me to grasp as well.
I can not express the gratitude and love I feel for those of you that have prayed for me, stood with me, trusted in me, and through your love and generosity have allowed me to serve our oppressed brothers and sisters in Christ.
I have grown and learned so much this past year here in Rome and as Val and I go forward in our service to those whom God continues to bring to us throughout His Kingdom, we do so because of you and your partnership. Your love and support humbles me. Grazie Mille.
In His Service,
21 February, 2014
I have made it back to Rome. I had good flights, none were the originally scheduled flights due to the crazy weather plaguing the Southeast at the time. US Airways did a fine job of rebooking all my flights and actually got me there 40 minutes early.
I have spent the first week reconnecting with folks, adjusting to the time difference (6 hrs) and looking for a place to stay. I am looking for a room to rent, not an apartment, a room is better suited to my needs and much more affordable. However the search is proving to be more of a challenge than I expected.
Being here without my best friend is also difficult. “That’s all I have to say about that.”
Through the coming weeks as I get back into the swing of things and hopefully find a suitable place to stay, my morale should improve. Right now it is a little off center.
25 February, 2014
Saturday morning was spent in prayer. Bringing my troubles to God has always proven to be the right decision. I had gone to the USO for some post banquet cleanup chores. As I was leaving I received an email regarding an appointment to view a room, we agreed on 2:00 PM. I met the landlord and viewed the room, results, moving in Sunday. An answered prayer!
This one, seemingly common place event, has brought me back to where I need to be while serving here in Rome. I was walking down the streets signing the rest of the day. Your daily prayers are crucial to this ministry, I believe it is what brings it all together.
Those of you following the events of my sister Mary’s life have to believe in the power of prayer to our Lord and Savior. Her recovery can only be credited to answered prayers. Please continue to pray for Mary, her faith has been an inspiration to all that know and love her.
We continue to pray and trust what God is doing in our lives. Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude goes out to all of you that make this ministry possible with your prayers, love and support. If there is something special in your life that you would like us to pray for please share your needs with us. Please keep us in your prayers as well.
In His Service, Mark
It certainly is not possible for us to be in a position where Omnipotence cannot assist us. God hath servants everywhere. There are “treasures hid in the sand,” and the Lord’s chosen shall eat thereof. When the clouds hide the mountains they are as real as in the sunshine; so the promise and the Providence of God are unchanged by the obscurity of our faith, or the difficulties of our position. There is hope, and hope at hand, therefore, let us be of good cheer. When we are at our worst let us trust with unshaken faith. Recollect that then is the time when we can most glorify God by faith. Charles Spurgeon
Looking Forward to 2014
It is hard to believe all of the events that have occurred in the past twelve months. Last January I was working in Porterdale, GA for Garbutt Construction and Val was working on gowns in the Dublin loft. We were preparing to attend pre-field training, six weeks at the Center for Intercultural Training, our last phase of training before launching our ministry in Rome, Italy.
We spent two weeks in March, all of April and the first two weeks of May traveling from Georgia to Michigan and back, raising support and visiting family and friends.
On May 12 we had our send off from First United Methodist Church, Dublin, and on Tuesday the 14th we left Miami heading for Rome. Upon arrival we began looking for a place to call home and locations to could serve. We were successful at both. On the following Tuesday, we began our service at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center and on the 31st we moved into an apartment.
We were off and running. Through our work at the JNRC and the USO Rome we met other Christians dedicated to serving the oppressed. We learned of other refugee centers and began making many good connections.
After we arrived in the field, we began to see that there were other mission agencies working in Rome that we felt were more aligned with our vision of service, “… delivering an authentic Gospel that fully integrates mission and compassion.”
We also learned in June that GEM would be assessing a flat rate monthly administrative fee, not the 10.5% as clearly stated in their handbook. The flat rate came to 34.7% of our monthly support which was unacceptable to us. By way of explanation most missionary couples have significantly higher monthly budgets and the flat fee GEM assess is reasonable. However, since we do not have to pay for health and life insurance or retirement and, we do not draw a salary or have a car, our support budget is much lower. After discussions with GEM, they admitted the flat rate was adversely affecting us, however, they were reluctant to change their policy and we mutually agreed it would be best if we switched to an agency with a percentage-based administrative fee.
We were already involved with ministries serving refugees and oppressed groups (trafficked women) through ITeams and ReachGlobal in Rome so we contacted International Teams in August and began the application process. We were able to have an in-person interview at ITeams Headquarters in September when we came back to the States for Jessie’s wedding. We also had several meetings with ITeams leadership in Europe. On November 22, 2013 we received our acceptance letter and notification that we scheduled to attend a week of orientation in Elgin, IL beginning January 6, 2014. Please take some time and explore the ITeams website. I think you’ll like what you read. www.iteams.us
We finished our orientation with ITeams and we have meetings scheduled this week with both the Italian team leader and the US team leader. We are going to be developing our ministry with oppressed people in both Italy and Georgia. We will also be furthering our training and experience in service to those caught up in human trafficking as Atlanta is one of the primary cities with this problem.
Once we are cleared by ITeams to return to Rome, I will be going back ahead of Val to find a new apartment. That is another area where we have learned some good lessons. We will be renting month to month and with all utilities included. We keep reducing our monthly expenses so that we can provide more resources for those we serve.
As mid-term volunteers we will be able to assess our support each year and then evaluate how far it will take us. We understand how critical support is to missionaries, it goes beyond caring for the missionary. We use our support to provide for some needs of those we are walking alongside. Their needs are so basic, it is impossible to separate the spiritual and the physical.
Our families have had some life changing events that will impact our lives in a big way. We found out that we will be grandparents in 2014. Paul provided that blessing.
2013 was a year of learning and growing. We have been through some rough spots but, through it all, we remain committed to serving the oppressed and lost. We are learning how we can best serve God and keep ourselves focused and strong.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, He calls us to be “fishers of men.” This was one of Jesus’ first public statements and His last was…”Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:18-29
In previous writings I have told you about Nasim and about the relationship that developed between us. Through that relationship and through others that I was lead to in Rome, I believe God was opening my eyes and exposing me to a frontline battle that is taking place in His kingdom, the battle for souls between Christianity and Islam. Through prayer and study my focus is becoming more and more clear. We will continue to trust in God’s leadership over our lives.
Many people asked us when we first began this journey “why Rome, why not Africa or Asia or South America, aren’t the people in Rome already Christians and well off?” At that time I could only answer “that’s where God called me.” Today I know this was part of my journey, the next of many steps to come. I would say to anyone answering the call, it is not the yellow brick road you will be following, it is not that simple, it is a journey of faith. To quote Oswald Chambers “Faith never knows where it is being led. But it knows and loves the One who is leading.” There will be distractions and detractors along the way. At the end of Mathew 28:18-20 Jesus gives us cause for all the faith we will ever need “…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I know some of you may be asking yourselves, what are the Edens doing and should I continue to support them? Or maybe even, is this something I should begin supporting? To answer that in part I would like to remind or suggest to you that you think of it as supporting God’s work. Just as we are doing, trust God and where He is leading.
Regarding the location or people group we serve, I offer the following analogy. During WWII America had soldiers and civilians serving in the South Pacific, Africa, Europe, the US and in almost every country around the world. Through the efforts of which group in which part of the world would you give the credit to for our victory in WWII? You’re right, it was the combined effort of every American and our Allies. It is the same today in our battle for the lost souls in the world, it will be the combined effort of all of Jesus followers that leads to victory. When you pray for those on the frontline and sacrificially give of your resources and love, you are part of the global team God is putting together to expand His Kingdom to all nations and to every corner of the world.
We give heartfelt and grateful prayers of thanks everyday for all of you that pray of us and lovingly give of your precious resources. Thank you for trusting in the work that God is doing in us and through us.
Follow us at markedens.net
To give go to http://www.iteams.us/give/
Georgia in the house. It all started with popcorn.
The Refugee Art Exhibit Opening was complete. The show was held in the back (big, carved double-door street entrance on Via Nazionale) of the sanctuary of St. Paul’s Anglican Episcopal church. The Joel Nafuma Refugee Center is housed in the basement of the church. It is a day center – no one sleeps there.
Our two new friends, mentioned in my last Field Notes column, arrived at the show. Helen and Adele, Michigan State University Ad/PR majors, enjoyed seeing the art, meeting some of the artists and learning more about the stories of the center. After meeting the rector’s wife, Jill, and summer intern, Kate, they planned to meet and prepare their summer study project on the “Peace Flags” artisan project which raises money for the JNRC. How wonderful! Our ‘chance’ meeting at a bus stop a few days earlier turned into sharing knowledge and compassion – as well as a finished video – for God’s Kingdom expansion. Once I get it, I will share it in future column.
I held six long bags of fresh popcorn in my hands as I returned from putting away dishes in the room off to the side of the altar. As I glanced across the pews, they were filling in with smiling faces. It appeared to be a group traveling together, mostly women. Assuming they were on a bus or two, I thought of the long days of travel and offered the popcorn left over from the show. Yes, there were takers. Here, over there, until reaching the back of the group. The bag left in my hand was double-sized and we laughed together when I mentioned she would “have to share” if I gave her this one! Her name was Lisa. I asked where she and the group were from. The US. Georgia. Decatur. Whaaat? Ray of Hope Christian Church was ready to share their talented choir with a full sanctuary. It didn’t take long for the others to hear about the lady from Georgia who, at that moment, decided to stay for the concert. It was their first performance of a multi-city tour.
The first four pieces on the program (out of 11) each had an asterisk. They were the selections which would be performed at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City the next day and at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice on July 1. After completion of these beautiful songs, the music folders were closed and passed down the rows until all hands were free. I smiled when the director shared that “these were our sacred hymns.” I knew what was coming next – we were “going gospel” and it was gonna be great! You really haven’t lived until you’ve been lifted up in song and celebration to the likes of “Caught Up”, “Souled Out”, and “Oh Happy Day”. Good ol’ Southern Gospel can take you to new heights. I especially enjoyed “God Wants A Yes”. I need to look up those lyrics again as I/we have been working mighty hard to give God that “yes” in our lives.
Next came shout-outs to cities near Dublin. Choir members were running up and hugging me. It was delightful to talk with one woman who’s daddy was a preacher in Dublin (I have to look for her name in my notes.) I shared our sending and home church of Dublin First United Methodist and sister church Howard Chapel UMC. Cynthia Walters and her mom, Miss Eulah, came up in the conversation. She had just been on the phone with Cynthia’s sister a few days earlier. What a beautiful, interconnected world we experience when we share the same family in Christ. One woman chased me out the door onto the sidewalk yelling “Vidalia”! I said, “Don’t tell me, you were a Sweet Onion Queen!?” Wonderful unexpected fellowship.
Excerpts from their printed program:
“There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome.” Acts 28:14
Church Vision: To be a City of Hope where People will Impact and Transform our Present World into the Kingdom of God!
Empower – Elevate – Exalt – Equip – Evangelize
“Therefore go …. Matthew 28: 19-20” www.rayofhope.org
The last two weeks have been filled with Michigan and Georgia encounters! Every one of them is connected to God’s work in the world and to Rome in particular.
We were invited to Peter’s home on Sunday, June 23, to enjoy an afternoon meal with him and family friend, Katrina. He is working through the aftermath of Cinny’s recent passing and we were pleased to share this time with them over Rotisserie chicken, salad and gelato on the Terrazzo. Certainly not lost on me was the joy of his art collection gathered over the years, mostly exchanged with artist friends. The bronze sculptures of his babies when crawling and stone busts of his twins were among the beautiful places to rest the eye. We joined him again on Tuesday night at a nearby restaurant where we were delighted to get to know him even more personally. We had the honor of visiting his nearby studio and hearing the history of much of his work. He asked me to “fill in” for him at the JNRC (Joel Nafuma Refugee Center) two mornings a week leading the clay/sculpture table, which I will do, as he leaves for a three-month period. I hope Fimo clay play in Sunday School counts as experience. (Of course, it is not about the clay, but about the relationships built and the love of Christ shared over the tables.)
Note here for Dubliners: Deano’s own Jennifer Shaffer let me know that her Grandfather was in one of Norman Rockwell’s illlustrations, The Pharmacist. A young Peter is featured in “Soda Jerk”. He laughed and said that his father would pay others $5 for a sitting but not his own kids – they only got a buck. Check it out at the link below.
Waiting at the bus stop after leaving Peter’s that Sunday, a large group of American students gathered with rolling luggage in tow. I noticed a Michigan State University tee shirt and gave a shout out. Sure enough, all were from MSU, returning from a weekend in Paris with several more weeks of study in Rome. They are Advertising/PR majors. It doesn’t take long for them to ask what we are doing here. Once the word missionary comes up, the conversation heads to the work and needs surrounding us. Helen shows particular interest in the work at the JNRC and I share that an opening of an art exhibit with the stories of individual refugees will be held in a few days. We exchange emails. She also asks about where she might attend an English-speaking Protestant church, so we help her with several options. She and her friend, Adele, are Asian-Americans. I welcomed them with excitement to the exhibit that Wednesday evening. Now, you know I love this part. They ask if there are any specifics of the center that could benefit from advertising, just getting the message out there. Of course. I introduce her to Jill, the rector’s wife at St. Paul’s Anglican Episcopal Church, as well as to Kate, the summer intern from North Carolina. They must produce a finished video for their classwork. Adele says, “Imagine, this could be an influence of faith on our classmates and larger community, not just complete an assignment.” Yes, what could come of this connection? Helen Song is heading on a mission trip to South America soon. She has promised to keep me updated and we will look into supporting her with our own tithe designation.
Stay tuned for Part II – “Georgia in the House”