Mark and Jo’s Story
Called to be The Preacher Man
By Pastor Mark Walter, JAMA Racing Ministry
One could say that I had been churched all my life. My parents insisted on me going to church and Sunday school as far back as I can recall. Church, for me, in the 60’s and 70’s was a church filled with an “angry God” who was “going to get ya” for sinning. I don’t ever recall hearing how much He loved me, or how His grace and mercy would cover all of my sins.
I wasn’t very popular at the parochial high school I attended in Baltimore, Maryland. Sure, I had my group of friends, but I wasn’t part of the “in crowd” that we all wanted to be associated with. I always figured (like so many other young people) that if I were popular, all my problems would be solved. I worked and worked through various school activities to win over that crowd, but failed miserably at every turn. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, I could never make it into the inner circle.
During my junior year the (relatively) new book Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson was all the rage at school. Our teacher from “World Religion” assigned it as mandatory reading for the class. Though I’ve never been a huge reader, I read this book. I was fascinated by one of the main characters, Nicky Cruz, a “tough guy” gang member who found the love of Christ on the streets of Brooklyn, through a small town preacher.
Nicky was on the evangelistic trail, at the time, and slated to hold one of his crusades at the nearby public school. Many of the kids in my class, to include the entire “in crowd”, had decided to go. So, naturally, I opted to go too.
Nicky spent the evening explaining who he was and what he had become until the young country preacher introduced him to Christ. It was at that point he asked folks if they wanted to know Jesus like he did, and explained how it would change their lives forever. I thought: “Ya know? This may just be what I’ve been looking for to make it into the inner circle.” So I recited the sinners’ prayer and waited for something spectacular to happen. Because my heart wasn’t in it, nothing did. At that point I figured God was getting even with me for all of the things I had done wrong in my life. Basically, I was a wretched sinner and God was now going to punish me just like I had been taught all my life.
Basically, I was a wretched sinner and God was now going to punish me just like I had been taught all my life.
From that moment on I decided that I was on my own. I had to control my life. I would decide what I would do and when I would do it. My experimentation with alcohol and drugs greatly affected my mediocre grades as well as any social standing I might have had with any of the teaching staff at school. I believed I was calling the shots. I had unwittingly played right into Satan’s hands and didn’t even know it. It would take me nearly 30 years to realize how I had been duped by the lies of the enemy.
I did manage to graduate from high school the next year. After that, I went on to work at various jobs before I met and married my first wife. To support a family I entered military service in the United States Air Force. The marriage was a disaster from the “get-go”. We came from two very different worlds and had only been brought together by the “party mentality” of my late teens. The marriage lasted less than 2 years before the divorce papers where filed. I was once again single.
Along the way, through my divorce, God brought me together with Joanne. Although I wouldn’t realize it until much later in life, God had given me my soul mate. We married in September of 1977.
During my divorce I added womanizing to my mounting list of sins. For the next 23 years I stayed married to Jo, but carried on countless affairs. In the fall of 1997 I met a woman that would nearly cost me my family, job and life. It seemed harmless at first, just like all the rest had been. The only real difference was this one didn’t stop. This young woman hung on to me with all her might even though I tried numerous times to break it off. Although some suspected I was involved with another woman, it never became public until God stopped me dead in my tracks on I-95 outside Goldsboro, North Carolina in February of 2001.
Jo and I had gone back to church at the Air Force base chapel while we were stationed in Oklahoma from 1993 to 1996. God had been drawing me back to Him. I knew He was guiding my steps, but still wouldn’t let go of control of my life. I had (so I thought) been in control for nearly 25 years since that night at the crusade in 1971, I wasn’t about to let go or trust God to guide me. But, as He is with His children, He treated me gently. He slowly brought me to a level of understanding about how He was really in control. After our move to Georgia we continued to attend services at the base chapel at our new assignment. We weren’t really growing at the chapel, so in June 2000, God drew us to our home church, Christ Chapel in Macon Georgia.
What happened over the next 7 months was nothing short of spectacular. God had brought us to a church family that was Spirit-filled and bible taught. Through the pastoring of John Wood and Andy King, God brought me to my knees in conviction of the life I was leading. I had always known the lifestyle I lived was in direct opposition to Biblical principles, but never felt convicted enough, by the Spirit, to stop.
In January 2001 the Chaplain for the National Street Car Association had to resign to help with his elderly in-laws. As I read Butch’s letter on the association’s bulletin board, I felt God tell me to feed His flock at the NSCA. I said: “No! There is no way I can do that the way I am living!” I figured I had to get my life straight before I could ever do His work. Over the next few weeks, He continued to speak to me about becoming the NSCA chaplain. Each time I would say: “no, I have to get my life right first.” The conviction I lived in consumed every waking moment of life. I could not escape the voice of God or the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I was on my knees, spiritually, before the Father begging Him to fix the mess I had made of my life.
Then it happened, that unforgettable God moment all of us can turn to and say this is when He introduced Himself to me in person.
Then it happened, that unforgettable God moment all of us can turn to and say this is when He introduced Himself to me in person. That moment when we know He loves us and wants us to “come home”. I was headed off on another road trip for the Air Force. I was northbound on I-95 in North Carolina. I had been listening to various sermons from our pastor when He moved me to turn off the tape and just listen. He told me that He loved me, that all was forgiven and that He wanted this prodigal son to come home. Of course I argued with Him. I couldn’t understand how He could love somebody, like me, that had done so many terrible things in life. He just kept telling me “I love you. All is forgiven. Come home”. He, literally, filled my Suburban with His love and warmth. That’s when the water broke on the birth of this new Christian. I was finally home, still under heavy conviction, but knowing things were about to change dramatically.
During my next out of town trip He asked me to stop drinking. I was in my hotel room after a day of meetings when He said, “Mark, I don’t want you to drink anymore.” I said OK. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew that voice and knew He was doing a work in me. That night He showed me why. I had supper with my “on the road Buds”. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the best food was served in the hotel bar. We ordered our food and drinks. I drank iced tea while the rest of the gang started their nightly consumption of alcohol. What I saw over the next few hours amazed me. The more my Buddies drank the lower their inhibitions became to make passes at the waitresses and other young ladies in the club. It all ended in a crescendo of womanizing by many of my drunken comrades. I walked back to my room in awe at what He had shown me that night. My nightly rounds of drinking, while on the road, had allowed me to lower my guard to Satan’s influence. The drinking stopped that night. Other than a very small glass of wine at my in-laws the following Thanksgiving, I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since that night in January 2001.
I was still carrying on with the “other woman”, but wanted it all to end.
I returned home, after that trip, knowing He was working in my life. I was still carrying on with the “other woman”, but wanted it all to end. We went to church that Sunday just like we had for the last 7 months. On the way home from morning service, I asked Jo who she thought would be the new chaplain for the NSCA. It was really troubling me even though I had already decided it wasn’t going to be me. She said, “Shoot an email to Missy (Fletcher), she’ll know what’s going on.” So that’s what I did. There was no answer by the time we’d go back to evening service.
After another spirit-filled evening of praising, worshiping, and learning of God, we came home to an email that would change mine and my family’s life forever. Missy had replied with one question, “Why don’t you do it?” I thought she was out of her mind! Matter of fact I thought God had lost His mind. Even though God was doing a work in my life, it was still an absolute mess. There was no way I could be the chaplain!
It was no longer that “still small voice”. I had been “called out”, by God, in public. I picked up the phone and called Missy to see if she was serious. She was dead serious. I told her I’d have to talk to Jo and pray on it. After several discussions with Jo, others in the association, and prayer I accepted the position the next day. I knew at that point I could no longer live the life I had lead for so many years. Another week passed as I explained to my family, friends and church family what God had called me to do. Some exhibited disbelief; others said they always knew God would “use me”. I just kept thinking to myself, “God has lost His mind” , “my life is still such a mess” and “I ain’t got no idea how to do this”. I knew my first step was to get my life straight with God right now!
The following Saturday was our monthly men’s breakfast. I don’t recall who the speaker was, all I knew was I needed to talk to Andy our associate pastor. My initial intention was not to tell him everything. I would just say I had some “things” I needed to work on with the calling God had placed on my life.
We sat down in his office and before I knew it I was in tears telling him about the life I had lead for the last 25 years.
We sat down in his office and before I knew it I was in tears telling him about the life I had lead for the last 25 years. I asked God for forgiveness and we prayed. I felt better, but now I had to go face my family. That evening I confessed to Joanne what had been going on. This was not the first time I had cheated on her. She had known about some of the other affairs in years past, but not about this one that had gone on for nearly 3 and a half years. When I had been caught before, I had always begged for her forgiveness and told her I would change. It always worked for a while until I’d get snared in one of Satan’s well-laid traps. I was so unaware of the spiritual battles going on in the world, that it made me easy prey for him.
This time was different though, I hadn’t gotten caught, I was confessing to her, just like I had to God (with Andy’s help) that afternoon. I fully expected to pack my bags and look for a place to live after receiving a good (well-deserved) tongue-lashing. I knew a price would have to be paid for my sin. Exile from my home seemed almost too good for what I had done.
It didn’t happen that way. I sat on the floor in our family room sobbing and confessing my sin to her. I told her I would leave. I said that I would not ask her to forgive me for, once again, breaking the trust in our marriage. I just knew I was done. I had now managed to not only ruin my life, but my family’s as well. I cringed when I imagined what my oldest son would say. I was so ashamed. All I wanted to do was run and hide. I sat there, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I told her I would pack and leave. She looked at me, with her tear-streaked face and said, “Can I give you a hug?” I was puzzled but realized, instantly, that God had once again extended His grace (through her) to me. Through Joanne, He showed me, what His love, grace, and mercy was all about. I had been given a first hand personal experience of how much God loves us. This all happened just 3 weeks prior to our first ministry event with the NSCA.
It took a little time, but my sons and wife have forgiven me fully. God has done a miraculous work in our lives. He saved my life and my family. I can’t praise Him enough!
God has done a miraculous work in our lives. He saved my life and my family.
We are blown away by the peace and joy that has overtaken our lives. He has cemented the bonds of love and faith within this family. He demonstrates His unconditional love for me time and time again. He allows us to carry His word to a confused world. And one of the best parts, we get to do it while racing. Ya gotta love a Father who truly delights in giving you the desires of your heart.