Three years ago Gateway News reported on a Port Elizabeth family who relocated to Tanzania on a mission from God. We recently caught up with them in PE during their annual holiday visit.
Pastors Denvar and Rene Marks and their daughters Mercedes, now-14, and Jorda, now-12, were all sure that God was calling them to Tanzania when they set out for the east African nation in 2014.
Denvar and Rene also knew that their core mandate was to come alongside churches to turn the hearts of fathers to their children (Malachai 4:6).
“But you can’t just come in and work with the churches unless you have favour with the top guys — the bishops,” said Denvar, who said he believed strongly in submitting to authority — a value he developed during 28 years of ministry in a church culture.
From the start the couple prayed for and sought opportunities to meet top bishops in the nation’s Christian ecumenical structures and during their first month their prayers were answered when the influential head of the Council of Pentecostal Churches of Tanzania invited Denvar to preach in his main church.
“It was amazing, supernatural favour,” said Denvar.
Days before he was due to preach elders from the church who wanted him to make a good impression advised him to be restrained when he preached — “don’t get too wild, don’t speak in tongues, don’t dance, don’t prophesy….just stand still and speak with a quiet tone,” they urged.
“I said to those guys: ‘Look, God sent me here and I have to obey Him. I am under submission but I have to do what God tells me.’ ”
He explained that in response to certain past excesses, many Pentecostal churches in Tanzania had toned down their services and seemed staid in comparison with the Pentecostal culture which he was was used to and part of in South Africa where he and Rene had been leaders at Word of Faith Christian Centre in PE.
“When Sunday came and I was called to preach, from the start I just let the Holy Spirit lead. I preached my heart out. I started weeping, the people started weeping.
“I started talking about the fathers the hearts of the fathers, the sons. People came forward and they wept and we managed to break that curse because many people in Africa — the relationships with the fathers and the sons is not there. There is no affirmation, there is just that hardcore relationship of what a normal African man is — you’re a man you must stand strong.
“Anyway, so God broke through that, so these guys came out crying, weeping and thanking God. People got saved and delivered. I mean, I didn’t do anything.”
“I started prophesying over people. I prophesied over the top bishop as well.”
Denvar said that when he finished preaching, the bishop came up and his expressionless face gave no clue to what he was thinking — something they got to see quite frequently in Tanzania.
“I thought to myself: ‘God, what is going to happen now? He is showing no expression,’ ” said Denvar.
But the bishop announced that on behalf of all the many churches under him he welcomed the Mark’s to Tanzania as missionaries. Together with his leaders they laid hands on the couple, blessed them and gave them carte blanche to work alongside their pastors to strengthen their leadership and ministry.
Rene and Denvar said that since that early bishop’s welcome God has continued to open many more ministry doors to them — and they have found themselves serving in areas of ministry and to groups that they would never have anticipated. But despite the multi-dimensional nature of their work they have not lost their core focus of restoring fathers to their children. Nor have they lost their vision — implied in the name of their ministry, Marks On Africa — to reach beyond Tanzania to other parts of Africa in God’s timing.
One of their areas of great fruitfulness has been in introducing marriage seminars. Pastors who attended the first marriage seminar they held said it was a first-time experience for them.
“And man did God move the hearts — the men towards their wives and the wives towards their men, because normally in a service what happens is that the men sit wherever they sit and the women sit somewhere else behind the men — they never sit together
“So for them to see us sitting together was quite a thing, and I’m touching my wife and holding her, and they were like ‘what the heck?’
“God broke through. God is healing marriages, restoring marriages.”
Sitting down with many church leaders they have found that many of their families were fragmented because they devoted all of their time to church. Inviting leaders into their homes for a meal where they experienced how they related to their children helped to change their mindsets.
Unexpected mission fields
One of the unexpected mission fields that has opened to the Mark’s was not to Tanzanians but to the substantial missionary population, especially in Dar es Salaam. Rene has been invited to speak at the annual women’s conference for the missionary community and Denvar has been invited to speak at the annual men’s conference. They say that missionaries from different backgrounds are affected by various cultural and religious influences. Leaders of substantial organisations have shocked them by calling on them for counselling and deliverance. Some missionaries who were from cultures which were closed to speaking in tongues, water baptism and prophesy have shifted as a result of getting to know the Marks family, being welcomed into their home, meeting their children, and experiencing their lifestyle.
Another unexpected area of ministry has been being asked to train church leaders in deliverance ministry. They said in Tanzania it was common for pastors to pray for hours with people to cast out demons. Denvar said at first a pastor would bring them a person and say they had prayed for him to be delivered for six hours — now the Marks’ should pray for them for nine hours. This opened the door for them to demonstrate a different approach to deliverance — counseling first, leading subjects to identify and repent of root issues, and then praying authoritatively and briefly in Jesus’ name. Churches were asking them to conduct deliverance seminars.
There has also been a demand from churches for entrepreneurship training after a Holy Spirit-inspired project they conducted at a rural church with an 80% unemployment rate among members led to a 0% rate. They are also involved in anti-human trafficking work, worship workshops. The list goes on and on.
But what about their own children, I asked. With so much demand for their time, how do they model healthy parenting?
Prioritising open family communication was a priority said Denvar.
“So, on a Monday evening we have communion — it’s a traditional thing and we stick with that. That’s just our time, the kids mom and dad, and it’s a beautiful time.
“We have communion before we have our meal, but the main emphasis is on relationship and we focus on talking our hearts to each other just to be on the same page, because as you know in the ministry you can sometimes live past your children,” he said.
Rene said their daughters were very open about their emotions — and would be tearful about people and familiar things back home that they were missing.
“How do we respond to that? Because we made a decision, we made a collective decision. That we’ve heard from the Lord as a family to obey His word. So how do we deal with the emotions and things like that? We don’t have a perfect model, but God is with us and as a mom, I lean into Him and just ask Him to for the wisdom.”
She said her personal relationship and time spent with God was a key to checking her relationship with her daughters. Was she showing mercy to them when they stepped out of line? Was she listening to them? Was she forgiving? Could they see Jesus in her? Reading the Bible with them in a living way.
Worship was another big dynamic in their family journey, said Rene.
“As a mom the Lord gave me a mandate to raise them [the girls] up as End Time worshipers and to take them into His [Jesus’s] presence constantly. I am very spontaneous at times because I am a worshiper at heart so I’ll pick up my guitar and I’ll sing a song and it’s a familiar sound in the house.”
The music expression of worship is developing in the girls, with Mercedes playing the piano and Jorda the guitar.
“So it’s a process you know, we are all growing together as a family and I think it’s a beautiful thing,” said Rene.
When I spoke to Denvar and Rene the family was nearing the end of their annual holiday in South Africa which coincides with the spring break of the American school which their daughters attend in Dar es Salaam.
They said that shortly before they went on holiday, they, in partnership with other churches, had led an outreach in a poor area with an 80% Muslim population. Five hundred people attended — and 300, both adults and children — had made a commitment to Christ. On their return to Tanzania one of their first priorities would be to train leaders to disciple the new believers — something that was already happening but which needed to be reinforced.