Tribute to Mark Pennels

I was sitting in my dorm room freshman year of university miserable. I knew there was more to life than the way I was living. I knew of God and his unending love and professed it in so many ways. I was His child apart of the family of Christ but I wasn't living in full surrender. I wasn't free. There were still parts of my life that wanted to please the world and follow what it said. I questioned if complete surrender to Jesus, if counting that cost would really bring true abundance and freedom?

I wanted more, but was running. I sat down with one of my professors in my peace and conflict studies program and confessed that I hated university and needed an out. As any professor would say, he encouraged me to continue my education but to take a break.

My mennonite college had a program called SALT (serving and learning together) which allowed a "young twenty something" to live in another country for a year and do social justice work. I would get university credit, international experience in my field of study, and "find myself." I laugh typing this. How naive I was, and how amazing the Lord is. That I thought I was going for social justice when looking back it is so clear the Lord had mighty plans to get ahold of my life. My eighteen year old self could never have predicted what was coming as I booked my flights for South Africa.

July 2011 I boarded a flight knowing very little what I would be doing or who I would be living with. I was told by my wonderful directors that I would have a "host family" that I would live with on weekends. I would 'retreat' there from the week of work, living at the boarding house with eighteen children and working at the not for profit in the schools and teaching computer classes. Living with strangers who I'd never heard of or met was unnerving but those nerves only lasted a moment. Meeting Anne and Mark Pennels was one of the very best things that has ever happened to me and I am not saying that lightly. 

Mark passed away this week from cancer and I've taken some time reflecting on him, our time together and the legacy he left. I listened to his celebration of life today via livestream and saw a packed room hearing testimony after testimony of his love for others and for the Lord.

I said to my Mark when I heard of his passing that there are very few people on this earth that I love and respect more than Mark Pennels. The Lord used the Pennels family in my life to ground me in Him. So with tears streaming down my face, I am writing this to you.

Dear Mark, 

The first weekend I moved into your home was my birthday. I was so homesick and doubting what I had committed to do. I figured no one knew it was my birthday and longed for familiarity. As I put my bags down, you greeted me and had thrown a party for me with the few people I have met. I distinctively remember laying in bed that night, tears streaming down my face from being so homesick and thinking "wow this family is amazing. I am so lucky to be living with them." My first impression only grew as I spent more and more time with you and Anne. I can't thank you enough for opening your home for this random teenage girl to live with you. How Christ-like is that? Not many people would do that - but you and Anne did and loved me so deeply and so like Christ and I'm forever changed.

It was you and Anne who showed me through the way you loved others, your family, each other and the church that Jesus was worth it. That true freedom was found in Jesus, if I would only surrender every piece of myself to Him. I can't thank you enough for your example. Your love. You said yes to God by letting me live with you guys and He used you to impact my life eternally. From letting me come with you Saturday mornings when you sold honey at the market, to making me the most delicious suppers, to always looking out for me on Sundays at church - you were the most incredible 'host father'. Thank you for being my South African Dad. 

It was you and Anne who showed me what a pastors life could look like in the most genuine and real way. In no way did I think I would be a pastors wife but your example and testimony of loving the church and letting the people you've been given to pastor seep into your very being made me ok with saying yes to this ministry call God placed on Mark and I. You both modelled this so beautifully as I got to witness the start of your church plant in Ixopo. Thank you for letting me be apart and enter in. Thank you for showing me that this life is best lived serving others, rather than trying to make any gains for myself. 

It was you and Anne who showed me what marriage could be like. It was the first time outside of my parents marriage that I got to intimately witness someone else's. When I came to you at the beginning of September I was still looking for love from other people rather than Christ and when I left your house a year later I was certain in who Jesus says I am, and certain I was going home to date and marry my Mark. Watching your marriage through such a transition in my life was pivotal. Anne, Mark loved you like Christ and was crazy in love with you till the very end. Watching you guys love each other was a gift I will never forget. Thank you both for showing me what laying down your life for one another looked liked up close. Thank you for showing me marriage was worth it, and worth fighting for. Thank you for letting me process my thoughts and feelings about loving my Mark and what that would look like. 

It was a no brainer then, when I got engaged the following year that I would want you to marry me. You and Anne are my favourite and I couldn't imagine you both not being such an important part of my wedding day as you have reflected such an important part of my life. As I sit here now with tears streaming down my face, I am so grateful that you married me. So grateful that I got to show you some of Canada and my family and so grateful you got to meet my husband. What a beautiful gift it was for you to meet my Mark. I cherish that so much that Mark got to spend time with you both because you are such a massive part of my life. You spending Christmas 2013 with us is the most special memory- thank you, thank you, thank you for making the trip over to enter in and be present. I will never forget that. 

I so wish I could have flown over to visit again, but as life and finances would have it for both of us that just wasn't possible. But I am so grateful for technology. For our skype calls and text messages. Thank you for still loving me from afar and checking in. I knew that you loved me, prayed for me and cared deeply about me. I will miss you so much.

When I talk about my life and my story, I have a 'before Africa' life and 'after Africa.' I refer to this so often when I talk to others and process life. Before Africa, I wasn't living free and continued to live for things of this world that didn't satisfy even though I kept trying.  After Africa, I knew who God was and what He said about me and what I was suppose to do with the rest of my life. After Africa, I was free and although I am still learning how to flesh it out in everyday life, I haven't doubted God's love and purpose for me since then and that is thanks to you and Anne. The magnitude that God used you in my life is insane. You showed me Jesus was worth it in your everyday actions. I've said this before in this letter but I'll say it again - I can't thank you enough. 

I love you Mark Pennels and I miss you a lot but I know for certain that I will see you in heaven and we will be together in eternity with the Lord. Thank you for loving your family and living for the Lord till the very end. Your legacy is amazing. I want your legacy. I want a packed room when I leave this earth of hundreds of people saying how because of Jesus you changed them. 

Thank you for your legacy. See you soon,

Love you Canadian daughter

What Mark commented on this picture. Precious words I will hold dear forever.

"We love you so much too. And you are such a huge blessing in our lives. I admire your maturity and wisdom in the Lord too. Keep your eyes fixed on Him and your love for Him steadfast - always - and He will make your paths straight. Love you and am praying that you will wake up healed in the morning. Just had a thought. It is God who puts us in families - and He sure doesn't make mistakes. ."

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful, Maddie - and made me cry. A sad day. I didn't know Mark as well as you did, but the world is a poorer place for his passing, for sure. He was a giant amongst men, but so gentle and kind. Sending big hugs to you, and lots of love x


 photo copyright.jpg
envye template.