Joe Mark, local church evangelist, was called to his eternal rest on the first Lord’s Day of October, having served his Savior faithfully as a gifted evangelist for more than five decades. Joe was one of my favorite evangelists, and he probably held eight or ten meetings in our church over the years. His preaching was plain but powerful. He aimed for the heart and seldom missed. His invitations were direct, discreet, and discerning.
Joe was a Midwesterner by birth, growing up in Illinois where, following his marriage to Elizabeth “Betty” Millikan in 1956, Joe and Betty would enjoy 56 years of marriage before the Lord called Joe to his heavenly home. They never had children, and most of the 45-plus weeks of the year that Joe traveled in revival meetings were by himself. Betty stayed home, worked at State Farm, and kept watch over the family cat.
Joe graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, MN, and then from Tennessee Temple Seminary, after which he served for a few years on the staff of Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, Illinois, under the direction of Pastor Bud Weniger. He was the outreach director during those years, and when he left that assignment Joe had a good understanding of what it meant to be a pastor in a thriving local church. He drew upon those experiences and that garnered wisdom as he ministered to local churches all across America for 53 years until his home-going.
Joe’s hobby was reading, and he took pleasure in sharing a good book with a friend. One of the first questions he would ask when arriving on the scene for a meeting was, “What are you preaching on now?” That was followed by the question, “What are you reading for that series?” Then, in a few days, a book would arrive in the mail—one from Joe’s library—on the subject of the current series. They were always first-rate books—books that I usually did not already own.
Joe’s preaching was never boring or exhaustingly lengthy, nor ever built upon “shaky” exposition. He knew God’s word and handled it adroitly, but always on the level and in the language of the common man. You did not have to be Bible College graduate to know what Joe was preaching about. His voice was commanding, and his pulpit demeanor in good taste. He never embarrassed this pastor by what, or how, he said anything. His messages were Bible-based, and his titles were sometimes intriguing: “Cult of the Comfortable,” “Scraps and Leftovers,” “When Demons Dance with Delight,” and “Hell is Enlarged,” among others.
Joe was a favorite camp speaker because of his ability to talk to junior-age boys and girls in a way that they could understand. Camp Assurance in Danville, IL, was a favorite destination of his during summers when (then) Camp Director Scott Randolph needed a camp evangelist. It was never a “duty” for this seasoned evangelist to give weeks of his summer ministering to boys and girls at camp.
Joe grew up in a broken home and spent lots of evenings in a local Macomb, IL, tavern with his granddad. Thankfully, a good, Bible-preaching local Baptist Church found Joe (or he found it), and he was able to make sense of life as he learned, loved, and lived the Bible that this church was preaching and teaching. Joe never got over his childhood—with virtually no father, and a grandfather who “watched Joe” while he and his grandson visited a saloon nightly. He never lost his passion or his compassion, and in his voice was a twinge of love—compelling, calling love for his hearers to come to Christ, in whom they could enjoy an abundant life.
As with most evangelists of Joe’s era, before convenient motels became available for housing special speakers and local church guests, Joe amassed a repertoire of jaw-dropping stories of incidents that occurred with people in places that he was “put up” for the week. One particularly memorable story was about a beautiful “mansion” at which the pastor dropped him off to lodge in for the week. The homeowners were gone, so Joe had the run of the place. After giving him some instructions, the pastor left. It was not long before Joe discovered that he was not the only houseguest in that beautiful paradise palace in the Sunshine State. It seems, as Joe related it, that there were snakes in every room, under and around every planter. Joe had to retreat to his car for cover and, alas, spent the week dodging the creepy, crawling, cursed from the Fall reptiles!
Another story occurred in the home of an older bachelor with whom Joe was assigned for the week. The house was cold that Midwestern winter, and Joe could see snow in the cracks of the floor and walls as he woke up shivering in the morning. Not to worry—his host had just the solution. With a chain saw, the old man cut a square opening in the wall that separated Joe’s bedroom from the adjoining bathroom, allowing the warmer air from the bathroom access to flow through the opening in Joe’s wall, and thus providing some heat! There were, of course, many more stories, but I have forgotten most of them and should kindly spare you any others anyway!
Joe was like a brother, real time, to many of his preacher friends, myself included, and we would have lots of laughs together. For instance, there was the week that we put Joe up in the church parsonage. It was/is a beautiful dwelling place, but at that time it was uninhabited, so there happened not to be any window coverings in any room, though in the master bath one could still find privacy. So, true to form, Joe was careful to tell us that without any window coverings, there was a long line of traffic outside on the street in the evening hours. Joe surmised that word had gotten out about the absent window coverings, and that people were driving by to catch a glimpse of “my physique.”
There was no other preacher/pastor/friend with whom I would rather spend a week in serving God. As a fellow Midwesterner, we enjoyed a mutual love for many things, and I could always feel at ease in his presence. I will miss Joe dearly and cling to the hope that when God called Joe into His presence on the Lord’s Day, it was not “Good-bye,” but only “So long…see you soon!”
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, ‘Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”(Rev.14:13)