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‘Everything passes, everything changes…’

First from Randy: For a number of years, I felt that the Lord was calling me into the ministry, but I had a list of reasons (excuses) why I couldn’t answer His call.

They included:

1. No Time – I worked full time.
2. No Money – I couldn’t afford tuition.
3. I didn’t like speaking in public.

I was accepted to the Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, California, School of Ministry in June 2006. However, before I was accepted, I had a dream that I recognized as a “different, recurring” dream. (I have had this type of dream before. I can’t explain, but when I have a dream like this, as it recurs the details sharpen. Eventually, this type of dream always comes true.)

My wife Donna and I were in a traffic circle and I heard numbers: 15, 50, 5, 405 and 1.” I understood these as route numbers and began tracking them down. I located them in the proper order in Florida. They led to the Space Coast area. There were two Calvary Chapels there. I thought we’d be moving to Florida and attending one of them. In the fall, I began classes. The Lord would have to get me through – I was fifty that fall, learning Greek would be a challenge. He got me through the first semester. For the second semester, the work load increased.

Then, Donna became paralyzed. I was going to the church office to answer the phones when she came into the kitchen saying, “Something is wrong; my back really hurts.” We drove to a local hospital. Upon arrival I had to lift her into a wheelchair – she couldn’t move her legs. In the waiting room, I called a friend, put my hand where the pain was and we prayed for her. She stood up and walked around the waiting room! She was in pain, so we waited.

We were taken into the ER and Donna got in bed herself. For twenty minutes, she continued moving her legs and then the movement ceased. (I take this as the Lord telling us, “You are going to go through this paralysis – but when I’m ready, you will walk again.”)

We waited as doctors and interns came and went. She had an MRI and was admitted to the hospital. We waited and my friend, Pastor Ronnie, came by insisting that I eat, so we went to the cafeteria. While I was gone, the neurosurgeon came by telling Donna that she had an “inoperable tumor.” This was how we parted Saturday night – Donna in the hospital and me up all night praying for her not to die.

The next morning, I went to get her some Jell-O. The neurosurgeon came by telling her the tumor was “wrapped around her spine.” Later that day, she had a CAT scan. We waited. Mid-afternoon, an oncologist came in. He was called in to start radiation on the “tumor” immediately. The oncologist said, “I don’t know why I’m here. You don’t have any cancer.” Praise the Lord, the tumor was gone. More tests and the ever present “waiting”, Tuesday came. In late afternoon, the neurosurgeon told us that “what had appeared as a tumor was clearly a blood vessel that had bled out, pressing against her spinal cord”, a “spinal cord stroke”. He needed to relieve the pressure through surgery. The surgery was a “success”, but she never regained feeling or movement in her legs.

Donna was in the hospital for seven weeks (three weeks of therapy). I realized she couldn’t be left alone at home and I couldn’t afford home care. The Lord provided a nurse with spinal cord injury experience; He provided perfectly for our needs! After a few months, Donna adapted and needed less help. The Lord provided caring people.

Many people advised me to quit school. My answer was (and is) “the God that called me to the ministry is able to take care of my family and provide for our every need.” In 2 Corinthians, chapter 12 the Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” We lived that verse! I can say for a fact that there is no way that Donna and I could have survived, much less thrived, without the Lord’s strength.

I continued at school, Donna had a caregiver in the mornings and was blessed by godly women helping her in the afternoon. Prior to the paralysis, she had been a quiet, withdrawn person, but the Lord used these afternoon times of fellowship to grow and stretch her.

One day, I noticed an area in Florida that was without a Calvary Chapel. The Lord, I believe, put it on my heart that there should be one there. I told everyone, “The Lord is calling us to Florida to plant a church.” However, my enthusiasm was not shared. Some pointed out the difficulties of moving across country, getting a job, starting a church – besides, Donna was in a wheelchair.

My answer was, “It isn’t my idea to go to Florida. Since it’s His idea, He’ll take care of the details.” In January 2008, I went to a Calvary Chapel pastor’s conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. Since I was being “called to Florida” I wanted to see what the Lord might do. The sanctuary where the conference was being held had over 500 chairs with people saving seats by laying Bibles on them.

I realized that was over 3,000 miles from home and I didn’t know anybody there. Walking through the sanctuary, I said, “Lord, show me where to put my Bible.” I felt “led” to a particular chair and went looking for lunch. I saw a cart and I walked up to it. Then a man walked up behind me. He ask me my name and where I was from? Remember this was a Florida pastor’s conference, so my response included, “The Lord has called my wife and I to plant a church in Florida.” That answer had been sufficient.

This time, the person asked “where?” and I answered “New Smyrna Beach”. He replied, “You have to join me and my staff. I’m the pastor of the closest Calvary Chapel to there.” I enjoyed lunch, and for the first time since arriving in Florida, I felt a sense of belonging. After lunch, the pastor said he would invite me to join his group, but their seats were saved with Bibles and there probably wasn’t an empty seat nearby.

Amazingly, my Bible was on a chair directly behind them! I spent the conference with this wonderful group, and I returned to California to pack. By now, I was convinced that the Lord had called us to Florida and he was already opening doors, so I was ready to move!

Time went by; I brought home boxes, packing anything I could. More time went by. And I’d ask the Lord “when?” He was always faithful to answer me with “where!” (I saw a bumper sticker: “My child excels at Policarpio Elementary School” – Polycarp was the first bishop of Smyrna. There were many other “little things.”) I knew He heard me – but it still wasn’t time. More time passed. People doubted we’d ever leave. I felt like Noah, preparing for something few people believed would actually happen. Also, at first, Donna wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Godly men pointed out, “You can’t drag her kicking and screaming across the country.” My answer was, “It’s not time yet.”

By now it was September 2009, two years after the pastor’s conference, and almost everything was packed. Empty boxes awaited the rest. My pastor and I prayed that either God would remove His call to Florida, or He’d change Donna’s heart. Then, less than a week later, He changed her heart. She began asking (and listening) about Florida. One of her friends called saying the Lord had put it on her heart to give us business cards. She and I came up with the design. The Lord gave me the name “Sonrise.” I needed contact information and I figured a website was best, so I started one. I completed it before we reached Florida.

The company where I worked was sold; I lost my job and packed in earnest. It was now time to move and we departed on April 28, 2010 for Florida and an epic car journey across the country.

On May 9, we attended “Crossroads Calvary Chapel” in Ormond Beach, Florida. The pastor that I had met three years previously introduced himself to my wife. He and the assistant pastor offered their help. I gave them business cards. We told them our plan – “find a place to live”. They prayed with us.

New Smyrna Beach is a beach town with lots of older houses. That Wednesday, we returned to “Crossroads” for their Bible study. The pastor asked how we were doing. I replied, “The Lord isn’t closing doors, He just keeps the wheelchair from fitting through them. He told me about a church in a high school in Deltona. The pastor lived and worked far away. It was a small fellowship that wanted to become a Calvary Chapel. The church’s pastor had recently asked if he knew of anyone called to pastor a church in that area.

Amazingly, the church’s name was “Sonrise Christian Fellowship”. I spoke with the pastor and we began attending the church. We felt loved and welcomed immediately. In July, the pastor asked me to teach for a couple of weeks. The church body became aware of God’s calling on our lives. They also heard the name God gave me (Sonrise) – their name! Summer progressed, I taught more. By late August the pastor asked if I would take over the church. I accepted. He told the board and my first sermon as senior pastor was on September 19, 2010. On October 19th, I was ordained by the church and I am beginning the affiliation process with Calvary Chapel.

Before we left California, I told Donna I thought “someone” was praying for a Calvary Chapel and we were God’s answer. Now, I have found that person. A member of our congregation had been praying for God to send a pastor from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa’s school! We serve an Almighty God who answers prayers.

We are located in an area that needs the light of the Gospel. (There are some very dark areas nearby.) Our prayer is that the Lord will use us to reach the surrounding community. From my perspective, the last three years were a time of “waiting”. From His perspective, they were a time of “preparation”. The Lord prepared Donna and me; He also prepared a church for us! We are so blessed! Our church is filled with godly men and women. The Lord provided us with a worship team and a sound man. Women volunteer in the children’s ministry. The Lord has given us everything we need!

Now from Donna:

After Randy started school; a friend asked if I was ready to be a pastor’s wife. I replied, “I don’t know.” I didn’t know what it meant to be a pastor’s wife. It would take years for the answer to unfold.

Randy and I have been married 27 years and seen changes. When Randy told me about Florida, I was not open to it. I didn’t want to move. I was content. My own little, safe world surrounded me. I wanted no changes. Randy and I had a “good life” in Lake Forest, Southern California, which nestles close to the Santa Ana Mountains.

He worked from 7:00 – 5:00. I filled my days volunteering at the church, shopping and exercising. I was very active. Most days, I walked, rode my bike 10 miles and swam in the pool for an hour.

In an hour, all that changed. My means of mobility is now my wheelchair. I can’t do those things I took for granted anymore. I used to drive to the store and shop. Now Randy has to drive. In many ways, the life I had was replaced. Randy tried to get me to read books. I never had time. I have time now and have become quite the reader.

My fascination with books began with my next door neighbor, Norma Wooding, wife of ANS founder, Dan Wooding. I needed help in the afternoons. Godly women from church offered their assistance, including Norma. Her husband is a writer and among his books was his autobiography, “From Tabloid to Truth”. Knowing the couple, I wanted to read their story. Then Norma and others brought more books.

Someone gave me Joni Eareckson Tada’s autobiography, “Joni”. If you haven’t heard of her, she became paralyzed at the age of seventeen, due to a diving accident. Then I was given Corrie ten Boom’s autobiography, “The Hiding Place”. I continued reading my neighbor’s books also. I have now literally consumed a lot of books. The Lord used them to grow me spiritually and inspire me. Being in a wheelchair, I had more time to read – I wasn’t running off somewhere all the time. With less to do and more time for the Lord, He stretched me and gave me an empathetic heart.

Randy graduated and I attended the graduation with our friends. Florida loomed in the future and I was afraid. Randy attended the pastor’s conference in St. Petersburg. He met the pastor from a church close by and visited the town, taking many pictures returning to California very excited about our journey.

However, I didn’t share his enthusiasm. When Randy talked about Floridra, I tuned him out. When friends asked about Florida, I shared my apprehensions. I didn’t want to move to Florida. Over time, the Lord changed my heart and by October of 2009, I finally caught Randy’s enthusiasm. As we began final preparations, the Lord cleared away all obstacles. By the time we left, I was eager and excited to see what the Lord had in store for the next chapter of our lives. The Lord brought us to Florida. He provided solutions for everything.

I am still a paraplegic – the word sounds foreign to me. My disability seems to draw people to me. Over time, my empathetic side has grown and I have emerged from my cocoon to stretch my wings like a butterfly. What those godly women did for me, I can, in some small way, now do for others. I feel the Lord uses me to minister to other people. Somehow, seeing me persevere in faith encourages and emboldens others that are going through their own trials. In this world, we all have trials. But, we have a choice how we respond to the trial. We can turn to God putting our faith and trust in Him and let “the joy of the Lord be our strength”; or we can turn away from Him in anger and despair. The choice is ours.

We are living in DeLand and Randy is pastoring the small church in Deltona, about 10 minutes away. I can answer that question from so long ago – “Yes, I’m ready to be a pastor’s wife. I love being a pastor’s wife. A pastor’s wife does what a pastor does – she loves the people.”

You can contact Randy and Donna by e-mail at: pastor@sonrise242.org and the church’s website can be found at: www.sonrise242.org

Randy and Donna Marquart

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