Mark Thomsen was a football star at Dana College, awing back who scored 93 points in his sophomore year. What a glorious year! In the first game of his junior year, he broke his leg and was out for the season. Back for the first game in his senior year, he broke his collarbone! Again, he was out for the season. Obviously, Mark's life was bound to be more than football, and Mary Lou was not destined to be a coach's wife. Mark came to believe God was calling him in a new direction. This call to Mark came, not in glory, but in disappointment: broken bones, and the death of his personal dreams. Mark's life had already been marked by suffering and tragedy at the age of 10 when his young mother died. It is not surprising then that the cross of Jesus and God's presence in suffering and death came to take center place in his life and his evolving vision of God's cruciformed mission. This vision culminated with his book in 2004, The Cruciformed Christ: A 21st-Century Missiology of the Cross.
Mark was a follower of Jesus: marked by the cross. His early experiences surely made him a compassionate man who listened, and who felt deep sympathy for people burdened with troubles and suffering. He was complicated, yet humble. He was brilliant, even intimidating. He was tenderhearted, combative, generous, aggressive, and courageous. He was a dreamer. He was a radical.
Mark lived with relentless energy, and so his death shocks us. Those of his generation expected he would outlive us. Former Bishop of the American Lutheran Church, David Preus, wrote, "Mark's vitality was such that one did not think of death and Mark at the same time."
Mary Lou willingly followed her own calling as she and Mark boarded the cargo ship to Nigeria in 1957. It was an era of great historical change. Five centuries of European colonialism were giving way to the birth of new nations around the world including Nigeria in 1960. The dominance of the Western missionary movement was giving way to organizing independent national churches with their own leaders including the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria in 1956.
Mark was plunged into teaching and training Nigerian pastors. He continued that endeavor throughout his professional life: equipping church leaders for mission in their own countries. He also taught our church to get out of the driver's seat and share mission mutually, interdependently. Mark led with a vision to transform our colonial behaviors into mission in the way of the...