Marc Blackwell certainly never envisioned his chosen profession leading to being shot at, dodging land mines or having bricks thrown at him.
And he even grew up on military bases while his father was in the Air Force.
Marc felt a calling on his life as a teenager to use his life for others in a Christian way. At 16, he thought that’d be as a chaplain.
Becoming a missionary was never the plan.
But once he got to Bible college in Missouri, it didn’t take long for that direction to change.
“I was challenged beyond anything I’d ever imagined to use my life to be involved in local churches, not to do evangelism at random, and to see the local church for what it was, God’s plan for us, to some degree,” he said. “Up to that time, because of my background, moving around all the time, I loved the local churches we went to, but I took them for granted. I never really thought of why they were there or who put them there. I was too young for that. I just ignored that. But this school wouldn’t let me ignore that. They were saying, ‘You’ve got to face up to these kind of issues. Why is the church there? Are we going to continue doing evangelism that plugs people in to the care of the local church, the fellowship of the local church, or not?’
“Within two years, I basically committed myself to be involved in local church planting.”
Then, though, there was no burden on his heart to serve overseas in a missionary capacity.
Marc was involved in missions at the first church he and his wife Judie planted in Sarasota, Fla. But he soon found that when missionaries would come to his church, he’d keep them up late at night asking questions.
“It seemed like to pastor in America, for me personally, was self-serving. It was too easy. It didn’t have enough challenge,” he said.
One missionary came from Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe, Africa.
But Marc wasn’t the only one moved hearing that missionary speak.
“The more (the missionary) talked, the more burdened I got about Zimbabwe,” Judie said. “But I didn’t day say anything to my husband because I was scared to death. I always said I would never be a missionary. I can’t stand bugs. I can’t stand snakes. I can’t stand gila monsters. So I never said anything to him.”
But by the end of the conference in which the man spoke, Judie found herself mentioning to Marc, “Have you ever thought about going to Rhodesia to start churches?”
Marc flew to Africa to investigate the area, and soon thereafter, the Blackwells had given their church a six-month notice.
That was 1973.
They assumed it’d be a four-year trip — they always think in four-year frames, Marc said.
They haven’t been back to the States for an extended period since, opting instead to serve as missionaries and plant churches, largely in Africa.
“I never felt afraid,” Judie said of those first few years. “I could be very spiritual and say it’s because I trusted the Lord, (and) I did. But I trusted my husband. I knew he would do his best to take care of us, and so I just went in and took one day at a time.
“After we could no longer go back to Zimbabwe and our people were going to South Africa, it never occurred to me to come back to the States. It just seems like, after this was finished, there was another need and another need and before I knew it, I’d been over there how many years?”
They’ve planted seven churches, six in Africa, many also having Bible institutes established in the same towns.
And there have been plenty of adventures along the way.
While in Rhodesia, Marc was a chaplain for the Rhodesian army. During that five-year period, Marc said he held more funerals than any one thing while he was there. He was surrounded by violence. He did his best to avoid it, though the convoys he was traveling on between towns were shot at and had bricks thrown at them, and he developed a “safety net.” When he’d go to preach in villages, the pastors would send one of their children out to meet him about five miles outside the village. If no child was there to meet him, it was a signal terrorists were present in the village. So he’d turn around.
“That saved my life many times,” Marc said.
But growing up with a military family had its advantages. Marc always was careful, using his position as chaplain and some connections in the United States to stay informed. So after a plane was shot down — the same plane he and his family took once a month to attend meetings in Johannesburg — he got his family on a British Airways flight out of Zimbabwe. Six months later, they were out of that portion of the country.
“I’ve been through all of it that a missionary would want to tell his grandkids about if they were nuts,” he said.
His kids get it.
The three of them, two sons and a daughter, were raised in Africa and grew up with an understanding they were part of the ministry.
They were taken with their parents to visit homes in the villages, sometimes already dressed in their pajamas and with a mat ready to sleep right there while their parents taught the Word or offered counsel.
The five of them were missionaries, not just Marc and Judie.
By the time they were 11, they were teaching Sunday school.
And when they’d come to their parents with questions about what their future would hold, Marc and Judie lived by one rule.
“We always said, ‘We don’t care what you do, as long as you don’t live your life for yourself,’ ” Marc said.
All of the children still are in South Africa working as missionaries.
That’s where Marc and Judie are now, too, serving in Cape Town at a church they planted.
“It’s amazing how if you really want to serve the Lord, He provides a way,” Judie said.