On a Mission - Lee family is serving in Guatemala

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Mark and Kelly Lee are pictured with their three children, Christian, Katelyn and Ethan, who is moving to Guatemala with his parents.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Though it’s been two years since Pastor Mark Lee left Grace Evangelical Free Church for full-time mission work, his connection to the congregation and the people of Elkader is as strong as ever. In fact, they’re the biggest supporters—spiritually and financially—of his present effort. In just eight days, the people of Grace E-Free and folks from three other Elkader-area churches last year raised $20,000 to help purchase land for a church and school in Guatemala.

A donation of that amount, especially from small rural churches, requires real commitment. The Lee family is repaying that generosity with a selfless pledge of their own: They’re relocating to Guatemala for 2½ years to see the project through. Mark, who will be the first pastor of the newly planted church, moved there in January. His wife of 25 years, Kelly, and the couple’s 14-year-old son, Ethan, are leaving this month. Two older children, Christian, 22, and Katelyn, 19, will remain in the U.S. where they attend college.

“For me, this is a very exciting time,” Pastor Mark said. “I have a new mountain to climb and a new battle to win. Kelly, on the other hand, will be leaving a job she enjoys and our two older children. Moving away from Elkader will be hard.” 

Homesickness is just one of several challenges the three members of the Lee family will face during their 30-plus months in Guatemala. They’ll also need to adapt to a new culture, master a new language, learn to live very simply, and adjust to a physical environment that’s warm (and often just plain old “hot”) year-round. And then there’s the money. Though a substantial amount has already been raised, more will be needed.

“Ministry takes money,” Pastor Mark said. “We can’t do this without (the support of others). God helps us through you.”

To understand Pastor Mark’s commitment to mission work is to understand his deep faith and his call to share it through service to others.

Before his pastorate at Elkader, he directed a Christian camp operated by the Evangelical Free Church in Dayton, IA. His call to serve in Elkader in March 2006 coincided with a major building project for the church, which began with the purchase of a nice tract of land on Highway 13 a few miles south of Elkader.

“We officially moved into the current facility in May 2008, said Pastor Mark. “We built this building for the primary purpose of ministering to Clayton County through church services, community outreach and community events.”

Also during Pastor Mark’s tenure in Elkader, the church began supporting short-term mission trips to Nueva Concepcion, Guatemala.

“We would build homes for the very poor, minister in the local schools and encourage the local churches,” he explained. “God once again began to work on my heart. Everywhere I looked in Guatemala I saw needs and ministry opportunities. So I spent the next five years along with many from the body of Grace traveling down and filling those needs.”

Pastor Mark was nudged ever closer into full-time mission work in 2012 when a representative from a newly formed, non-denominational organization with aspirations for a global reach gave a presentation at Grace Church. The organization, which already had ministries in Haiti, India, Peru and across the United States, was hoping to expand its network. Grace E-Free started exploring ways to assist the new group and as part of their commitment, they received regular ministry updates from Terry Baxter, the representative who had introduced them to the organization’s work.

“He shared about a ministry in Peru,” said Pastor Mark, referring to one of Terry’s regular updates. “They were in need of someone who could lead teams from here in the States down to the jungles of Iquitos, Peru, and build a bible camp and pastor training center. On the ride home from church, Kelly looked at me and said ‘There you go. This is what your heart has been wanting to do for sometime now.’”

During 2014 and 2015, Pastor Mark led teams to Peru where they built modest homes in the jungles of Iquitos. He also continued his travels to Nueva Concepcion, Guatemala, and eventually realized the great need for a Christian school there.

“God laid this need on my heart so heavy that I began to work with Global Compassion Network (now GoServ Global) and the Evangelical Free Central District,” Pastor Mark said. “It was decided after a year of meetings and planning that if we could come up with financing, planting the first E-Free church and Christian school in Guatemala would become a reality.”

The Lee family will get the church and school established, and then look for another call. Current plans have Ethan returning to Central school for his junior and senior years of high school, which will allow him to graduate with “the only classmates he has ever know.” In Guatemala, he will be home-schooled by his mother who will receive curriculum suggestions from Central teachers.

Though a 2½-year respite from the cold winters of Iowa might sound appealing, the Lees are going into this new call with open eyes. They understand the poverty of the people as well as the challenges of living in a Third World country. None of that has dampened their enthusiasm, however.

“The rewards of this ministry are endless,” said Pastor Mark. “We get to see lives changed spiritually, physically and even financially through education. Guatemalans are a joyous people who need one another and care for one another. There’s no social safety net. It’s just people caring for people and coming alongside those in true need. If you’re able to work but don’t, then no one helps you out. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. If you put forth the effort to contribute to the community, the community will help you.”

Fundraising for the church and school continues. There is a current need for $40,000. A fund-raising event will be held in April to help meet this goal.

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