Open Bible Churches is excited to welcome a new church plant, Open Bible Prayer Chapel in Wesley Chapel, Florida, founded and pastored by Rev. Calbert Mark. Open Bible Prayer Chapel was affiliated with Open Bible Churches in May of 2020.
Calbert Mark, who serves as the field director for Open Bible Churches in Venezuela, and his wife, Beverly, are prolific church planters. Sent out from Trinidad more than 27 years ago, the Marks established 12 pioneer works in Venezuela and brought many other churches under the umbrella of Open Bible Churches. They were also instrumental in planting churches in Trinidad with Pastor Cecil Quamina and in Monteria, Colombia, with missionaries Annel and Lumaira Perez (who came to Christ under the Marks’ ministry).
Calbert Mark has always had a strong passion for church planting and leadership training, which was wrapped up in the call God gave him when he was sent out from Trinidad. So even though the urging from the Lord to start another new church did not really surprise him back in January of 2016, he did not expect the call to take him outside of Venezuela into the U.S.
In August of 2015 the Marks’ son Joshua had traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend an intensive youth training program. It was while visiting him that Pastor Calbert received a call to start a new work in the U.S. This impression was strongly confirmed by the great number of Venezuelans and Hispanic peoples they found in the States who were unchurched. The surge of Venezuelans in the U.S. increased as life in Venezuela got worse.
The Marks felt the real affirmation of God’s divine plan was seen in the fact that a pastor of a church in Tampa applied for their religious visa so that the Marks could come to the U.S. to help him, and for the past three years the Marks have assisted the pastor and his church. However, instead of being approved for a religious visa, the Marks’ entire family was approved with full residency status for ten years. The immigration department can seem to be a formidable opponent, but if you ask Calbert and Beverly, they will affirm that God is still in the miracle-working business. They received their permanent residents’ cards in 18 months!
When the couple arrived in Tampa, Florida, they ministered to the Hispanic community there because of their deep connection to Venezuela, but through one disciple that Calbert won at his local bank, Carlos Castro, and his wife, Zenia, they were able to reach six American families, most of whom live in Wesley Chapel. While the search goes on for some space in which the church can meet, church members join during the week in small groups for prayer and Bible study and on Sundays in a bit larger group to celebrate Jesus.
Church planting does not happen without a few challenges along the way. For Calbert and Beverly there were two major obstacles: One was the search for rental space and the other was a cultural barrier, or “commitment” issue, so to speak. The Marks discovered that affordable spaces for small congregations that are just starting out are mostly relegated to sharing a building with two or three other small churches because of the high cost of leases and the fact that many small malls won’t rent to churches. The second challenge relates to people’s willingness and ability to commit. Commitment for many people here in the U.S. is difficult as many other responsibilities compete for their time. Working hours that are unconventional is one primary hindrance. In addition, travel, school functions, family occasions, and other activities all sum up the justifications for people not committing completely. Of course, every congregation has its faithful few, so the Marks work with them and encourage them to multiply their faith in others.
Their efforts and God’s blessings have paid off. Despite being a newly-formed congregation (with fewer than fifty), they have many praise reports:
- They started a children’s ministry on June 21 for the ten kids who attend church regularly with their parents. Both parents and kids are excited.
- Church members share several testimonies of financial blessings: people starting new jobs, getting promotions, and salary increases. During all the upheaval because of COVID-19, one family purchased a brand-new home, and others have moved to larger homes. People believe that their newfound commitment to God and this ministry resulted in blessings they were not experiencing before.
- The Marks and the disciples they pastor all have a heart for souls, so the church grows mainly by personal evangelism although they have plans to do community outreach even more in this time of need.
Calbert Mark said, “As we move on from our initial assignment, we align ourselves with our Open Bible fellowship and our primary call, to plant churches and raise up leaders.”
Nathan Hagan, the executive director for Open Bible’s Southeast Region said, “I first met the Marks in Chicago at the Open Bible National Convention and had the opportunity to experience firsthand their passion for church planting. After hearing they had already planted over twenty churches in Venezuela, I was excited to learn they had their sights set on planting in the Tampa/Brandon area. This past year has been a joy for us as we’ve watched God use them to gather a great core group and lay a strong foundation for what is sure to be a Kingdom-building church. We are proud they are a part of the Southeast region ministry family.”
(Left) Calbert and Beverly Mark with their sons, Joshua Mark and Daniel Mark .