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Great Moments in Community Transformation

Mark DeYmaz - Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mark DeYmaz launched Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in 2001, imagining a church that would reflect both the local community and the kingdom of heaven. He wondered what it might look like if people of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds came together to walk, work and worship.

Mosaic’s influence reached far beyond what DeYmaz had dreamed. But simply citing statistics or listing the church’s numerous civic accolades doesn’t explain the deeper impact. The significance of Mosaic’s journey resides in its story, a tapestry of the Spirit weaving together the lives of diverse and broken people into God’s loving, redemptive design.

1997

In the twilight of a spring day, Vincent returns home from the final day of construction, another in a string of jobs completed through his contractor’s business. On the ride home, he feels an exhaustion spread, an icy stress from the demands of work and providing for a family of five.

Vincent pulls to a stoplight and watches it turn green to yellow to red to green to yellow to red to green to yellow to red. It takes his weary mind that long to realize he needs to make a right turn to get home.

Broken emotionally and spiritually, he detects a need for drastic change in his life. The following day, he shuts down his business and wonders what will happen next.

* * * * *

On September 19, 1997, Mark DeYmaz watches a diverse gathering of 12,000 people in downtown Little Rock to commemorate the 40th anniversary of The Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students denied admission into Central. High School despite a federal court order for integration.

DeYmaz takes pride in the event, which he spearheads as the youth pastor of a large, predominately white suburban church. Even more so, he rejoices with other Little Rock youth pastors whose efforts and diversity help make the Racial Reconciliation Rally historic.

Shortly after the event, which receives national news coverage, DeYmaz returns to architectural strategies as his church begins building a $3.5 million youth center. Looking up from his plans, he sees a church janitor walk past his door. He realizes with a sinking feeling that this man may be the only minority he sees for a while.

 

2001

Terrified, Shundreka faces a caseworker from the Department of Human Services at her family’s front door.

Even at the age of 8, Shundreka knows the secret is out, and her role as the family’s primary caregiver will end after three years.

“Could I speak to your mother?” the caseworker asks, and Shundreka wishes she could. Her mother, a drug addict, has been absent for weeks, a frequent pattern.

Shundreka experiences the worst fear of her young life, even more terrifying than watching her mother’s face being pushed into a mirror while her stepdad pulled a gun.

With a realization that she has nothing to offer the caseworker, Shundreka runs into the bedroom and holds tight to three of her siblings, the toddlers she cares for.

A short time later, Shundreka enters the first of two dozen foster homes and breaks the promise she always made to keep the family together.

* * * * *

During a season when DeYmaz is praying for God to reveal a new calling in his life, a stylist named Precious cuts his hair.

Precious loves to tell DeYmaz stories while she trims his hair at Supercuts. In between comfortable chitchat, the subject of segregation comes up.

An African-American who grew up in Little Rock, Precious agrees the problem manifests greatest in the church.

“Precious, do you think there is a need in Little Rock for a diverse church?” DeYmaz asks. “One where individuals of varying backgrounds might worship God together as one?”

When Precious responds with a longing, she asks a question in return. “Do you think it could happen here?”

A chill passes through DeYmaz’s body, the same sensation of being startled in the dark. He recognizes it as a specific calling.

On May 17, 2001, DeYmaz and his wife commit their family of six to plant a multiethnic and economically diverse church—appropriately named Mosaic—in 77204.

2002

Harry Li arrives at Mosaic in October 2002, the same year the church buys a dilapidated trailer with broken water pipes and chipping paint, and drug needles in its yard.

A Chinese-American professor up for tenure, with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and a NASA grant, Li moves to Little Rock nine months after first meeting DeYmaz.

“We met in a café and he drew the vision for Mosaic on a napkin,” Li says. “I don’t think I slept that night. He totally captured what God was doing in my own heart.”

The two men work to develop and crystallize theological realities through a blending of gifts and perspective.

“Mark is the quintessential visionary,” says Li, now a Mosaic campus pastor in Little Rock. “He walks around with high-powered binoculars. I am the synthesis person. I can translate Mark.”

When it comes to problems of exclusion—racism, justice and equality—they both believe the roots are spiritual. Their shared spiritual model for the new church includes the following:

* Abundant life starts on earth and involves the redemptive work of God in every realm of humanity and creation.

* The church best invests into the development of loving relationships rather than buildings or programs.

* Incarnational ministry participates in redemption by being the community.

* The biblical insistence on unity in the context of diversity comes from Jesus (John 17:20-23), Paul(Ephesians) and the history of the early church (Acts 11:19-26).

* Community engagement and multiethnic ministry require intentionality, inconvenience and perseverance.

* Success measures in influence, not numbers.

* The power of redemption resides in Jesus.

“We tried to picture what worship might look like around the throne of God,” Li says. “Then we imagined trying to emulate that in this particular ZIP code of 72204.”

2003

Cesar Ortega arrives from Honduras and joins Mosaic at a critical time. On the same week of his arrival, the church moves into an abandoned Walmart on Colonel Glenn Road. When a property “goes dark” such as this one, the owner is likely to accept any offer to lower mortgage and maintenance payments.

For $800 a month, the church accesses 180,000 square feet of space. Leaders begin to see the social and financial structures that will complement the spiritual model DeYmaz and Li had shaped.

In his new position as benevolence pastor, Ortega envisions how best the church might use the space to serve the needs of 72204. At the core of his thinking: the church loves its neighbors.

“The problem is when our heart is thinking ‘us’ and ‘them,’ ” Ortega says. “When God says to love your neighbor, then that’s everyone—African American, rich, poor, Hispanic, it makes no difference.”

Financially, the church wrestles with the question of resources. With 21 percent of its residents living in poverty and a community crime rate four times the national rate, it’s best not to count on money in 72204.

As 125 church members work to clean up and renovate the Walmart building, Ortega initiates partnerships with federal agencies, local food banks, volunteer organizations and other churches to create The Orchard, Mosaic’s food and clothing distribution center.

In its first year, The Orchard serves more than 250 people and Mosaic’s property begins to stir with optimistic activity unknown to this area riddled with drug dealing and prostitution.

2005

At the age of 25, Georgia Mjartan rises to the position of executive director of Our House, a shelter and training center founded in 1988 for the working homeless in 72204.

Mjartan is accustomed to rising quickly to the top—the top of her class, the top recipient of scholarships and grants, the top of her capabilities. Possessing a long pedigree of social consciousness, she enters into her responsibilities confident of making a difference.

Early on, she meets a 4-year-old boy who is eventually abandoned by his mother at the Our House campus.

“I knew there was nothing I could do for that little boy,” she says, a surprised look in her eyes. “I had never got to the end of myself or my abilities before.”

At nearly the same time, she meets Corey, a 6-foot-4, tattooed, homeless resident and meth addict, who jokes that the four years he spent in prison correspond to Mjartan’s college years. Impressed with his gift for landscaping and service for others, Mjartan also learns of Corey’s terrible childhood.

“When I hear his story,” she says, “the face of that four-year-old boy flashes in my head. That was him.”

Mjartan listens carefully when Corey speaks of Jesus’ supernatural work in his life. She accepts an invitation to his church.

“I had always believed in God,” Mjartan says, “but I never thought about a God who was present and operating here on earth in the lives of people.”

Mjartan arrives at Mosaic, and her world, once again, shifts. She sees people of all different races, and a professor sitting next to a homeless guy, who was beside a woman wearing cowboy boots.

“They weren’t just sitting next to each other,” she says, “they were lifting hands together, praising God.”

Sensing at once she was part of God’s family, Mjartan takes communion, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

2006

Long divorced from his wife, family and a nearly six-figure contractor’s salary, Vincent sleeps in a Laundromat after his girlfriend and business partner tell him to hit the streets. He hears on the radio plans for a thanksgiving celebration in 72204 at a church named Mosaic.

“I had a good feeling when I saw so many different races in harmony and unity sharing a meal together,” he says. “I felt like what Dr. King prophesized was coming true—we had overcome. I wanted to be a part of that. I had been out of church for 30 years, but what I saw convinced me to reconnect with Christ.”

When he first attends, Vincent shares little about his situation.

“I don’t think anyone from the church knew I was homeless at the time because of the way I dressed and carried myself,” he says.

The Laundromat gets rowdy and Vincent fears for his safety. With nowhere else to turn, Vincent loses his pride and asks the church for help. Mosaic becomes his home. Literally. The chairs of a central cubicle form the bed where he sleeps.

* * * * *

In the spring of 2006, DeYmaz searches the neighborhood for a new church home. Ironically, his desperation stems from the success of Mosaic’s financial strategy. The church’s presence on the Walmart property had ignited a community rejuvenation—crime rates had decreased, small businesses had returned to empty spaces and the lease had reverted back to the original owner, who sought to rent the remaining space to other merchants.

“Honey,” DeYmaz asks his wife, Linda, “what if the owner calls and says he needs us to leave?”

His wife’s response both stuns and encourages DeYmaz.

“Instead of frantically driving around,” she says, “pray.”

From the start, she reminds him, they shared a sustaining belief that God would provide.

After a few weeks of renewed prayer, DeYmaz calls 72204 business owner Mike Montgomery with interest in the 10-acre piece of property he is selling—an abandoned Kmart with 100,000 square feet at the center of 72204.

The two men meet that same day, April 26. Montgomery puts his arm around DeYmaz and says, “Someday your church is going to own that property and it has nothing to do with money.”

Bipolar and a recovering alcoholic, Montgomery tells DeYmaz how he used to eat out of a Dumpster near Mosaic. Having found sobriety and a new life in Christ, Montgomery praises Mosaic’s ministry in his community.

“I have been watching what your church has been doing,” he tells DeYmaz. “I would be thrilled to see Mosaic here.”

They agree to a contract for Mosaic to buy the property, in stages, for $2 million, ending with a final purchase by December 2012.

Soon after, Mosaic receives two donations—one for $100,000 and a matching grant of $250,000. Together, along with saved church money, they make a contract possible. Montgomery reduces the selling price by $300,000.

In addition to acquiring 10 acres and a large facility in 72204 at a cost of $20 per square foot, DeYmaz learns the power of prayer and patiently waiting on the Lord.

2008

When Eric Gilmore asks for a July lunch with his pastor, Mark DeYmaz, two dreams intersect.

A month before they meet, Mosaic incorporates as an Arkansas non-profit, awaiting formal federal approval.

At lunch, Gilmore tells DeYmaz of his recent unemployment. While working on a master’s degree in social work, Gilmore’s commission from radio sales had dried up. He needed to find a way to feed his family and pay tuition.

“Don’t you have a dream to start a group home?” DeYmaz asks.

Gilmore lists reasons not to pursue his passion—lack of money, too young, bad timing. DeYmaz insists: “If God is in it, it will happen.”

Operating within the church’s 501c3, Mosaic assists Gilmore and his wife, Kara, in their dream of creating a ministry for children aging out of foster care. That ministry, Immerse Arkansas, comes alive through free office space and a network of loving volunteers. A companion ministry, Vine and Village, provides leadership training to assist immigrants, urban children, teen moms and others with services that mimic the Gilmores’ Immerse Arkansas vision.

* * * * *

A year or so after becoming a follower of Christ, Georgia Mjartan and her new friend, Kara, camp together at an Arkansas state park.

Around the campfire with their husbands, Georgia and Kara share dreams of ministry. Georgia’s work at Our House and Kara’s dream of beginning Immerse Arkansas with her husband, Eric, form a common and deep bond between the two.

“We had become really close friends in a short time,” Georgia says. “She is so kind and patient and loving. She is the person I had always pictured as living out the life of Christ.”

But when a political discussion unexpectedly surfaces, neither Georgia nor Kara can believe what her ears are hearing. For the first time, they face each other on the opposite ends of a spectrum. Sparks hiss from the fire. Georgia remembers the Holy Spirit’s finger on her heart.

“When you hear at Mosaic all the time to examine your heart for things closing you off from another person, I was thinking mostly issues like racism and justice,” she says. “At that precise moment, the Holy Spirit convicted of me of my own prejudice.”

Instead of her customary approach of throwing daggers at political opponents, she asks Kara, “How did you come to believe this way?”

The fire dies and they listen to one another.

2011

On her 18th birthday, Shundreka leaves her 24th foster home to live with her mom.

“My mom comes back into my life a few months before I turn 18 and tells me she loves me and she has been sober for a year,” she says. “I want to believe her.”

In the week of her stay, Shundreka learns of her mom’s continuing addiction and listens to her ranting on about how she is not her daughter.

Twice, Shundreka overdoses on medication.

“I was thinking maybe the world would be better off without me,” she says.

With nowhere else to go, Shundreka lives with her father, a crack addict, in an abandoned house with no electricity or bathroom. When her father rapes her, she moves out on her own in 72204.

A lady in the neighborhood learns of Shundreka’s need and contacts Eric Gilmore, who leads a new social service agency, Immerse Arkansas.

Immediately, Eric and Kara find shelter for Shundreka.

2012

Mike Montgomery arrives predictably late at the meeting to close his deal with Mosaic. With their signatures, Mosaic purchases 10 acres and a 100,000-square-foot facility on December 12, 2012, at precisely 12:12 p.m.

DeYmaz doubts so many consecutive 12s possess any spiritual significance, but he also learns to look more deeply at any parade of coincidences. At closing, DeYmaz experiences a clearer understanding of the best way to measure success.

“I left a church of 5,000 to start Mosaic,” DeYmaz says. “I remember thinking of the big shadow [that church] cast on the city, and it did. But when our 600 people leave Mosaic on Sunday morning, they spread out to permeate every nook and cranny of the city. The homeless return to the streets, while other members return to homes in the ’hood, the barrios, the suburbs and everywhere in between.”

In 2012, The Orchard feeds and clothes more than 17,000 people for less than $1,000 a week.

Jon Harrison, a former vice president of Caterpillar with international experience, takes over as director of Vine and Village, helping launch more leaders into ministries caring for their community.

Joyce Elliott, an Arkansas State Senator, resident of 72204 and Mosaic member, praises the church as a model of loving community in all of its diversity. When Joyce speaks of the church’s personal impact, she joins a chorus of accolades from church and government leaders.

“When I talk about my church, it also mirrors what I do in the state capital,” Elliott says. “No one is ever surprised when I ask other politicians, ‘How will this affect that person?’ In my church and job, I remember I am here for all the people different from me, and not just people who look like me.”

The purchase of the Kmart property allows Mosaic to establish non-profit and community centers, as well as offer discounted rental space to businesses.

“Once we’re done, Mosaic will have played a significant role in renovating 180,000 square feet—or 54 percent—of the approximately 335,000 square feet of commercial space in the neighborhood,” DeYmaz says.

While DeYmaz waits in prayer for the necessary money to move into the abandoned Kmart, he rents some of the building’s space to the owner of a discount furniture store, Mike Montgomery.

2013

Cesar Ortega
Among other statistics Cesar Ortega cites in a column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is this: The Orchard has directly served 94.6 percent of impoverished families living in 72204. “It has turned into a modern-day fish and loaves,” Ortega says. “We have no way of knowing how it multiplies; we shouldn’t be able to serve so many people for less than a $1,000 a month.”

Vincent
Vincent resides at the church, serving however he can. Sustained by a new faith in Jesus, he believes the process of God’s redemption often comes through a painful waiting. “God has shown me the bottom,” he says. “I think He wants to show me something about Himself and I’m being asked to stand and wait.”

Shundreka
On March 23, the Gilmores baptize Shundreka. Living in a transitional home built on Eric and Kara’s dream of ministry, she works at a 72204 doughnut shop, excelling at everything except the icing swirls. After graduating college, she hopes to one day, in some way, help abandoned girls.

Georgia Mjartan
In leading Our House, Georgia says the homeless residents can always tell when Mosaic shows up. A chef comes to the shelter at one in the afternoon, and the smell drifts out before others arrive to share a meal together among friends.

 

 

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