By Laura Carrell
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Mark and Suzanne Tanner will tell you that their walk is not unique, but what they've done with the Lord's direction is very special.
Their ministry has several branches, including world missions, music recordings, books, teaching and radio broadcasts. Each of these offshoots has the same purpose — to give God the glory.
"If I had to sum up my whole life in one word, it would be 'grace,'" Mark said. "Our ministry is a living testament of God's love, mercy and grace in our lives."
Mark began playing guitar at the age of 15.
"I had a vision of being a rock star, to stand on stage and have people glorify me," he said. "I played, I studied jazz (in college), but it was all about me. It wasn't until much later that I learned that the giver of the gift is the one who needs to get the glory."
So he quit playing music for 20 years, in a time he calls walking in darkness. He was homeless, on drugs and frequently in jail. The last time he was incarcerated, he started writing song lyrics. He was tired of sitting on the same bench in the same jail looking at the same trees.
"I told God that I would surrender as much as I knew how. I said, 'Deliver me from this torture, and I'll glorify you.'"
At that moment, the desire to be a worship leader was planted in his heart. He went on to lead the music ministry in the prison, ministering to 2,000 prisoners. He continued to write songs and promised the Lord he wouldn't return unless he was wearing a visitor's badge.
In 2005, Mark came to Ottumwa with his wife, Suzanne. After serving in other churches for a few years, they were led to begin their own ministry, New Heart Ministries International. Under this ministry are several facets that all move together to glorify God.
"We're a mission ministry," he explained. "We've been very fortunate to be in the Himalayas, Buton, Nepal, around Europe. That's really our heart, to go out and reach the nations, reach the people."
The time Mark spent in prison has also led him to start the Never Alone prison ministry. They visit Iowa prisons on a monthly basis, now focusing on Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility. After five years, the difference they've made is clearly visible.
"They're hungry, ready to engage," Mark explained. "We pour out our heart to them and then leave. The reward is to see them on the outside. That change, that's the new heart God gives us."
The Tanners have seen prisoners leave jail, get married, start families and even devote their own lives to the ministry. This, Mark says, is simply the power of God.
They also have a house church with just a few people right now.
"We don't care if it's big, we're just trying to be big for the Lord. It's based in Ottumwa, but it reaches out to the world."
Mark has also released two CDs, one of which has a companion DVD, teaches private music lessons and is an adjunct teacher at Indian Hills Community College, teaching applied guitar. He feels teaching is a ministry, too, as many of his students want to play in church. He says this is his way to help raise up new worship leaders.
"But all of this would not be possible without my wife," he said. "This is our family. She's a jewel in my breastplate and she's my crown, because the Bible says the wife is the crown of the husband."
Suzanne, who is from Switzerland, has several of her own ministries as well. She is on the radio twice a day sharing devotions. She has also just written the first of a four-part book series of daily devotionals.
"She writes about real-life situations and how the Lord speaks to her," Mark explained. "It could be out in the garden, events with people."
She has even started a new ministry using tins cans to make crowns. The custom-order pieces demonstrate how people are an empty tin can and viewed as disposable, something to be just thrown away. The Lord looks at us in a different way. He takes that empty seemingly meaningless tin can and transforms it, he transforms us, into a beautiful crown.
These crowns are just one more way the Tanners are able to show people the one who deserves the glory.
"Whatever we do, we always want to point back to Him ... because there is a hope," he said.
For more information about the Tanners' books, CDs and DVDs or to follow along with their ministry, visit www.newheart.ws. Suzanne's blog can also be found at godsheartkbiz.blogspot.com.