About twenty minutes into my interview with Mark Rivera, Executive Director of Operation Blessing, a woman’s soft voice came from behind me saying, “I have a young man who has just come in, and he’s almost in tears, and he said he needs a friend to talk to.”
“Good. Well, bring him back. This is what we do. We have to pause this,” Mark told me, as I nodded and stopped the recording.
I wasn’t ready for him. He was a small-framed man from another part of the world. His English was broken, but not nearly like his spirit. He pulled out some papers, a set similar to those handed to me almost three years ago by two very serious looking police officers. Late one night in the summer of 2013 the police came handing me a document of lies and false accusations that would remove me from my home and children for a period of time. There would later be apologies and retractions, but that night it didn’t matter. A deep dread consumed me. And now three years later my stomach turned as I empathized with what was happening to this little man. Mark and I reviewed the two day old Domestic Violence Order of Protection and offered advice. The timing of my presence for this man’s visit seemed nothing short of a divine appointment.
“I never hurt her,” he kept saying, as he started to shake and tried to pull back the tears just a little.
“I know,” I said.
I believed him. This poor man was lost in translation, misunderstanding the order which didn’t accuse him of hurting anyone besides himself. He showed his wounds to Mark when asked. His left arm was covered in thick bandages with numerous cuts still exposed. This slight man, in such deep agony, was completely overwhelmed by the thought of losing his wife, compounded by the fact that he couldn’t see or even speak to his children. She was filing for divorce, the papers said, and this was the true source of this little foreign man’s despair. He brutally hurt himself in front of his family, and they were afraid.
“I’m going to get you help,” Mark said with compassion and confidence.
I looked at the pain-stricken man and assured him, “I’ve been there. I went through something like this, ok? I just want you to take care of yourself right now, and understand you will see your kids very soon. But you must take care of yourself. Eat. Get some rest. Ok?”
He lifted his head, nodded, taking a hopeful, deep breath. He was a little choked up, as Mark comforted and assured him help was coming. Only a few minutes later a very kind officer and EMS arrived and began making plans for this man’s journey to the hospital and getting an interpreter in his native language. They were all kind and comforting, and as they all walked out together with the little man, I knew he was getting the help he needed.
Mark briefly picked up where he left off, but I understood now. Only a few days earlier I had been in prayer listening for God’s direction, when God led me to Mark and Operation Blessing. I knew I was to come here and write about this amazing place, but I didn’t fully know why until now.
Mark was instinctive and fast in his reaction to get the man the right help. Taking control of the situation from the outset, Mark and the lady with the “soft voice” worked in flawless unison to secure the officer and EMS quickly. Mark never tried to be a hero or solve the man’s problems, but he kept instilling calm and hope into the little man’s soul. It made sense why God led me here, and why God also brought our new friend here today.
Operation Blessing of New Hampshire is located in Portsmouth and has been around for thirty-seven years. Beginning as part of Pat Robertson’s national organization, they went independent just seven months after the initial launch. They discovered quickly that the needs of the Seacoast were specific and different than the national and worldwide focus of Robertson’s group, and a local missions organization was born.
“The average age around here is close to seventy, and we need to pass the baton to the next generation,” Mark told me. “We’ve redone the dining area. Now they can come in for a free cup of coffee and wifi and just hang out. We are working to make better use of the building because we also need to see young adults here. The question we have to keep asking ourselves is ‘Are we a good neighbor?’”
It’s impossible to miss the passion and fire for ministry oozing out of Mark Rivera. He’s a natural leader and absolutely the right man for the job. On my tour I saw freezers, pantries, shelves full of food and the drop off area for donations. There’s a room to evaluate and repair donated technology equipment and a whole area dedicated to processing, organizing and prepping donated clothing. Volunteers and part-time employees work diligently to set up the day, and today’s schedule was packed with appointments for folks needing anything Operation Blessing might have to offer. This organization’s generosity, compassion and optimism are powerful examples of the generosity, compassion and optimism of Jesus Himself. You can’t walk more than a few feet in the building without seeing something on the walls about God’s love.
One thing Mark did when he became Executive Director was to establish a transitional team to help him early on in his leadership role. “God has breathed life into this group of people and I’d have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get them, and they’re coming alongside of us and doing it for free. It’s just amazing! The transitional advisory team is helping me flush out our strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and areas that are significant threats to the health of our organization and look at what is the direction that we should be paying close attention to for the future of Operation Blessing. The secondary thought is I will take the findings of this team, bring them to the board, and then they will authorize me to take this forward as an actionable work plan. So it’s not just Mark Rivera’s ideas or thoughts, but it’s this amazing team of people.”
Psalm 46:10a says “Be still and know that I am God” and it’s sitting in a frame just outside of Mark’s office. This same verse is my life verse, and it’s what I’ve prayed over again and again in my most desperate moments. Three years ago this verse brought me peace and hope, and it’s exactly where it needs to be at Operation Blessing. It is truly the perfect sign for anyone who might be losing hope.
As I sit here thinking about Mark, Operation Blessing and the man who came in looking for a friend, I wonder what it will take for our world to understand that the only hope they have is in Jesus. Mark understands this, and our time together was a testimony not only of his passion for God, but his understanding that God is the one who heals the hurting. God will continue to lead the hurting, broken, and hopeless to Operation Blessing.
Below is a link that will show you how you can help. Donations are imperative for Operation Blessing to continue to do the work it is doing here in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. We need a place where broken men and hurting women can walk in and get the love, compassion and help they really need. Operation Blessing is utilizing its resources the best it can to serve others, but they can’t do it alone. If you can help, click the link below and donate whatever you can afford. If there is some other way you can be involved, the link will lead you to these ways as well.
If we follow Jesus, we will become more like him and live as he did in Matthew 11:28 when he said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
I’m grateful for my time at Operation Blessing and for the Lord’s work he is doing there. Check out the link below, and give if you can.