The lead pastor of Bethesda Church has faced big personal challenges this past year, yet he's still looking forward to 2022.
Pastor Mark Wilcoxson started his ministry years ago in Iowa. Now, he's the lead pastor at Bethesda Church on Grant Avenue in Winnipeg.
"We've been together since August of 2007. My family and I came up from a church in Iowa. We're from the states. It was a small so-to-speak country church outside of Knoxville. My wife is from North Carolina and she is a gifted vocalist and worship leader herself. We're here for the long haul."
Wilcoxson and his wife, Shelly, have three grown children. As for how he and his family ended up in Winnipeg 15 years ago, Wilcoxson says, "churchjobs.net."
After leading the church in Knoxville for 6 years, the couple felt a shift and knew God was calling them somewhere else, even though their church was thriving.
"We spent a year in prayer and processing, just the two of us. In 2006 we went to a ministry conference, and our question to the Lord was 'Are we staying or are we going?'"
After searching the internet, dial-up and all, Wilcoxson found an opening position in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
"Iowa is a prairie state and farming state. So we were much accustomed to the rural setting and the prairie wind. I think the coldest it ever got in Iowa was 11 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. That's cold but not 40 below, so that was a bit of transition for us."
Four out of five of the Wilcoxson family have faced intense health challenges in the past year.
"My son had a massive heart attack back in September, just 36 at the time. He suffers from a severe mental illness as well. He's in Seattle, WA. One of our daughters began to have epileptic seizures. She had three of them in the last year attending the University of Manitoba. Our other daughter is going through something called Topical Steroid Withdrawl, which will last 8-12 months."
Wilcoxson recently got his own health diagnosis.
"A year and a half ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson's' Disease. While that seems to be slowly progressing, which is the good news, it is a significant interrupter of the life we thought we had."
While these challenges have affected the family, Wilcoxson says it's also tested and grown his faith.
"My theology for sure has been tested, you could say my faith also. It gives us an empathetic perspective for others as well. I've always been kind of, you know if you put on two separate poles 'truth' and 'mercy,' I've always been a truth person. This has caused me to come toward the mercy side, because I've needed mercy and grace, and my family has needed mercy and grace."
Wilcoxson says the congregation at Bethesda Church has been incredible at showing love through prayers and time off to be with his family this past year.
Things Coming Up in 2022
"We're doing two things. Right now we're in conversation and closing the deal with an Indigenous Christian missionary to Indigenous people. We're very excited about that."
The church is hoping to work towards truth and reconciliation, with Indigenous brothers and sisters.
"The other thing that we are in prayer over is sponsoring an Afghan family. We're looking at two separate situations and we may end up doing both of them."
In these ways, Wilcoxson says Bethesda Church is doing what they can to shine the light of God.