Joy & Love Found Through SorrowBy Kathryn Fenstermacher g13 Published: Sep 12, 2019
Mark Brinkman g86 was a man deeply committed to his communities. Since high school, he had a heart for bringing the gospel to places in need, and he served as a missionary in multiple countries for over 24 years. He was a leader to those within his sphere of ministry, both by preaching and by example. “Mark just loved the church,” said Patricia (Teall) Vincent g88, Mark’s wife and ministry partner for 26 years. “He loved what he did and had a significant impact on people’s lives.”
Mark was also a man suffering the effects of a broken world. He endured bipolar disorder for many years. He did not seek treatment, and after a period of severe manic and depressive episodes, Mark took his own life in November 2012.
One of the most difficult challenges for Christians throughout the ages has been the problem of pain. Why does God allow people, especially his people, to suffer? What is the point of illness, loneliness, depression? These are the types of questions that come out during times of tragedy, and difficult as they may be to answer, they help lead the way through the confusion of grief toward hope.
For Mark’s parents, Jan and Larry, their journey through grief led them to establish the Mark D. Brinkman Legacy Annual Scholarship as a way of honoring Mark’s legacy of ministry and the many lives he impacted. This legacy may be best captured by Mark’s favorite verse, Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father (NLT).”
This scholarship will be awarded to students at Taylor University whose parents are in full-time ministry domestically or overseas. According to Patricia, it was also intended to help lessen the financial burden on students who, like Mark, may feel called toward missions. “Mark and I both had debt when we got out of college and were not able to go overseas until the debt was gone,” Patricia said, “so we understand the difficulty.”
Mark and Patricia met at Fort Wayne Bible College (FWBC) in 1984 and married a few years later. Patricia remembers their experience on campus being significant in their spiritual growth and their path toward ministry. People like Denny Williams and Daryl Cartmel were mentors to Mark. The Christian coursework provided a strong theological foundation for their ministry, which spanned five overseas regions and the U.S.
Mark had a remarkable gift for identifying and nurturing leaders in the church. While pastoring a church in Detroit, Mark connected with a layperson in his congregation who wanted to put down roots and invest in the local congregation. Mark mentored this man and helped him join the board of elders; he eventually became ordained and is now the pastor of that congregation. “That’s just very typical of what Mark did,” Patricia said. “He saw people who had the ability to be or grow into leaders, and he encouraged that.”
One of Mark’s oldest and closest friends was Mark Vincent g85. The two met during grade school and were roommates while attending FWBC. This friendship continued after college; Mark Vincent and his wife, Lorie (Sonnentag) g85, met regularly with the Brinkmans when they were in the States, and Mark visited them while they served in Hong Kong. It was an ongoing, close friendship, especially between Mark and Mark. “They were two peas in a pod,” Patricia said.
In 1999, Lorie was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that carried a life expectancy of five years. She faced this prognosis head-on, participating in experimental treatments and surgeries, and was featured in medical journals for her 16-year fight against the disease. Lorie passed away in September 2015.
Her loss was very difficult for Mark Vincent. “Grief is surprising in that you feel it and then it goes away,” Patricia said. “It comes back when you don’t expect it, and then you have to process some different part of it.”
Mark decided to reach out for help to someone he thought would understand: Patricia Brinkman. The two met for coffee and talked for several hours, then began writing to each other in a private blog. This exercise helped them both process their feelings and experiences, ask questions, and heal – together. “We did understand each other,” Patricia said. “I knew Lorie, and Mark knew Mark. It was a gift to be able to grieve with someone who also knew that person. I think it opened both of us up in a really good way.”
Mark Vincent and Patricia Brinkman married in 2016, an almost inevitable happy ending. But there’s a bitter tinge to the sweetness. Patricia especially feels that her loss of Mark Brinkman can never be totally healed. “It’s not that it’s better this way,” she said, “There are losses for everyone” – including Mark’s parents, siblings, and four children, as well as the congregations he served around the world.
Both church and culture are just starting to scratch the surface of mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that tens of millions of people in the U.S. are affected each year, while only half of those people seek treatment. Depression, anxiety, eating and mood disorders, and more – these are consequences of a broken world, and God’s own people are touched by them. As Patricia can attest, we cannot endure such suffering alone. Reach out. Find help. If something doesn’t work, try something else. Remember that no one is truly isolated; your life touches countless others, as Mark’s life did. “We are all less for him not being here,” Patricia said.
We choose to remember Mark Brinkman for his truest self: a loving leader who, to the end of his life, felt deeply the reality of God’s grace and abundant care. This kind of legacy will endure. We also celebrate the unshakeable goodness of God: how he cared for the Brinkman and Vincent families in the wake of tragedy, and how he continues to uphold them as they move forward together. “I do feel very strongly that God has been rejoicing with us over the last few years,” Patricia said. “He certainly has used (the pain in our lives) and has orchestrated some things from it that are good.
Click here if you would like to contribute to the Mark D. Brinkman Legacy Annual Scholarship.
Editor’s Note: If you or someone you love is struggling with mental illness, here are some suggested resources:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255, a free, confidential, 24/7 hotline.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – 1-800-950-6264, or text NAMI to 741741. They also offer long-term resources, such as support groups and education.
- RemedyLIVE – Text REMEDY to 494949 to chat with a “SoulMedic.” Primarily focused on teens and young adults.
- Local emergency room social workers provide an avenue of support for those who seek emergency help.