By Bobby Ross, Jr.
For years, the home of Mark and Cindy Coleman was filled with campus ministry students — anywhere from 10 to 60 — every Monday night.
Sounds of laughter and praises to God rang throughout the whole house.
For so many, the Coleman place became a sacred space.
“The Bible study group got so large that they added on a room to have more space,” said executive minister Kent Risley, who served as the campus minister then. “We all loved our time in their home singing, studying, praying and then staying there to visit.
“And it was obvious Mark loved it as well. Especially the singing. He would get so caught up in giving praise with all those college students that he would join in with all his heart. And he had a voice that I’m sure God loved to hear and we all remember.”
It’s difficult to imagine the Edmond Church of Christ without Mark and Cindy Coleman. For so long — nearly a half century — they have served the congregation as devoted, enthusiastic members and leaders. Mark became the deacon over benevolence in 1977 and served in a variety of other areas before his appointment as an elder in 1992, a role in which he has served for 29 years.
Now, the Colemans are selling their home (to a grandson, so it’s a little easier) and moving 100 miles away to Ada to be closer to their children, Sheri Dennis and Scott Coleman, and several of their seven grandchildren, not to mention one of their three great-grandchildren.
“It is very hard,” Cindy said of leaving the Edmond church.
“I don’t think we could say how hard it is,” Mark added.
“We’ll come back and visit,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Mark, 77, and Cindy, 76, met as graduate students in chemistry at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Cindy was from North Carolina, but they moved to Oklahoma — where Mark had graduated from Oklahoma City’s Northwest Classen High School — after earning their degrees.
Mark went to work for the state Health Department and later served as the founding director of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. He retired in 2002 at age 58. Cindy had retired a few years earlier after teaching chemistry at the University of Central Oklahoma for 20 years.
Their early years as a newlywed couple were spent with the old 12th and Drexel Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, where Mark’s father served as an elder and both he and his brother were deacons.
But in 1974 — Mark was 30 and Cindy was 29 — they bought the five acres off Memorial Road where they would raise calves and chickens, plant vegetables ranging from okra to squash and become known to generations of Edmond members for their love and hospitality.
Dan Sorrells was a student at Oklahoma Christian University in 1992. He wasn’t even an Edmond member — not yet anyway — when a friend invited him to join the Bible study at the Colemans’ house.
“Not much has changed since my time at OC,” said Sorrells, now an Edmond deacon. “The Colemans’ house is still ‘the’ place to be. The Colemans’ house may look like any other house here in town, but Mark and Cindy and their house holds a very special place not only to me and my family but to many others.
“Having entered their home numerous times, I’ve come to know that in just a few moments Cindy will have a fabulous meal ready to enjoy, that there will be an abundance of Christ-centered conversation and laughter, and that the playing cards are always ready for a ‘quick’ game of Nerts. When it’s time to go, you always leave the Coleman’s with a full heart and stomach and a reminder that Cindy will always win at Nerts.”
Said Kent: “Mark and Cindy have been a blessing in so many lives of all ages. They have a special gift relating to those who are younger and helping them make good decisions early in life that help set them on a path that is a blessing to them and others. They open their home and property to so many, and there are great memories of spending time with them. They have blessed so many.”
Their house isn’t the only place that the Colemans’ served. For many years, they were a constant presence on campus ministry mission trips to Aquiles, Mexico, and youth group mission trips to Leadville, Colo., and later Poncha Springs, Colo.
For Cindy, the Aquiles trips rank as one of her favorite memories of her time at Edmond. She loved getting to know the college students. She loved how welcoming — and appreciative — the Mexican people were.
In the early years, Mark couldn’t go on the spring Aquiles trips because of his work. The Legislature was in session then. But he developed a system to treat the water that the group made. He came up with a specific formula but concluded by making it simple for Kent: “Just add chlorine until you can taste it.”
The thing that Mark loved about the Aquiles trips was watching college students “go from being consumers to being real Christian workers.” Said Cindy: “Between Aquiles and Monday night devos, we just got real close to the college students.”
Mark believes that the Aquiles trip helped foster the Edmond church’s mission-mindedness and that of other congregations where graduating students would go after leaving OC and UCO.
“Our favorite thing is watching and seeing young Christians get what Christianity is all about,” Mark said. “One of my strongest beliefs is that Christianity is far, far more than what you don’t do. Christianity is what you do that brings good to other people. If we are a light to the world, then we need to bring light to the world.”
That belief by the Colemans has manifested itself not just in the campus and youth ministries but in their longtime work serving as the elder couple of various young married and young families adult Bible classes.
“Personally, that time when I’m doing things for other people is when I’m happiest,” said Cindy, who particularly has enjoyed cooking (including her famous butter cake), be it for the Bible study groups or new parents or those who are ill. “So it’s been really good to have so many opportunities at Edmond, whether it’s helping people go to appointments or fixing food.”
David and Amanda Burch are among the countless couples influenced by the Colemans. They reflected on their love for the Colemans:
“Mark and Cindy have a passion for sharing the love of the Lord with his church. They see potential and find the good in people that are often overlooked, and work to ensure that all individuals can collectively contribute to the work of the congregation.
“When we were much younger, newlywed and bouncing from congregation to congregation, Mark and Cindy took a personal interest in us. It's because of them we were able to establish a church home.
“They do not give up on people. They personify the parable of the lost sheep.
“They have a tremendous sense of humor. They don't take themselves too seriously, despite their numerous personal and professional accomplishments. They enjoy life, share their wisdom with others and laugh at themselves and with others along the way.
We will miss them dearly and are so grateful to them for all they have done for us. And Amanda is still in denial that this is even happening …”
The Colemans said that so many Edmond members are like their own children — ”certainly our children in the Lord.”
“A lot more are just really good friends,” said Mark, who performed the wedding ceremony for a number of couples, including the Burches.
In the fall, Mark would take groups of men on hunting trips. He has a 12-passenger, all-wheel van that he would fill. They’d discuss Scripture along the way. Mark said he’d always have at least one “target” individual in the group (someone needing extra encouragement).
The trips built camaraderie, Mark said, noting that 50 to 100 different men went over the years.
“Plus, it’s fun,” he said. “Christianity ought to be. Life ought to be something you enjoy doing.”
Life with the Colemans as part of the Edmond church has certainly been fun. We haven’t even mentioned the humorous memories, like fish buried in their garden or Mark’s driving scaring students on Colorado mountain roads. But the laughs have been so many.
Mark and Cindy will be so, so missed.