The 63-year-old chaplain of Open House Ministries passed away suddenly on Fathers Day
VANCOUVER — This past Fathers Day, a beloved friend, brother, and servant to the people of Vancouver, went to be with his heavenly Father.
Mark Roskam, who served 10 years as the chaplain and a case worker at Open House Ministries shelter, passed away suddenly of a brain aneurysm on June 21. When he passed, he did so doing one of the things he loved most: riding his bike.
“Two days before Mark passed, he shared with the residents of Open House that, ‘When I die I’ll probably be on my bike,’” said Mark’s brother Mike. “Mark had the unique ability to meet an individual exactly where they were at. They didn’t have to achieve a certain status, certain level of accomplishment. He met them there and he was all about extending grace and mercy to anybody that he encountered.”
Mark was the youngest of three brothers, and grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. He avidly played sports, and achieved multiple degrees in Psychology and Divinity and even worked tirelessly on a large farm.
Early on, Mark’s love of bicycles grew while working at a bike shop and he began to cycle regularly. His relationship with Jesus was cemented after he miraculously survived nearly drowning as a young man. As it turns out, Mark told that very story of the miracle and his redemption to his nephew Tom who was riding with him the day he died.
For a time he owned the Holiday Inn in Estes park, Colorado along with Trail Ridge Stores. Mark wrote personal notes to each and every one of his 150 employees every payday, Mike said. It was in Estes Park that Mark first became drawn to serving and helping the homeless. He had a heart for people in that area who were living in unheated storage units and on the streets, Mike said.
Around that time, Mark met and married a young woman named Audrey, and had two daughters with her, Bekah and Brook. After Brook was born, Audrey was diagnosed with Lupus and passed away soon after. Mark was a single parent for a couple years, until he was introduced to a widow from the east coast; Gini.
“The interest blossomed and the phone calls got longer and since this was pre-cell phone time, their phone bills reached $400 a month for both Gini and Mark,” Mike said chuckling during Mark’s memorial service. “They married in August 1997. Mark was thrilled and indeed smitten with Gini. He adored her and one could easily see it.”
Later on Mark and his family, which now included Gini and her adopted daughter Katie, moved to Vancouver. He began working as a case worker at Open House Ministries with now Executive Director Renee Stevens. Later on, when the director position opened, both were asked to apply but neither wanted to if the other was going to.
“Mark’s a servant, he has a servant’s heart,” Renee said. “He said, ‘You know, Renee, I’m called to work with people. I‘m called to serve the people of the Lord and I don’t feel like I could do that in that position. So Mark is … teacher, friend, servant, mentor, bike shop manager, chaplain, he bakes pies, he’s a really good pie baker.”
Mark helped Open House’s previous chaplain until his retirement, and then very naturally stepped into the position.
Throughout his family and his Open House family, Mike and Renee echoed each other when explaining that Mark truly made people feel appreciated, heard, valued, and encouraged.
Through much counseling and many classes, Mark helped people out of homelessness, addiction and brokenness. He used the Wheels Deals bike shop at Open House to connect with people who would otherwise not want to open up. Every moment was a ministry opportunity.
“Through the bike shop he would get a resident over there wrenching on bikes, all of a sudden, they start to open up,” Renee said. “They felt like they had some self worth and that they were working towards something instead of just sitting in the classroom, talking to a counselor. A statement he would say all the time is, ‘What I can’t get done in the classroom, I can certainly get done in the bike shop.’”
Mike recalled a time when a homeless man in Vancouver had all his few possessions burned up or stolen, including his bike. He came to Wheels Deals shop and asked Mark for help.
“Through the bike shop, they got him another bicycle, got him the trailer he needed, and Mark literally gave him the shirt he was wearing because he had nothing,” Mike said. “So Mark gave him the shirt off his back. Pretty amazing. That’s how he approached his ministry there.”
Mike and Mark worked together to help teach Financial Peace curriculum to the residents at the Open House shelter, and also helped get them into the workforce. Mike actually hired several residents at his old company while working with his brother.
Many residents at the shelter currently are dealing with the loss of their mentor and friend along with the staff of Open House. Renee explained that as the leader of the organization she learned so much from Mark, and puts it to use everyday.
Funny enough, she said, when she sought to bring comfort to those at the shelter, she found herself even more comforted and encouraged by the residents. It seems they learned something from Mark too.
“He taught me what grace and mercy meant,” Renee said. “I’m a little bit more of a hold people accountable type of person, and he really taught me that grace goes a long way. If we’ll show people the grace and mercy that God’s shown us, that people will surprise you. He was the easiest person to talk to, because he was the most amazing listener. A lot of people can listen and talk and have a conversation, but Mark heard you. I don’t think I’m ever going to meet somebody like that again.”
Mike and Renee, as well as other friends and family at Mark’s memorial service, relayed countless stories about Mark from over the years. Perhaps none was more representative of Mark’s character than one that happened last time Clark County Today reported on Mike and Mark.
In August and September of last year, Mike and Mark were on a 2,400-mile bicycle trip on Route 66 to raise money for the homeless. In Oklahoma, they were in an accident where Mike was struck from behind by a passing pickup truck. Mike was taken to the hospital and recovered fine, and later read a written account of Mark’s response at the accident, since he does not remember it.
“His immediate reaction was, ‘Jesus help us,’” Mark said. “Then shortly after that after he implored me to stay with him. He told the guy that was driving the truck, ‘God forgives you, and so do I.’ And that’s who Mark was. When you’re under a stressful situation like that, sometimes our human nature comes out. But Mark’s initial response was one of forgiveness and grace. I think that speaks louder than anything else.”