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Profile: Mark Hamby: Helping Parents Model Christ to Their Children

by Deborah Deggs Cariker

Who would expect a hip, groovy, 60s-kind-of-guy working at a salt factory to touch hearts? Who could have guessed that this guy who didn't read would offer back to the reading world its lost literature? No one, perhaps, except God.

Meet Mark Hamby, president of Cornerstone Family Ministries and Lamplighter Publishing. Hamby and wife, Debbie, live in Pennsylvania, with their two sons, Jonathan and David, and their daughter, Jennifer. Now-a-days, Mark is a featured conference speaker as well as a family counselor, urging parents to reach the hearts of their children. But then...

Wiry and bright, Mark made his way through high school and even college with little reading. It's not that he couldn't. He just wouldn't. Yet, one starry night, July 22, 1977, everything changed. The salt factory worker was on duty that night when a radio commentator prayed, and Hamby knelt on the factory rooftop to change ownership of his life.

Suddenly, he began to read the Bible - cover to cover - with gusto and, can you believe?, do what it said. Placing gospel tracts under beer glasses quickly cost him the part-time bartending job, but Mark kept growing in his new relationship with Jesus. Within two years, his church voted him "Pastor of Christian Education," and the senior pastor sent him to Bible college for a master's degree. Mark likened the experience to a military boot camp where, on the last day, he was made to sit and listen to guest speaker, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones. Fifteen minutes into Jones' presentation, Charlie roamed the crowd looking for someone. On the last aisle Charlie found Mark, grabbed the quivering student, and lifted him out of his seat.

"Young man, what great Christian literature have you been reading in your life these days?," Jones asked.

Christian literature?, Mark asked himself. What's that? The only thing that came to mind at that moment was a book his mother read to him: Go, Dog Go! (And, no, that didn't count!)

Jones wasn't through. Vocal decibels increasing, Jones declared, "You will be the same five years from now as you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet!" Mark nodded. Jones started shaking him by the shoulders. "I know you've read something! What book did you read last year, last month, last week? What biography are you reading now to conform your life into the image of Christ?"

Mark was shaken, in more ways than one. The audience, including his wife, laughed itself into tears.

Three days later, Mark received a special package. He thought it might be a bomb; it was, of sorts. It contained 12 biographies, including D.L. Moody, Greatest Evangelist of the 19th Century. Three hours later, Mark Hamby had read his very first book. He was speechless, but had finally discovered the heroes whose lives challenged him to soar. Mark determined to be like them, no matter the cost.

Soon after this - uh - experience with Charlie Jones, Hamby realized that children need captivating literature that is character-building and, most importantly, Christ-honoring. He wanted to provide the life-transforming literature that he had missed as a child. God honored Mark's desire and, in the mid-1990s, birthed Cornerstone Family Ministries and Lamplighter Publishing, responsible for republishing more than fifty literary works known as the Lamplighter Rare Collector's Series. Many of these books have been out of print more than 100 years; some, more than 300. Screened oh-so-carefully and nicely hardbound to stay that way, it is no exaggeration to say these books are treasures. From the brave and loyal Teddy to the sacrificially kind Agnes, children will ask, "One more chapter, pleeeeeeeeease!" Mine do.

Besides keeping them at the edge of their seats with rickety rafts and courageous knights, these books teach children important lessons about honesty and how the truth sets us free, about love and giving oneself for the bettering of our neighbor, and other such lessons you'll want your children to glean from your home. Virtues like courage and perseverance and forgiveness seep through the pages and waft from long ago days into our own.

If you prefer books that show disobedient, disrespectful children as heroes, and stories that provoke your children to mimic the bad behavior of the character, you will not want these books. Unlike the modern "sensual, sensational and shallow" books, these have the opposite affect. These books point you and your children straight to Jesus Christ. Characters don't whine or quit or blame parents and come out on top. You witness characters striving to become like Jesus. You'll see that, no matter what evil does, God is good and He means everything to work out to good. You'll see Him in control, weaving His plan for the character through the story. On a day when "bad" seems to crash down upon us, we can say, "Stick to the Raft" and know we need to hold onto Jesus and each other. When someone is unkind to us, we can remind each other of Teddy in Teddy's Button, and know the power of forgiveness and restoration.

From the Lamplighter web site:
"Story-time has been replaced with television and electronic games, which rob children of cultivating their own imaginations. Children no longer dream as George Washington, Patrick Henry, Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington Carver, Gladys Aylward, and Amy Carmichael once did. Those dreams brought forth actions, and those actions changed our world. It is time that we reverse the negative influence upon our children so that they might once again dream - of valor not violence, of love not lust, of loyalty not lying, of sacrifice and not selfishness. We believe that we are seeing this trend reversed in a small way through the Lamplighter Rare Collector's Series."

My suggestion is for you to start at the top of the catalog and work your way through it on special gift-giving occasions. Give a copy to grandparents. You'll likely want the entire collection. Books for girls, for boys, for parents, for teens, for older and younger children - Lamplighter offers treasures.

Besides finding wonderful new gems to publish in the Rare Collection, the Hamby family also is busy throughout the US and Canada conducting Cornerstone seminars to fulfill Mark's God-given mission: To make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Malachi 4:6; Luke 1:17)

One of Mark's more popular seminars is "The Strong-Willed Parent." When I saw that on the South East Texas Home School Association (SETHSA) summer conference list in Houston in June, 2000, I knew there was a typo. Surely they meant "The Strong-Willed Child." Gulp. It was no typo. Mark wanted to challenge parents to reach the hearts of their children rather than merely forcefully or forcibly controlling behavior. To do that, he told us, we'd have to change.

"What?", I thought. "I came looking for ways to change my children", but Mark wanted me to let the Lord change me. Big swallow. Squirming in my seat. Conviction. Tears. Surrender: "Yes, Lord. I'd rather hold their hearts and mold them for You. I don't want them scared of me or in a battle of wills with me. Change me. Let my heart be worthy of their imitation. Let my heart beat with Yours, be like Yours."

I wiped the tears and nodded in agreement with Mark: "Unless the heart is reached there can be no lasting change."

But don't think Mark was always Mr. Sensitive Shepherd to his flock. Even born again and loving Jesus, Mark's heart needed work. Faithful as always, the Father had His good pleasure remolding His man.

When I was born-again, my very first pastor would say, "Don't tell me what a good Christian you are. I'm looking at your children. I can see exactly what kind of a Christian you are." This didn't bother me at the time; I had no children in 1986. But now I can understand, as Hamby came to see, that the Lord often uses children to spotlight our - uh - shall we say "deficiencies." Having been "spotlighted" by my own children, I could, in June 2000, hurrumpff and laugh, enjoying Mark's story about being a shepherd.

"One of my most memorable experiences as a shepherd was the day that my sheep followed me for the very first time. This event, however, didn't take place overnight. For five years my sheep refused to follow me! They ran from me, they stamped their feet at me, and they were an embarrassment to me. But they followed my (then) seven-year-old daughter. They knew her voice and they ate out of the palm of her hand. But me? One look at me and they gave a loud bleating sound that sent shivers up my spine, especially when visitors were around.

To make matters worse, Rambo (our ram that we named for obvious reasons) tried to kill me several times. You can be sure I didn't take this lightly. Since strangulation didn't work, there were several times that I had the scope on him. I often employed this method of using the scope on my rifle to check the sheep in the upper pasture. I found that when Rambo came into sight, my finger seemed to find its way to the trigger! No, I never did shoot him, but if I could do it again, I might just hold on to that trigger a little more firmly.

One time in particular, Rambo stood on his hind legs and "rammed" me square in the back. As I lay on the ground trying to catch my breath, I thought he had broken my back. I looked up to see the beast was standing above me, ready to finish me off! I quickly rolled and he missed me. But what happened next was the best part. Losing all sense of humanity and filled with anger, I surprised him with full-Nelson chokehold. My wife, the protector of all who stand in my way, yelled down from the back porch, saying, "What on earth are you doing to that poor animal?" Holding on for my life, I retorted, "What does it look like I'm doing!? I'm trying to kill him; he tried to kill me first!"

I think you have a pretty good picture of my early days as a shepherd. My relationship with my sheep was a hate-hate relationship. I couldn't wait to have some of them for dinner, but my daughter loved them so much that she threatened never to speak to me again if I touched one of her beloved sheep. So I was stuck. Little did I know that God would use my relationship with the sheep to teach me that I had a problem with anger, and that forceful control leads only to broken relationships.

It was 1994. My health had been poor for several years now, and for the most part, I was on empty. To make matters worse, Jonathan, my oldest son, had just told me that he hated me. Without realizing it, I had been treating him just like Rambo-controlling him with threats, anger, and forcefulness.

After several newborn lambs had died due to an unforcasted severe storm, my daughter had informed me that I wasn't a good shepherd. My heart was pierced. God sure knows how to get our attention. I was determined that during the next lambing season not one lamb would die even if I had to stay in the barn the whole season. Then it happened.

I had spent eight weeks in the barn during our third lambing season. About the sixth week, after sheering, de-worming, immunizing, and bottle-feeding, I noticed that the ewes were behaving differently toward me. They were observing my movements, and were not as anxious around me. Now, picture this: there I was, not feeling very well, with no energy and little hope; but I was giving these sheep the best care I could give. I often sat in the hay, reading the Psalms and praying aloud, holding a lamb that nibbled on my finger. I truly began to love these creatures of God, and the mother sheep knew it. Then one day, as I walked to the other side of the barn, all seventy sheep moved toward me. I walked to the other side, and they followed. I quickly opened up all the stall doors and then began parading up the path toward our house and when I looked back, all the mothers and their lambs were following! As we approached the house, I yelled, "Jennifer! Debbie!!! Look outside!"

When my little girl came to the window, I saw a great big smile, and knew exactly what she was thinking: "Today, My Daddy became a shepherd." And I did! When the sheep knew that I really cared, especially for their lambs, they began to follow. No more control, no more anger, no more forcefulness. Psalm 40:11 I believe captures the essence of the shepherd and his sheep best:

He tends his flock like a shepherd
He gathers the lambs in his arms
He carries them close to his heart
He gently leads those that have young.

Notice that the shepherd gathers the lambs in his arms and not upon his shoulders. The reason for this is to calm the lambs by allowing them to hear the beating of the shepherd's heart, not the beating of his voice. This is what my son was yearning for all of those years.to hear the beating of my heart not the beating of my voice.
It has now been seven years since I experienced this incredible transformation. Is my son following? Yes indeed. But only when he hears my heart beating louder than my voice!"

That's what got to me: are my children hearing my heart beating louder than my voice?

To learn more about Lamplighter, you can join or view the discussion at http://homeschoolchat.us then go to The Lamplighter Group-Grace Filled Parenting. Their character-building, biblical, insights stories can be viewed at www.lamplighterpublishing.com. You may also email Mark@lamplighterpublishing.com. A free catalog and biblical insights newsletter is available online, or call toll free 888.246.7735.

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