Majors Mark and Teri Martsolf, Citadel Corps
As a teenager, the idea of committing his entire adult life to the Gospel as an officer of The Salvation Army couldn’t have been further from Maj. Mark Martsolf’s mind. At 17, he was struggling with depression, had turned to drugs and alcohol, was flunking most of his classes and had been kicked off the high school basketball team. “I was in a terrible place,” he said.
When a friend suggested he consider playing for the local Salvation Army Corps’ basketball team, Maj. Mark decided to check it out. “The corps officer told me there was one requirement for participation: I had to attend church services three times a month,” he recalled. “I told him I would have to think about it.”
Maj. Mark decided basketball was worth a few days a month in a church pew -- a decision that changed the trajectory of his life.
“At the very first service, I heard the message that there was a God who loved me and who had given His son’s life for me,” said Maj. Mark. “I went up to the front, knelt down and prayed with the corps officer, and when I got up from my knees, my life was different. The Lord transformed me.”
Maj. Mark never touched alcohol or drugs again. He improved his grades to As and Bs, taught Sunday School, worked as a janitor at the corps and set his sights on enrolling in The Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Chicago. It was there he met his future wife.
Maj. Teri Martsolf’s childhood couldn’t have been more different. The daughter of lifelong Salvationists and one of six girls – two of whom, along with Maj. Teri, went on to become Salvation Army officers – she recognized her calling at a young age.
The two began to date shortly after they met at CFOT. “Back in the day, you had to write to the Training College to ask for official dating privileges. Then you had to write to get official courtship privileges. And then you had to write to be granted official engagement privileges,” explained Maj. Mark. CFOT required that all engaged couples wait six months after being commissioned to marry.
The Martsolfs were married on a frigid January day in 1982. The second night of their honeymoon they were caught in a blizzard en route from Indiana to Kalamazoo and ended up sleeping on a wrestling mat in a gymnasium with 400 other stranded travelers. Thirty-nine years later, they have four grown boys and nine grandchildren. Citadel Corps is the Martsolfs’ ninth appointment in their nearly four decades of service to The Salvation Army.
The majors bring a wealth of experience to Omaha. Of their nine appointments, eight have been at corps in five different states.
“We are excited about building relationships with people,” said Maj. Mark. “We hope to bring our years of pastoral and corps experience here -- to bring something to the table that will be beneficial.”
“We’d also love to do some outreach in the community and reach out to families in the neighborhood,” added Maj. Teri. “If there are families who don’t have a connection to a church or are looking for a neighborhood church, we want to make that opportunity available to them.”
One of the unique ways Maj. Mark connects with people is through what he calls “Gospel magic” and his puppet and ventriloquy ministry. As a kid he taught himself ventriloquy and puppetry by reading books, watching the Paul Winchell show and, later, watching hundreds of hours of videos. Today he makes good use of his collection of 32 puppets, 60 costumes and 300 hats, regularly using the props not only in vacation bible school and children’s ministry, but in his Sunday sermons as well.
“It’s a great way connect with kids and to get them to open up and have a dialogue,” he said. Even adults are more apt to remember a message if they associate a visual with it, he explained.
While Maj. Mark is often in the spotlight, Maj. Teri prefers to keep a lower profile. She manages the budget, oversees the women’s ministry and enjoys cooking for Bible study groups.
“I’m more the behind-the-scenes person, and he is more the ‘let’s do a magic show’ kind of person,” she admitted.
The Martsolfs also hope to be able to utilize the gym and recreational spaces on the Renaissance Village campus as a way to invite the community to engage with The Salvation Army. As a certified archery instructor, Maj. Mark is dreaming about the possibility of launching an archery program similar to one the Martsolfs began during their appointment at the Olathe Corps in Kansas a few years ago.
For right now, however, eight weeks into their appointment at Citadel Corps, Majs. Mark and Teri are focused on building relationships.
“We want to make Citadel the hub of this campus and help people find the spiritual connection they are looking for. That’s really what we hope to accomplish here,” said Maj. Mark.
“We want people to know that they are welcome here -- that they can call this their church home,” added Maj. Teri. “And that we are glad to be their pastors.”