By Jennifer Johnson
When Mark Thornton gets an idea, get out of the way—or move to Lincoln, NE, and join the cause.
“Seven years ago I was working at a homeless shelter here,” he says. “It was one of several places I’d served, and it just seemed like if we did this work as neighbors in the community instead of as outside agencies, it would be more effective. So I quit my job, moved downtown, and started something out of the house.”
That “something” is Jacob’s Well, a multifaceted ministry that develops friendships and meets physical and spiritual needs for the residents of his neighborhood. Collaboration is key; on Sunday nights they meet at one local church for an informal shared meal and worship service, and two Saturdays a month his team distributes food to more than 300 families in partnership with a local food bank and a Presbyterian congregation.
“We could try do everything ourselves, but we want to work together and be kingdom-minded,” Thornton says.
Summer block parties bring hundreds of community members together for music, food, and fun, and build energy around a “Kids at the Well” program that has expanded from a weekly experience to a daily after-school ministry with homework help and games. Before this program, none of the neighborhood kids would play outside.
Thornton also started a community garden with 30 raised beds that has been embraced by the high-density, refugee community hungering for the fresh produce that extends their budgets and goes into their native recipes.
He also developed a 40-hour retreat experience for church leaders throughout the city.
“It was formerly the Lincoln Leaders Prayer Summit, but they wanted to rebrand and become more accessible to younger leaders,” Thornton says. “I was on the board and worked with them to create The Summit, which offers opportunities to reflect, renew, and relate. It pulls together everyone from Mennonites to Catholics to independents like us.”
Thornton’s next venture is to build a long-term initiative in Haiti, beginning with a community center for Sunday services and a weekday preschool.
Meanwhile, his parents, Bill and Marci, have joined his ministry; last year Bill retired after 30 years as senior minister at Capitol City Christian Church in Lincoln, and the couple moved into Mark’s home to join his work.
“They went from being scared of the area to living in the house with me,” he says.
Thornton hopes Jacob’s Well will continue to grow, but not as a “megaministry” with one location.
“This works because it’s local,” he says. “Our reach is really a three- to four-block radius so kids can walk here and so neighbors are getting to know each other. I’d like to see a number of people each doing ministry out of houses throughout the city. We just started a second location eight blocks away.”
So if you want to move to Lincoln, call Mark.