Veteran Missionary Mark Bliss with the Lord
On Monday, Dec. 18, veteran AGWM missionary and hero of the faith Mark Bliss, 87, was called home to the Lord.
Mark and Gladys Bliss married on June 3, 1953. From 1955 to 1960, Mark and Gladys lived in New York and pioneered a church on Long Island. In 1960, they were invited to direct a leper colony in Liberia. Mark would serve as a missionary pilot. Their 20-foot-square house deep in Liberia’s bush country would be home for the next three years.
Far from their West African leper colony, a small group of Armenian believers in Tehran, Iran, were eager for help in evangelism and discipleship training. They appealed for the U.S. Assemblies of God to send a missionary. Home from West Africa, Mark and Gladys believed the opportunity in Iran was God’s will. They were appointed as AGWM missionaries in 1965 and arrived in Tehran that fall.
Among Middle Eastern nations, Iran was one of the most open to the gospel; however, the Blisses carefully followed existing restrictions on open-air meetings, newspaper ads, or media broadcasts. They focused on literature distribution and training students at Iran Bible School, which they launched in Tehran soon after their arrival.
As the work in Tehran and the surrounding area gained momentum, disaster struck. On Oct. 25, 1969, the Bliss family was traveling at night to a newly planted church in another town. The church’s young pastor, Haik Hovsepian, his wife, Takoosh, and their infant son were with them. They drove into the back of a slowly moving unlit tractor. The Blisses’ three children and the Hovsepians’ infant son were killed. Gladys, Haik and Takoosh were seriously injured.
Six days after the accident, the memorial service for Karen, 13, Deborah, 11, and Mark Reid, 3, was packed with friends and fellow believers. At the end of the service, Mark stood and spoke. “My heart has been filled with sorrow,” he said. “But it’s for Jesus’ sake, and that sorrow is being turned to joy. … I have never in my life felt closer to God, and I would not want to exchange this place.”
One day while going through their children’s belongings, Mark and Gladys discovered Karen had written a testimony. “As I was getting ready for bed I heard an ambulance siren,” she wrote. “I said to myself, ‘What if I were in there, dying?’ I realized I might never have another chance. I told my parents I wished to become a Christian. … Someday I know I will go to heaven and live with Him forever.” Thousands of copies of Karen’s testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness were distributed in Iran.
The Blisses and Hovespians shared not only each other’s grief, but also a determination not to let the accident break their spirits or cause them to stray from their vision of reaching Iran with the gospel.
In the spring of 1972, local authorities approached Mark to testify about the accident. Since he was the driver of the car involved, he faced a prison sentence if found guilty of negligence. A prayer request was sent out around the globe. In answer to prayer, a 10-month prison sentence was reduced to probation.
After the revolution in Iran in 1979, the Blisses were never able to return. But, after nine years serving in Bangladesh, their ministry to Iranians continued when they were asked to teach Iranian believers in Shackleford, England. Their family had also grown, with the adoption of daughter Melody Ann from Bangladesh. Melody passed away in December 2016.
Mark and Gladys retired in 1995 after 30 years as AGWM missionaries. In 2001, Mark was invited to address the U.S. Assemblies of God General Council. The topic of his remarks was sacrifice. He explained that a life of sacrifice must be patterned after the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ. Any other sacrifice seems like “holding a candle to the sun and asking which gives the stronger light.”
The viewing will be held on Friday, Dec. 22, at the Maranatha Chapel located at 233 E Norton Road, Springfield, Missouri at 10 a.m. The funeral service follows at 11 a.m.
Editor’s note: Much of this article was adapted from “No Sacrifice Too Great,” which appeared in the November 2017 edition of WorldView magazine.