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Monday, May 10, 2004
CHRISTAFARI'S MARK AND AVION MOHR'S
UNUSUAL TRIALS LEAD TO UNIQUE BLESSINGS
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ANS)
-- Although the band Christafari is recognized as one of the main
forces in American reggae and gospel music, during the last year its founder and
lead singer Mark Mohr and his wife Avion experienced trials they never dreamed
about. (Pictured: Mark and Avion
In mid 2003 Mohr's wife was denied entrance to the United
States and had to head back to her family home in Trinidad.
the circumstances that led to the incident.
HAPPINESS BEFORE THE
In July 2003 Mohr married Avion Blackman, who he had met about
15 months earlier in Trinidad. He quickly became great friends with her
family–who he called musical legends in their own right.
that his then father-in-law to be had invented soca music, the second most
popular form of music in the Caribbean. (The first is reggae). Soca, Mohr
explained, is a mixture of the musical styles of Indian and Trinidad.
had no idea when I met her I was meeting a star and how talented each individual
in her family was," Mohr said.
Mark and Avion got engaged and she became
Christafari's bass player.
"It was just a perfect match. Her father
raised her to tour around the world doing Caribbean music for Christ," Mohr
said. "All her life she had wanted to have a dreadlocked husband who did the
After a week's honeymoon the couple hit the road doing a
tour of Europe, Sweden, Holland, Finland and the UK. "It was the best tour we'd
ever had with the tightest unity," Mohr said.
Toward the end of Aug. 2003 Mark, Avion and the other
Christafari band members returned to the United States, arriving in Cleveland
Ohio. However, Mark and Avion had unintentionally run afoul of the law and as a
result Avion was denied entry. "I didn't know a marriage license was not a valid
reason to allow her in," Mark said.
While the Mohr's situation was being
investigated, the rest of the band took their plane to ensure they arrived in
time for the scheduled concert. There were not a lot of options. Avion could
either go to jail or fly back to Trinidad via London, Mark Mohr
Recalling the experience of seeing his brand new wife shipped away
in tears, Mark Mohr said "I was very sad. I was in shock. I was hoping for
someone to have a heart. I was really frustrated because the immigration office
was (heartless). But while it was the toughest time I had ever been through, I
still know God was in charge."
Avion Mohr said, "It was like a bad dream.
At the same time my faith in God kept me really strong. Mark was ready to cancel
(the shows) and go back with me. I was going through mixed feelings, but I knew
God had allowed it. They don't normally do that sort of
Looking back, Avion Mohr said she definitely sees God's Hand
at work in the situation. "I play a big role in my family and I think they
needed me. My family (also) got to know my husband a whole
Following completion of the band's shows, during the next few
weeks, Mark Mohr attempted to take care of all the details which he now knew
were necessary to make his wife a legal immigrant. That included getting all
kinds of paperwork as well as an FBI check.
THE TRIAL DEEPENS
However, just when he thought that everything was done and they were on
the home stretch the FBI check came back charging Avion Mohr with attempting to
enter the United States illegally.
"Part of (the attempted entry) was
ignorance on our part. Not knowing the laws we thought we'd done everything
right. (However, as a result) essentially you might as well be a Taliban
terrorist trying to get in the country using your brother Muhammad's passport,"
Mark Mohr said with a hint of irony in his voice.
The couple's only
option was now to apply for a waiver. If that didn't work they could wait 10
years and try again, Mohr said.
The projected waiting time for that
waiver to come through was at least six months–quite possibly much longer.
Mohr said, "I went through a really tough two week time in Trinidad. I
had to cancel a few shows. It was a good test of my love for my wife. I let it
be known that my wife was firs ... (and) I stuck it out in Trinidad."
SEEING GOD AT WORK
Then Mohr remembered a thought he'd had
some time back about the need for a new sort of church – one with sound Biblical
exegesis – to be planted in Trinidad. "I told my wife, ‘I'll pastor the church
and your family can be the worship team,'" he said.
Within one month,
"The Gathering" was born.
"I had this goal of starting a post-modern
church," Mohr said. "A club-like environment with no pews--where people sit on
pillows. a very ‘vibey' atmosphere. A whole different atmosphere. We meet once a
week on Monday nights."
In addition, Mohr added, "My goal was to be the
first American to take America out of the church in Trinidad."
quickly got to work and within about six months had built a congregation of
about 100 people.
In an interview earlier this year describing the church
Mohr said (www.ccmbuzz.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=448),
"It's kind of a Church 2.0 ... Before starting the Gathering, I studied the
Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles. Comparing that Biblical church
model to the typical church of today, it didn't take long to realize most of
today's churches carry a lot of excess baggage, jam packed with empty
In the same interview Mohr added, "Different people have
different learning styles, so in my expository teaching I use parables,
analogies and a lot of visual examples ... I often start off messages with a
clip from a popular movie like ‘Lord of the Rings' or ‘The Matrix' and always
end with an opportunity for the audience to personally apply what they have
"At the end of the service," Mohr said, "we do reggae, bring
out pool tables, fries and chicken and have fun."
At the same time Mohr and his wife were planting the church,
God was working behind the scenes on their immigration situation and in six
months they obtained the waiver they had been praying for.
Now Mohr was
faced with a dilemma of whether he and Avion should stay with the church in
Trinidad or return to the United States.
"I really enjoyed the
simplicity of preparing and teaching. I was torn," Mohr said. However, Mohr came
to see that he had a band in the United States which was unable to minister
without him while he had a friend who was doing an excellent job of running The
Gathering. That friend was the same one who had filled in for him earlier when
he had to do some Christafari shows in New Zealand and Canada.
As Mohr realized it was time to go back to
America, he reflected on his life during the months he and Avion had spent in
Trinidad. He had planted a church; executive produced an album for his wife's
family, taught a college class, put together a store and planted a church as
well as other things.
And the week before he did this interview Mohr
realized something significant. "There were no Americans on stage (at the
Gathering) for the very first time. It took me leaving for it to go full circle.
My goal was not to give someone a fish. It was to teach someone to fish. Things
are going excellently without me," he said.
But how did this unusual man grow up? In an earlier interview,
Mohr's mother Margaret described her son's turbulent teenage years as "pure
But today's success didn't come overnight. It was a difficult road
for both Mohr and his parents while the Lord was bringing him to where he is
Raised by godly parents in a Christian home, for a while Mohr
became a drug- dabbling, pot- smoking rebel.
Mohr, who smoked marijuana
for the first time when he was about nine or ten, said he was initially
influenced toward drugs when he was being babysat by his older
Ironically, although Mohr was "dabbling" in drugs he was also
going to Christian camps. The problem was that when he came home he would hang
out with the same friends he'd had before camp and he'd be right back in
Mohr was able to hide from his parents the full extent of his
involvement with drugs but they still knew that something was going on. In an
earlier interview he said, "While I was in the Boy Scouts, I leaned toward kids
that were messed up. My parents never knew everything but as a result of what
they did know they sent me to drug counseling and AA programs and I also had
random urine tests."
In his mid teens Mohr went to
Jamaica with his parents, on what should have been an innocent and enjoyable
family vacation. That experience introduced him to reggae music, which is pro-
Mohr explained that reggae is the music of the Jamaican
counter culture, Rastafarianism. Rastafarians worship the late Emperor Haile
Selassie (whose previous name was Ras Tafari) of Ethiopia as the black Christ
(or the living God for the black race). They use marijuana as a holy sacrament
to draw themselves closer to Selassie.
Interestingly, Selassie was not a
Rastafarian himself. He was a Christian. As one commentator (www.aspects.net/~nick/religion.htm)
writes, "In fact, no one is really sure what he thought of the whole Rastafarian
movement. When a group of Rastas went to Ethiopia to honor him, an official of
the palace told them to go away! This did not make the Rastas question their
belief, it only made it stronger. God is not supposed to know he is
Mohr liked the Rastafarian beliefs. He went back to Jamaica time
and time again.
"I started to write songs about it. I thought that I had
found the perfect religion. It quoted from the Bible in a way that made me feel
comfortable and justified my use of marijuana."
Not surprisingly, Mohr's
parents were very concerned about their son's behavior.
BEFORE COMING UP
Things didn't get any better. When he was about 15,
Mohr ran away from home. He routinely went from party to party, many times
spending the night in abandoned houses. Despite that, his parents never gave up
on him. As Mohr recalled, "They were like the prodigal parents, always willing
to do anything to see me get right with God."
The fundamental requirement
for Mohr coming back home was for him to attend Bible study once a week. As Mohr
recalled, this resulted in him "getting filled with the Word" every
During his prodigal years, Mohr attended 14 Christian camps at
which he rededicated his life. However, it seemed that nothing made a lasting
difference in his life. Even then, his parents persisted with their wayward son,
ultimately sending him to the J H Ranch, a high adventure extreme camp. Then
came the time for which his parents had patiently waited and prayed.
Lord met me in an undeniable way," Mohr said. "I was surrounded by people I
didn't know with no friends. I was the one rebel."
While Mohr did find
someone at camp with whom he did have a lot in common, and who impacted him
greatly, there was one huge difference between the two of them.
asked him what that difference was and the young man said, "‘The love of God.'
He was what I was but he was someone different. That was the trigger, and the
bullet was when the pastor gave the altar call."
Mohr was immediately and
intensely serious about his newfound faith and the camp staff helped him to
cement that dedication by encouraging him to read the Bible every day for six
weeks. The idea was that if you do something for six weeks or longer then it
becomes a habit and much harder to break.
MOHR'S CALL TO
The Lord began speaking to Mohr even before he came home
from that eventful camp. "When I was (there) and I came to Christ I remember
saying, ‘God, I don't want to be some suit and tie missionary,' and He impressed
upon me to start the first Christian reggae band."
Christafari was birthed in 1989 with Mohr and a few of his friends.
was blessed almost immediately with wise advice from a good pastor. "He said,
‘If you're really serious about that, you need to get doctrinally sound.' He was
a Biola (University of La Mirada, Ca.) alumni and it was natural where to
Although Mohr didn't finish his degree at Biola,
he greatly appreciated his experience while there. He was able to focus on his
interests, so not surprisingly in a course on cults he chose
Just prior to the end of his degree, Mohr and his band
were invited to take part in a major reggae tour. He and the band were the only
Christian artists ever invited to do so. However, Mohr said that while the tour
went very well, one of the most popular artists there tried to kill
Mohr explained that while at Biola he had written a paper dealing
with why Selassie couldn't be the Messiah. He turned it into a booklet which he
distributed to all the artists on the tour. All of them had read
However, according to Mohr, artist Buju Banton wanted to do more than
disagree agreeably. "The guy was very popular but he didn't like it (the
booklet). He wanted to prove himself to the Rasta elders and he tried to stab
me. I lunged back every time he lunged forward. Finally the police came. I chose
not to press charges which could have resulted in him being deported. I figured
he couldn't begin to understand and receive my God of grace unless I forgave
AFTER THE TOUR: THE ALBUM AND THE SPLIT
reggae tour was over, Christafari was signed by Sony Epic. In Mohr's words,
"Things started growing." However, after recording another album titled "The
Valley of Decision," things started getting difficult. The band split.
However, in retrospect Mohr said he can see God's Hand working in what
back then was a very unpleasant situation. "While it was a tough struggle God
used something that was initially construed as being very negative. We had a
different approach to ministry (from those who left the band).
explained that as a result of the split he was able to do the hard core reggae
he had always wanted to do and reach the Rastafarians "right where they were
at." The members of the group who left had wanted to stay within the parameters
of more mainstream contemporary Christian music.
Happily, Mohr was able
to put together a whole new band within about three days of the split. An added
bonus was that he also formed his own record label, based upon a business plan
from a friend he had made while at school. Mohr has a definite vision for bands
that record with his company. " Rather than having the world see Christianity
through blue American eyes, I wanted to have America see the world through a
global perspective as Christ created it."
In an earlier interview, Edward Mohr described his son's
rebellious teenage years as being a period when the family "all came closer to
God. He was the catalyst ... We had a lot of problems."
Edward Mohr said
there were two key things that had helped he and his wife emerge successfully
through this difficult time.
He said, "We persisted in telling (Mark)
how much we loved him and how much we needed him to focus on what God would have
In addition, Edward Mohr said that he and his wife stood on the
Bible promise that as they had raised their son in the word of the Lord that he
would not depart from it. "We trusted totally in the Lord and stayed in
Edward Mohr praised Focus on the Family's Dr. James
Dobson as a "stabilizing influence in our lives. We got all the tapes he had on
this subject and listened to them a lot."
Edward Mohr also had some words
of advice for parents going through a similar situation. "When you're going
through the teenage years don't rock the boat unnecessarily. While you need to
hold strong on the major points sometimes you've got to give on the minor ones.
Of course you have to still hold them accountable."
Margaret Mohr said that the situation with Mark got so
bad that all she could do was to turn him over to the Lord. "I would say, ‘He's
yours, Lord. He's yours.'"
Mohr said that while she and her husband
didn't tell a lot of people what was going on with their son, that they did tell
a few close Bible study friends who she described as being very supportive and
Margaret Mohr had some encouraging words for parents suffering
through their child's teenage rebellion years. "Keep praying and believe that
the deeds you have sown will not be in vain."
Looking back, Margaret Mohr
said all the struggles and the emotional turmoil were all worth it. "I would do
it again. Mark would not have the ministry he does today unless he had been down
What does Margaret Mohr think of her son now? She didn't
hesitate in her response. "I don't know anybody who is closer to the Lord than
he is. I totally trust him to pray through the circumstances. I have seen him go
through so much and come through closer to the Lord."
Christafari was nominated for the 2002 Marlin award for
International Artist of the Year. The band's album, "Word Sound & Power,"
was also nominated for four Marlin Awards in 2000: Caribbean Group Vocal
Performance of The Year, Caribbean Duo Vocal Performance of The Year, Caribbean
Reggae/Dancehall Recording of The Year, and Caribbean Album of The Year. The
band's album "Gravity" reached number none on the Billboard charts. "It received
more press than any other album," Mohr said.
For additional information
about Mohr and Christafari, go to http://www.christafari.com/ or http://www.lionofzion.com/
|Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder
and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless
shelter, http://www.joyjunction.org/ or http://www.christianity.com/joyjunction.
He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New
Mexico and is a candidate for the Ph.D. in intercultural education at
Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and
lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy
Reynalds at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel:
(505) 877-6967 or (505) 400-7145. Note: A black and white JPEG picture of
Jeremy Reynalds is available on request from Dan Wooding at email@example.com.
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