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Archive for the ‘FBC Family’ Category

By Jackie and Bob Spears

When we were applying for our second adoption, a social worker told us “I would never give you a normal child.” We could see her point. By then we already had two Cambodian boys in permanent foster care plus an adopted daughter who had spent her first 11 months in Medical College of Virginia’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and was still being fed through a gastrostomy tube. We were also temporary foster parents for a dozen refugee kids from at least four countries (thankfully, not all at once). Our “not normal” adopted son weighed less than two pounds at birth and came with a frightening list of actual and potential health problems.

None of this was planned. There was no sense of having a mission to help the less fortunate. More or less accidentally we stumbled across people who needed help, thought we might be able to provide it, and jumped in. We don’t regret it, but this is not a warm, fuzzy story of love triumphing over adversity. It’s real life, with a mixed bag of results, some uplifting, some heartbreaking.

Not What You’d Call a Normal Family

Chun Tate and Ra Yoeun

Our two Cambodian sons came first. For legal/bureaucratic reasons they were not adoptable, but we got permanent foster placements, and they are family. Both lost their families and spent much of their childhood in communist work camps with no formal education. When the Pol Pot regime collapsed, they escaped to refugee camps in Thailand. At about 14 years old, they arrived in Richmond semi-literate in Khmer and speaking no English. Initial adjustments were confusing and frustrating—they were teenage boys who had grown up with no family, no role models and brutal discipline, dropped into a bewildering new culture. They didn’t understand us, and we didn’t understand them. On the plus side, they were bright, hardworking and (mostly) cooperative. After English lessons and a year or two of public school, they each went to middle and high school at Collegiate School.

Here their paths diverged. One overcame his traumatic beginning. Today he is a retired Naval officer with a lovely wife and a son at Virginia Tech. He won a full scholarship to Virginia Military Institute, is an engineer with a master’s degree and has one of the sharpest minds we have ever encountered. The other was too emotionally damaged. After two failed marriages and a bankruptcy, he considered returning to Cambodia, but found he couldn’t successfully cope with either culture. He now lives in a Cambodian enclave in California with his third wife and children, subsisting on welfare and income from Uber. Their everyday language is Khmer, and his command of English has regressed to a rudimentary level.

A pediatric neurologist told us that our daughter, born in Chesterfield County, would never be able to hold a job or live independently, and probably would never learn to feed herself. Today she has friends, a good job and has earned her associate degree. She has emotional difficulties and a severe speech impediment, but she is successfully making her own way. We are enormously proud of her.

As an infant, our adopted son, born in Williamsburg, was at risk for cerebral palsy, had hydrocephalus (thankfully transient), had breathing problems from undeveloped lungs and lost his hearing due to an antibiotic reaction. Against the odds, he survived and grew into a healthy adult with good intelligence. Unfortunately, he also has poor impulse control, little ability to organize or plan, and has episodes of violent rage. He’s never held a job for more than a few months at a time and is currently unemployed and living in his car. We haven’t given up on him, but it is increasingly discouraging.

Not What You’d Call a Normal Family

Nicholas

Our temporary foster kids were an equally mixed bag. We had two Vietnamese American boys who were abandoned by their birth mothers. One was pulled from a trash bin as an infant by an older woman who raised him. He came to Richmond with his foster mother but was taken from her because she wasn’t an officially approved foster parent. She had an apartment near us, so we became his official foster parents, but he spent much of his time helping her. He was a sweet, good-natured kid, always cheerful and helpful. Today he is married with children and works as a mechanic. The other boy grew up wild on the streets in Saigon. He seemed normal at first but became increasingly erratic. He was removed to a psychiatric ward after he threw a kitchen knife at Jackie. When released, he went to a group home and later wound up in prison.

There were at least ten others. One was an Ethiopian boy, one leg withered by polio, who walked to Kenya and claimed his friend was killed by lions during the trip. He came to America because he was confident our doctors could fix his leg. When he learned the truth, he accepted it cheerfully and went on to a successful life. Another was a mildly developmentally delayed Vietnamese girl who grew up as a child prostitute and was sent off in a refugee boat by her mother, with instructions to send back money and medicine. She married (against our advice) at 18, soon divorced, and resumed her childhood occupation. There was a Somali girl who thought any cooperation with us was blasphemy against Islam. We had a four-year-old Cambodian girl, removed from her home because of drugs and neglect, who was ultimately returned to her mother by social services. We have heard nothing, but have little hope for her.

We have no regrets, but no illusions either. We were given a chance to change what we could and accept what we couldn’t. We hope we had the wisdom to tell the difference.


Jackie and Bob SpearsJackie and Bob Spears have been married for 48 years, have four children, and have lived in Richmond for 41 years. Jackie grew up in Richmond; Bob is from a military family and grew up all over. They were married at FBC where Jackie attended, and where her mother, Jackie Booth (later Bowles) was a soloist with the choir. They now attend the Studio class at FBC Sunday School.

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By Jim and Wendy Norvelle

For Lewis and Toni Myers, the road that winds from their childhood homes in the flat Mississippi delta to missionary and family life in Vietnam to retirement days in Richmond includes a very important bench outside a girls’ dormitory at Mississippi College in Clinton.

Day after day, Lewis patiently sat on the bench and waited for Toni to exit Jennings Hall so he could catch her eye. He wanted to make sure that she saw how serious he was about her—about marrying her.

“Every time I came out of my dormitory he was sitting on that bench, waiting for me,” Toni said, her eyes twinkling. Lewis smiled an impish grin, remembering that he would sit on the back of the bench and put his feet in the seat. He didn’t want her to miss him.

Lewis and Toni have been married for 65 years. For 42 of those years, they partnered with the International Mission Board, including 17 years in Vietnam. They arrived in Saigon in 1960, a couple in their mid-20s with their three children. One more child would be born there.

Lewis is from Skene, Mississippi, a delta crossroads community among cotton fields with a general store. Toni is from Boyle, Mississippi, about four miles away on Highway 61.

“It was helpful to be from a small rural area when we went to Vietnam,” Lewis said. “We went with the mindset to build close relationships as we were accustomed to in Mississippi. Vietnam was just opening up as a new mission field for Southern Baptists, and we thought the new work there would fit us well.”

The same could be said for their marriage—it fits them well. Many times during the interview they either began each other’s sentences or they ended them.

What’s their secret?

“We both are of one accord,” said Lewis. Toni nodded in agreement. “Sometimes I have a good idea, and sometimes she does. Our faith has deepened over the years. We have a togetherness. We are not running off and doing many different things.”

The ending of their time in Vietnam did present a challenge. They were back in the United States on furlough in 1975 when South Vietnam fell, ending the long civil war. Eventually Lewis joined the staff of the then Foreign Mission Board in Richmond.

“It was tough when I came to the board and, for the first time, we were not in ministry together on the field,” Lewis said. Toni found her mission field at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, getting involved in the college ministry and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) as well as serving as a volunteer interpreter for Vietnamese refugees, especially at the City of Richmond Health Department.

For Toni and Lewis, their marriage and their faith have always been intertwined.

“I made a good choice,” Toni said. You could say that it was like two parts of the same bolt of cloth or two sides of the same coin.

“I don’t know how to pull our faith and our marriage apart,” Lewis echoed. “We’ve made a faith commitment to each other and to the Lord.”

Their routine is a key, they said. They rise early, share a daily devotional time, enjoy a cup of coffee and read the newspaper. A morning walk is usually next. Faithful church attendance is a given. They return to Vietnam each year for Lewis to teach in the Vietnam Baptist Bible Institute. Toni counsels students dealing with long classes and final exams.

The road continues for this loving couple who started in Mississippi, heard the call to serve God while in seminary, preached and witnessed in Vietnam, and today teach a Bible study class, work with the WMU and sing with the choir on Sunday mornings at FBC. Together. Intertwined.


ICON-norvelles

Jim and Wendy Norvelle met at First Baptist Church and were married in 1983. Jim sings in the choir and serves as president of the Endowment Fund. Wendy serves as a deacon. The Norvelles have two daughters, Laura and Kate, and two grandchildren to spoil.

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By Candi Brown and Steve Blanchard

The dictionary defines adoption as: “the action or fact of legally taking another’s child and bringing it up as one’s own, or the fact of being adopted.” But a dry legal definition doesn’t even begin to tell us what adoption is. Its definition is probably as broad as the number of reasons individuals or families have adopted children. For this feature, here’s a glimpse at how two of our staff members might define it as they have welcomed children into their homes. These stories may help define adoption, but it is so much more. In their cases, it’s a journey of love.

Candi’s Story

Adoption has been a central focus throughout my life. I was adopted as an infant and raised in a Christian home where I was loved and accepted. Later, during my college years, I became interested in learning more about foster care, specifically foster programs that would hopefully lead to adoption. I completed a year of social work training at an adoption agency and after working with so many precious children, I thought that I might be interested in adopting a child one day.

Life moved forward and after being married 17 years, and having three biological children, God moved through an amazing series of events to give our family the opportunity to adopt. In 2009 through our refugee ministry at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, I became friends with a Burmese man, Kasim, and his two young sons. They knew no English at the time and were struggling with their adjustment to life in Richmond. I worked with them for several years, helping them make appointments, shop and invited them to do things with my family. Then in 2015, the boys’ father became too ill to take care of them.

From an unlikely friendship with a Muslim refugee, God provided a place for Kasim’s boys. They were first placed in foster care in our home, and once their care plan goals turned to adoption, we knew that they were meant to be part of our family. The adoption of Thomas and Jason was finalized in December 2017.

I’ll admit that there have been adjustments for all of us, including our three biological children. We face challenges, as all parents do, but I hope that we are teaching our children the importance of love, family, sacrifice and acceptance of others. Recently, I asked Thomas what adoption meant to him. He told me “I don’t know. I guess it’s just like having another family who cares for you. It’s not losing your parents; it’s just gaining new ones who love you more.”

Journey of Love: Stories of Adoption

Steve’s Story

In 2001, my wife Susan and I began seriously considering the prospect of adoption. At the time, we had no children and the thought of adoption was something we both embraced. We did our homework and finally decided we would like to adopt a child from China. We began the process with mountains of paperwork and procedures, correspondence with home and foreign adoption agencies, and lots of travel to meet with various adoption services. Finally, after about 16 months, we received news of our placement along with a picture of our new child who was not yet a year old. We were absolutely thrilled and totally filled with joy.

In 2004, we traveled to China, along with nine other families from around the U.S., to meet our daughter, Molly. The friendships we formed during our trip have endured ever since. And in 2007, those friends led and supported us in adopting our second daughter, Menley, who was 13 months old at the time.

Just like many other parents, we endured sleepless nights, changed a ton of diapers and heard our share of tantrums while, at the same time, we have embraced their first steps, watched as they amazed us with their creativity, and stood broken hearted as they struggled when they first entered school. But trust me, the joys have far, far, outweighed the difficulties. We even considered adopting a third child, but overseas adoptions began to close.

Our extended families have totally embraced our children. Molly and Menley quickly became grandchildren, cousins, and nieces. They have asked questions about their biological parents, mostly out of curiosity, and we have always been as open as possible with them about their heritage and their culture. We were even able to return to China in 2018 to visit the cities where they were born.

The amazing thing is that they are truly sisters, even though we adopted them at different times and from different parts of China. They love each other and love us as their parents. I cannot imagine life without them. They are our true joy and I am so proud of them for the young women they are becoming. I realize our experience of adoption is not unique, as we have many friends who have traveled down the same path. I know that every process is not always easy but I sincerely believe that every kid deserves a chance to grow into the individual God wants them to be with a family who loves them. All that to say, I am a truly blessed man.

Journey of Love: Stories of Adoption

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by Allen Cumbia

You have heard the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” In a literal sense a sword can inflict great harm and even death, but in a figurative sense the product of a pen, the written word, has much greater power both for good and for evil.

calloutWords can be used to harm, to disparage, slander and express hate. The pen can be more destructive mentally and emotionally than any sword could ever inflict physical harm. But a pen can also be an instrument of uplifting, encouragement, good cheer, reinforcement and love. A pen can, through written words, inspire, motivate and challenge an individual to become someone greater than they might ever imagine.

The Power of a PenI was reminded of the great power of the pen during and after a stay in the hospital. Last November I underwent open-heart surgery to repair a defect in my mitral valve. I was in the hospital eight days, followed by an extended recovery period at home. It was during this time that my mailbox transformed from a junk mail, bills and sales flyer collector to a source of daily anticipation as I waited to see who I might hear from that day. You see, there was an outpouring of cards and letters wishing me well, offering prayers for swift healing and a quick return good health. I felt power in the thoughts and sentiments of friends and acquaintances as they offered words of hope and encouragement. I found joy in opening a card, reading a light-hearted greeting or heartfelt words of love and concern. They encouraged me to feel better and focus on healing, and that is what happened! I was thankful for the time and energy put into each greeting and well wish, and so grateful for the friends who cared enough to reach out and brighten my day.

Allen CumbiaCards and letters are really a ministry unto themselves. They’re not expensive, don’t take a long time to write or send, and they impact the recipient in powerful ways. In this age of digital communication, it is easy to be in touch, encourage and bless ones going through difficult times by sending an email, text or Facebook message. This is a great way to quickly span the distance between the sender and the recipient. But there is something special about receiving a card or letter delivered through the mail. Physically holding and touching that card, seeing funny, or more serious artwork and the message, and knowing that the last person to touch that card before you was the friend who sent it to you—that is about as close as you can get to having their physical presence there with you.

Anyone may easily minister to and bless others through the written word with a pen. I am so grateful to all that have recently touched me in this way, and would encourage you to do the same. You will probably never realize the true impact of this simple act of love and caring.

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Story and photos by Ann Carter

DNow work group

In Student Ministry at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, there are several annual events that anchor our year: Fall Retreat; Christmas Pageant; DiscipleNow Weekend, affectionately called DNow; and Mission Trips. I look forward to each of these events with great anticipation, but DNow has a special place in my heart because it is the one event that truly involves the whole congregation.

DNow large group
Home group

DNow is an intentional weekend for students in grades 6 through 12. The weekend is centered on a theme that incorporates all of the elements of faith formation: head, heart and hands. Youth take over the gym and Flamming Hall, and spend the weekend in worship, Bible study, service, play and community. It takes a whole host of amazing people to make this happen, and over the past 30 years that FBC has hosted DNow, the congregation has wholeheartedly supported the weekend activities.

First, there are the host homes. Each year about 15 FBC families open their homes to host small groups of our students, divided by grade and gender. Students pile into living rooms, family rooms, and bonus rooms, sleeping on air mattresses and in sleeping bags. Hosts prepare breakfast and dinner for students on Saturday—filling dining room and kitchen tables to capacity as students and families share a meal. It is beautiful to see the students embraced by adults who become like second parents, students doting on the children of the host home, and host home children blossoming under the students’ attention. The host parents model radical hospitality for the students who are staying with them, showing them what it looks like to open their homes and welcome others.

DNow leadersThen, there are the 30 small group leaders, college and graduate students, as well as young professionals who volunteer to be group leaders in a host home. Each host home has at least two young adult leaders who facilitate Bible Study times, coordinate the students’ activities and spend quality time with the students. One of my favorite things about our adult leaders is that most of them were FBC students not all that long ago. What a joy it is watching their faith practice evolve from student to leader. This is the point of DNow—and all student ministry for that matter—to provide opportunities to learn, to put faith into practice, and for lives to be formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others. During DNow weekend, these small group leaders are most definitely exhibiting the “for the sake of others” part of faith formation.

DNow groups in GymLast, but definitely not least, the DNow weekend wouldn’t happen without the creativity and hard work of the 15 members of the Student Ministry Team. This team is made up of parents and student ministry leaders who are the brains and the brawn behind the operation. They plan the activities, put up decorations, run the sound and lighting, coordinate and distribute food and recruit volunteers. Interestingly, four of our 15 members are former youth. I love that their youth experience was so consequential that they want to enable future generations of students to have the same meaningful experiences.

There are countless ways for all of our church family to be involved in DNow weekend. Last year 120 of you committed to pray for our students, their hosts and leaders during the weekend. Twelve drivers chauffeured students to mission sites, and from host homes to church and back again so host families could go about their regular Saturday family activities. Eleven Sunday school classes and 20 individuals donated money to provide scholarships for students who couldn’t afford to pay for the weekend, and to offset the cost of food and snacks for the host families. And, 800 of you worshiped with us on Sunday as our DNow weekend came to an end.

So, join us this year for our church-wide DNow weekend scheduled for February 15 through 17, 2019. You can host, lead, drive, pray, give or join us in worship as we go about the good work of faith formation. We can’t do it without you, and maybe your faith will be formed in new ways, too!

 

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By Steve Booth

callout

Richmond’s First Baptist Church is excited to welcome our new pastoral resident, Patrick Jackson. Patrick, a native of Tennessee, came from a home where church was a large part of his growing up environment. After high school, he had the opportunity to attend Harvard University, where he received the Bachelor of Arts degree. From there, Patrick moved to Washington, D.C., to work on Capitol Hill as a Legislative Assistant to a couple of members of Congress. In 1998 he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Law School where he studied law and received a Juris Doctor degree. After law school he practiced law in Columbus, Ohio, and became active in a local church. Though his professional life was extremely hectic, his love for the church grew and he became a devoted member of the music ministry. It was in that church-going environment that he began to sense a call for something more, “a still small voice” that manifested in some deep theological musings with friends. These musings caused many of Patrick’s friends to tease him and suggest that he consider going into the ministry, yet Patrick didn’t give it much thought at the time.

Yvette & Patrick JacksonAfter several years as an attorney in Columbus, Ohio, he returned to Washington, D.C., to work as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. While in Washington, Patrick married the former Yvette Hensley. As he and Yvette began attending church regularly, he found himself thinking more and more about his friends’ playful suggestion regarding vocational ministry. Patrick served as a faithful member of the praise and worship team, began leading a small group Bible study, and studied the Bible more intensely. It was through these experiences that God continued to prepare his heart for vocational ministry. Eventually Patrick was led to apply to the Spiritual Mentoring Program led by U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black. Patrick recounts, “One day after the regular weekly Bible study, Chaplain Black asked me if I ever thought about going to seminary.” Patrick’s response was, “I honestly said ‘no,’ but the question stirred something in me, something I believe had been percolating for some time.”

Returning to Columbus in 2011, Patrick and Yvette joined Patrick’s home church, where Patrick once again poured himself into the church’s music ministry. He remembers, “It felt different. I began to sense God’s tug on my heart for preaching and pastoring get stronger. I felt it so strongly that after much prayer and seeking wise counsel, I accepted God’s call, applied to seminary and matriculated at Andover Newton Theological School in August 2013.”

Patrick JacksonReflecting on his new position as pastoral resident at FBC Patrick explained, “One of the things I learned early on when I sensed God’s call to ministry was that it was a call to prepare. Although God has blessed me with a number of opportunities to gain valuable hands-on ministry experience, I know that I have a lot to learn. FBC is a tremendous place to learn, grow and fulfill this call to prepare.” He added that along with growing as a preacher and teacher at FBC, he wants to learn more about what it means to have a heart for the people of God. Both Patrick and Yvette are “excited to get to know our new church family.” We welcome Patrick and his family into our fellowship and are confident that God will bless us as we journey together over the next two years.

Editor’s note:
FBC began the pastoral residency program in the fall of 2010 when Lindsey McClintock accepted the call to serve at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Lindsey was followed by Hanna Zhu (2012-14), Nick Deere (2014-16), and Brett Holmes (2016-18). Our church family has been blessed by the contributions of these outstanding women and men. Our pastoral residency program stems from a desire to foster lasting, healthy leadership in new ministers while enriching and strengthening congregational life. The primary purpose of the residency program is to provide an opportunity for the next generation of vocational ministers to integrate theological education with the practice of ministry.

Our pastoral resident selection committee included Debbie Boykin, Sandy Shelton, Erin Cumbia, Rob Brown, Jim Somerville, Lynn Turner and Steve Booth.

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Story compiled by Nancy Mairs

Phil MitchellPhil Mitchell, Associate Pastor of Christian Worship at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, is not only an accomplished musician and choir director, but also a published author and composer of many handbell, choral and congregational hymns. He has blessed our church through music since 2001, and along the way found time to earn a Doctor of Ministry degree from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. His ministry to us has been rich, so perhaps the best way to know and understand Phil better is by reading some heart-felt sentiments from those who know him best and have served with him during his time at First Baptist.1

Becky Payne, retired Associate Minister of Music/Organist

“Imagine what God can do with hands that are open, with hearts made new…”
Those lyrics were written by my friend and co-worker, Phil Mitchell, and, we have seen “what God can do…” through Phil’s life. He is an unusually gifted musician, choral director, soloist, instrumentalist, composer, and most importantly, a true minister.

Phil’s wonderful combination of skills has brought meaningful and beautiful music to the life and worship of our church through the years. He has done this by using his skills and training while giving opportunities and encouragement to our youth and adults to share their musical gifts.

I have been privileged to serve with many music ministers, but Phil is the most easy-going and gentle-natured of them all. Musicians are often labeled as “temperamental”—not Phil. I believe this is because he genuinely cares about people—those with whom he serves and those he leads in the music ministry. He has discovered the secret to fulfilling his calling; he blends his giftedness and caring to create a true sense of community and family among those he leads.

We continue to be blessed by his leadership, his music and his servant-heart.

Kathy Thompson, choir member

I have had the privilege of being a member of the adult choir for several years. Every week Phil chooses music that enhances our worship and brings us a little closer to God. Phil’s gifts and talents create an atmosphere of learning and fun, and gives us the opportunity to work together to make music. His knowledge, understanding, and creativity motivate us to better lead our congregation in worship. Phil inspires, teaches, encourages, entertains, loves us and always leads us to become a better choir. Most importantly, Phil makes worship a priority and through his example, our worship becomes more meaningful. Phil Mitchell is a gift to FBC.

Steve Booth, Associate Pastor, Christian Formation

Phil and I first met when I joined the pastoral staff of Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston Salem, North Carolina in 1990. Phil was serving as the Minister of Music and was already a highly regarded member of the Ardmore staff. He was loved by the congregation, especially those involved in the music ministry. In only a few years, Phil had raised the bar musically and was regarded as one of the most effective pastoral ministers on staff. When I was exploring a call to join our FBC staff, I contacted Phil, who had been here for a little over a year. He reassured and encouraged me to come and be part of one of the most gifted and caring pastoral staffs he had ever experienced. I’ve been thankful for his good words then, and inspired and challenged by his wisdom and uncanny insight into pastoral ministry ever since. I’m grateful to call him colleague and friend. And, on the more playful side of his personality, I’ll never forget his love for the characters of the Andy Griffith Show. If you haven’t heard Phil’s impression of Barney or Gomer, you are missing out on the fun!

Devra Powers, choir member

Phil Mitchell wears many hats. Not only is he our “choir director,” he is minister of music, worship planner/leader, composer, teacher, encourager, and spiritual leader. One important part of his ministry is his spiritual leadership. He is a student of the Revised Common Lectionary which is used to guide the theme of our worship services. Phil doesn’t just read the week’s scripture but uses the lectionary in his personal devotional time. He works to incorporate hymns and anthems related to the Lectionary readings into our weekly worship service, and collaborates with other leaders to give order and meaning to each worship service. The way the music, readings, and other elements come together around a central theme in the worship service is not accidental. It is the result of prayer and careful planning. Anthems are selected and rehearsed many weeks prior to the service. Phil challenges us as choir members to expand our skills. He reminds us to not just learn the music, but to really hear and understand the words and meaning of what we sing. And, he encourages us to sing those words with clarity so that they will minister to those who are listening. During choir practices, he shares his heart with thoughts about life and his views of music ministry. Each rehearsal ends with an encouraging word, prayer concerns, and then he leads us in closing prayer. He shared with me that two of his favorite hymns are Amazing Grace and O God Beyond All Praising. No surprise when you also know that one of his life scriptures is from Psalm 121, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.”

So with hands that are open and a heart willing to be made new, our friend and associate, Phil Mitchell, has shown us what God can do, and continues to do through those who love him and are called according to His purposes.

choir rehearsal


1 Phil Mitchell’s daughter, Erin Thomas, contributed a love letter about her dad, Just My Dad, which is too lengthy to include with the other sentiments in this article. Since Erin’s reflections on her dad are too good not to share, you can access them by clicking on the link above.

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