Pardon my flashback today, but I think you will agree it is appropriate. We will return to New England on Saturday. Tomorrow I want to talk about goats...again!
My old friend Steve Semmler called from Ohio last night, and it was not with good news. He had just learned that Luke Mitchell, 24 year old son of Rob and Susan Mitchell in NC, has been diagnosed with leukemia. Steve and Rob have remained close over the years, and Steve just felt the need to call someone else who would understand. I am so glad he called.
Rob Mitchell was one of our youth leaders at New Garden Friends Meeting during our final years of high school. He followed David Brown (see DB3 including new picture!), which meant he had very big shoes to fill in our eyes. But fill them he did! In the process, Rob showed me a model for being a youth pastor that I followed my entire ministry, even if I didn't really recognize that fact until last night. I can be a little slow...
Rob came to us as a Guilford College student, but not a Quaker, which meant he taught us new things in new ways. He knew the Bible well, knew some of the new "contemporary church music" and could play the guitar. He taught both Steve and I guitar lessons. In fact, he taught us lots of things, some of which you would not have expected from a youth pastor. Even though he was older and had his own friends at the college, Rob treated us as friends too. He told us jokes, shared his feelings and helped us decide which girls were the prettiest, and we really got to know him well. The Stephen Stills album cover above is here because Rob loved it- he always thought it looked so awesome to be sitting out in the snow playing his guitar (and he looks a little like Rob!). For all of us, Rob simply became a part of our lives- a part we could trust, count on, and go to when things got bad. For 28 years that was the way I hoped youth described me. It was only while praying for Luke last night that God reminded me where I learned it.
Perhaps my most lasting memory of Rob was one of the last from those memorable days with the New Garden gang. Steve, Roy Parkhurst, Joe Willingham, myself and the rest of the recent graduates were preparing to leave for college. Rob put together a special service for us in the basement at New Garden, and had the other youth wash our feet, as Jesus had done for the disciples. This was TOTALLY out of the norm for us, a scarament in a Friends Meeting. But it was incredible and it was moving, and I have never forgotten it. Rob taught me that too- step outside the box and you can reach students in new ways. Thank you, Rob, for all that you gave me- even if it took me 32 years to notice.
I have been out of touch with Rob and Susan for many years. I do not even know Luke or the rest of their family. But the Family of God is much bigger, much stronger and much more important than who you see or talk to. I am praying for the Mitchell family, and I hope you will too, even if you don't know them. Jesus loves them, and if we follow the Savior, then we are all family. May God pour out his mercy on them.
And Steve- thanks for calling. You're still the best, buddy, and someday before too long we need to walk on the beach and sing some Hurricane Smith or some Beach Boys- or maybe even a little Twinkle, Twinkle Little Planet...
Because of Jesus,