Come on, Mitch. You can do it!

It was one of my more surprising letters. A few weeks ago, I received a news article in the mail from Rev. Darrell (Mitch) Mitchell, a retired pastor in the Iowa Annual Conference. Darrell had been highlighted in the Morningside College alumni newsletter, Alumni Showcase. What you need to know about Darrell is that he has been a runner for much of his life. However, it wasn’t until he reached his 80’s that Darrell came into his own as an athlete.

In the article, Mitchell says that he grew up in a loving home and became more serious about his faith when he was in high school. He started with something as simple as saying grace at the dinner table. He said, “It was Rev. John Ackman who helped me get enrolled at Morningside College. I chose it over any state institution because of their Christian values. With a faculty holding moral values and Christian organizations on campus, it built confidence in my life.”

Darrell, 92, developed a love for running when he was a student at Morningside, and the well-known NFL football coach, George Allen, was his track coach. Even to this day, Mitchell can hear Allen’s words of encouragement in an effort to develop his confidence, “Come on, Mitch. You can do it!” Darrell’s theme verse is Hebrews 12:1 (RSV), Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

During Darrell’s time at Morningside, he became part of a religious group on campus, which gave him confidence to share his faith and practice Christian values. Adult mentors inspired him to commit his life to making a difference in the world.

Mitchell grew up on a farm in Perry, Iowa. He actually felt a call to ministry from his childhood pastor, who recognized something in Darrell and often asked him to help out in the Methodist church he attended. It was during his senior year in high school that Darrell responded to an altar call, saying to himself, “I want to do something for God.” After graduating from college, Darrell enrolled in Wesley Theological Seminary in Maryland. He then spent three years taking Clinical Pastoral Education classes so he would be better equipped to provide pastoral care in the churches he would serve.

In Mitchell’s long and distinguished ministry career, he always sought to empathize with hurting people and was an advocate for social justice. Darrell’s first church was Gray Methodist Church, where his annual salary was $3,600.

Mitchell began his running career when he turned 50. At 57, Darrell participated in the Iowa Senior Games in Des Moines and kept at it for many years, winning over 200 gold medals and many more silver and bronze medals. He has always persisted, even when he tore the hamstring in his right leg when he was 85 years old. One doctor said Darrell should give up running. But after three months of physical therapy, Mitchell went to the local YMCA, worked out for several months and was able to run again. “Come on, Mitch. You can do it!”

Perhaps Darrell’s most significant accomplishment was running in the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2019 at age 91. Mitchell qualified for ten National Senior Games, and whenever he competed, he took a grandchild with him. It was always a great joy for the grandchildren to watch their grandpa run and compete. As Darrell prepared for the Senior Games, he explained how he trained. He said that he decided at age 70 to save his legs by doing exercises like fast walking, using the elliptical machine, and lots of stretching. Darrell added, “It’s also important to stretch your mind and heart as well.”

Urged on by his entire family, who were wearing red t-shirts with the words, “So let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,” Darrell won gold medals in both the 200 and 400 meters and wore a black t-shirt with these words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He said, “When I crossed the finish line, it was like my track coach (coach) Allen telling me, ‘Come on, Mitch, you can do it!’” And he did.

In a phone conversation, Darrell said that he has no more running goals and has now taken up other hobbies, like bowling and painting. Darrell and his wife live in an apartment where he might run a few miles of the treadmill. He also has a big garden and is guarding his health by trying to keep in shape.

Several years ago, Darrell wrote a memoir called Grandpa Darrell Rocks and Runs. What impressed me most about Darrell and his long ministry is what he shared as the most important values in his life:

  • Building self-esteem is so important. We need to encourage one another and fill others with positive feelings.
  • Do not give up when things go wrong. Turn to God in faith and reach out for hope and wholeness.
  • Treat your body like the temple of God that it is.
  • Work toward a peaceful world.
  • Find ways to deal with your stress.
  • Let Christian hope enter into your life even when times are tough.
  • We humans can do far more than we think we can.
  • Fear of failure prevents us from becoming all we can be.
  • Don’t just stretch your legs. Stretch your mind and heart as well. In 2011, Mitchell received a special award from the Methodist Federation for Social Action for his efforts to bring and social justice to Israel.

Darrell stayed healthy and enjoyed a long ministry career because he remained physically active, pushed himself to improve, and modeled for his congregation members how to reach out to a hurting world.

Come on, Mitch! You can do it! And so can we, with God’s help and the loving support of family and friends.

P.S. This is the last blog until September. May you take intentional time this summer to slow down, spend quality time with family and friends, and reach out to the least, the last, and the lost with the love of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

As the Speeches Conclude

Inspiring flexible, confident thinkers since 1894
Cultivating a passion for life-long learning
and a dedication to ethical leadership and civic responsibility.

These are the vision and mission statements of our United Methodist-related Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. A few days ago, I had the privilege of participating in the Board of Directors meeting at Morningside. I also addressed the graduating students at their Commencement and received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Because of the Pandemic, traveling and meeting in groups has been highly restricted over the past fifteen months. However, Morningside College has continued to flourish due to President John Reynders’ unwavering commitment to excellence in higher education, the strategic way he has led the college through COVID-19, and the fact that 90% of Morningside graduates find meaningful employment within a year. Most amazing, in the midst of the Pandemic, Morningside College had the fourth largest incoming class in its history and is transforming itself into a university as of June 1, 2021.

Iowa is unique in having four outstanding United Methodist colleges within its borders: Morningside College, Cornell College, Iowa Wesleyan University, and Simpson College. I could say many good things about each of them, but I am focusing specifically today upon Morningside, which never shut down during the Pandemic but rather reinvented itself. With a well-crafted response to COVID-19, professors and administrators were determined not to give in to easy answers but rather to develop a new way of learning. Faculty and staff met every day beginning in mid-March 2020 to assess and reevaluate their response and ensure that everyone was moving online. The culture of mutual support was evidenced by the fact that students began emailing faculty to see how they were doing!

The campus held together as COVID defined their way of life. But it was President Reynders himself who became the chief cheerleader and encourager as Morningside moved through this past year with confidence and hope. President Reynders is now beginning his 22nd year as President of Morningside College.

In the midst of so much uncertainty and change, new programs and opportunities continue to emerge.

  • The nursing program is now offering its first doctorate program, a Doctor of Nursing Practice. An RN to BSN program has also been launched, and the clinical nurse leader program is ranked 4th in the nation according to RegisteredNursing.org.
  • There are 1,200 undergraduates on campus during the academic year, but there are also 1,400 graduate students who are working on Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Science in Nursing, and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees. There is 11 Master of Teaching Tracks.
  • Morningside has an awesome athletic program!
  • Morningside has recently received two Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) grants from the National Science Foundation, totaling almost $1.3 million.

I am intrigued by several other creative initiatives.

  • A new aviation program is developing in tandem with industry partners.
  • The Morningside Board of Directors has created a Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
  • Especially exciting is the Regina Roth Applied Agricultural & Food Studies program, a new and fast-growing major. The college is currently constructing a campus greenhouse, as well as an outdoor classroom and test plot area.

More important than any degree program, however, is Morningside College’s commitment to focus on forming character as well as promoting simple book knowledge. Morningside is more intent on fostering integrity and justice than it is on getting ahead. And Morningside promotes civic responsibility and service in its students as much as the development of technical skills. In short, Morningside forms the whole person.

I concluded my speech on Saturday by reiterating these words to the graduating students. “Here is the heart of the matter, and this is why Morningside stands out among other institutions of higher education and is making a difference in Iowa, our country, and our world. Morningside inspires flexible, confident thinkers. Morningside promotes life-long learning, ethical leadership, and civic responsibility. And Morningside fosters the ability of students to continually reinvent themselves.

President Reynders and Morningside College are just one example of hundreds of

United Methodist-related schools, colleges, and universities that are unique to the communities and regions they serve. However different, they all share a commitment to expanding educational accessibility and training new generations of leaders for the betterment of the world. President Reynders’ respect for The United Methodist Church and our connection as United Methodists with Morningside and the many other United Methodist-related colleges and universities is a great gift to our students and to the church.

I reminded the gathering, “Much of the formation of Morningside College is related to The United Methodist Church, which was started in the 18th century by John Wesley in England. Toward the end of the year 1739, about ten persons came to Mr. Wesley in London and asked if he would pray with them and teach them. Wesley then divided his followers into groups and exhorted them to “watch over one another in love.” He also formed what was called the General Rules of the Methodist Church, laying out what was expected of his followers. Today we shorten them to Three Simple Rules: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.

“Whether you begin your career in the work world or choose to continue your education, following these three simple rules will ground your values, your ethics, and your actions. Do no harm to one another. Find ways to do good in our world. And honor the God who lovingly created you as a unique one-of-a-kind individual and invites you to a lifetime of service. Wherever the road takes you, may God’s grace lead you on the journey.”

At the end, I invited those who were graduating to receive this blessing (written by Rev. Jay Moyers) and all those who were supporting the graduates to overhear.

As your classes and grading are now complete, may you strive toward excellence in all you do.

As the speeches conclude,
may your voices rise up to pronounce justice and peace in the world.
As the fanfares cease, may you sing of joy, even in the dark and lonely places.
As the applause quiets, may you celebrate and lift up those around you.
As you graduate, may your achievements grow and produce growth in your communities.
And may we all know of the overwhelming blessings of the One who created all things.

Go in peace to serve God and your neighbor in all that you do. Amen.

No Time Like Spring

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894) was an English poet who came from a family of literary accomplishment. Christina began writing as a child and published her first poem when she was eighteen years old. Rosetti was a person of deep faith, which is evidenced in her poetry and three books of devotions. Rosetti is best known for her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter”, which is still a beloved Christmas carol today. (The United Methodist Hymnal #221)

What can I give him? Poor as I am;
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
But what I can I give him; Give him my heart.

One of Rosetti’s most popular poems is simply entitled Spring.

Frost-locked all the winter,
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
What shall make their sap ascend
That they may put forth shoots?
Tips of tender green,
Leaf, or blade, or sheath;
Telling of the hidden life
That breaks forth underneath,
Life nursed in its grave by Death. 

Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly,
Drips the soaking rain,
By fits looks down the waking sun:
Young grass springs on the plain;
Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees;
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
Swollen with sap, put forth their shoots;
Curled-headed ferns sprout in the lane;
Birds sing and pair again.

There is no time like Spring,
When life’s alive in everything,
Before new nestlings sing,
Before cleft swallows speed their journey back
Along the trackless track, –
God guides their wing,
God spreads their table that they nothing lack, –
Before the daisy grows a common flower,
Before the sun has power
To scorch the world up in his noontide hour. 

There is no time like Spring,
Like Spring that passes by;
There is no life like Spring-life born to die, –
Piercing the sod,
Clothing the uncouth clod,
Hatched in the nest,
Fledged on the windy bough,
Strong on the wing:
There is no time like Spring that passes by,
Now newly born, and now
Hastening to die.

Indeed, there is no time like spring.

[i] Spring is in the public domain.