Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Douglas Wright Mitchell, 1934-2008

I got the call from Jeni at about 10:30 during a Tuesday morning staff meeting at the church office. My mobile phone vibrated on my hip, and when I saw it was her calling, I thought, "This must be important" because she's normally teaching school at this time, and she knows I'm in staff meeting. I excused myself to take the call. "Daddy just killed himself," she said through tears. It was a shock to us and to all who knew Douglas. He took his own life at about 9:00 pm behind the farm house where he lived with Peggy, his wife of over fifty years. It was Monday night there, April 7.

For the last two or three years, Douglas had struggled quietly with depression. Doctors said the cause was a chemical imbalance. We don’t really know why or how he struggled so. Douglas was a man of few words and did not share many of his innermost thoughts.

Jeni, Sarah, and I flew home for the funeral. Abby picked us up at the airport in Tampa and we drove north to the farm near Quitman, Georgia. I had the privilege of leading the simple graveside service at Okapilco Baptist Church in Brooks County. Douglas had been pastor of this little country church twice. Many if not most of the members are related to him. It was his first church to pastor as a young man, and his last church after a long career of bivocational, small church pastoring in Georgia and Florida. The current pastor, Brother Bob, opened with Scripture and prayer. Grandson Jake read the obituary. I did the eulogy. Friends, family members, and members of Douglas's former churches shared funny stories and memories of a life lived serving others. Sarah led out in song, and Jeni and I joined her in "Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone."
Douglas was a family man, a church man, a man of the land, and a man of few words. He baptized all three of his daughters and officiated at each of their weddings. He hunted, fished, farmed, and gave away the vegetables. He served five churches in his career as a Southern Baptist pastor. And he was a good shepherd. He visited his flock, cared for the sick, preached the Word, comforted the bereaved, witnessed to the lost, and led his churches to support missions. He was a life-long learner. He was making plans for new Bible studies and a new series of sermons -- even right up to the day he died. Douglas's favorite verse of Scripture was, By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Jeni's call to missions service came as a result of the many missions conferences in the churches of her childhood. I'm grateful to God and to Douglas that Jeni heard the stories of those many missionaries and eventually went to seminary for missionary training -- because that's where we met, fell in love, and sensed God's call to serve Him together (Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth).

Douglas is being missed greatly by those who knew him and loved him. And some people are struggling with guilt that they didn't pay closer attention, or say something, or do something to prevent his final act of desperation. But I believe, from his vantage point now, he would say, “Don’t worry; don’t feel guilty. Just keep on loving others, and loving God.”

To Peggy, Vickie, Nancy, Jeni, and all the relatives: I pray regularly that the Lord will keep giving comfort and peace for the grieving process. May the good memories, funny stories, and the anticipation of a heavenly reunion lift our spirits.

Thank you, Douglas, for being a fine example of a good pastor.


Jeffcoat House said...

Please give our condolences as well. My prayers will be for you and yours in the coming days as it continues to be difficult during certain times of the year. We love you guys!

Jon Las said...

Wow, Todd! Sounds like he was one of kind minister of the Gospel, a father and a friend.
Please know that from my side of the world prayers to the Lord are expressed on your behalf.

Todd Nelson said...

Sugar and Jon,

Thanks, friends, for your condolences and prayers. God is good. Jeni still has occasional waves of grief, but that's normal. She was close to her daddy.