HOLLISTER, Mo. (BP)–New Beginnings Fellowship is remembering its late youth pastor as a man who cared deeply about young people — especially those who carried the label “down and out.”
Nate Mitchem, 32, died Sept. 11 of a heart attack due to a congenital birth defect, according to the preliminary report of the medical examiner provided to the family and obtained by pastor Dennis Webb of the Hollister, Mo., congregation. Taney County Coroner Kevin Tweedy told the Springfield News-Leader that it likely would take eight weeks after the Sept. 14 autopsy for toxicology results to come back.
On the evening of Sept. 9, Mitchem was driving 17 people in a church van meant to carry 14 passengers. It went off the road and landed on its top in Kohler Creek, the News-Leader reported.
A total of 16 children were hospitalized, Webb said. Three were kept overnight. The last one with injuries was released Sept. 11, Webb said. All are expected to make a complete recovery.
Mitchem was charged with child endangerment and imprudent driving, the News-Leader reported. His injuries from the accident were considered minor, the News-Leader reported.
His death a mere two days after the crash led many in the four-year-old church to reflect on his three years in their midst. His passing came on the same weekend when the church was to open its new facility, on Sept. 13. More than 500 people were present that day for a congregation that generally runs about 200. More than 10 people made professions of faith.
“He made an enormous impact on parents,” Webb said. “Many parents that I have never seen before and who have never been to New Beginnings Fellowship have called me to tell of Nate’s impact on their family. They do so with many tears and much grief. Several of them were in church on Sunday.
“What does it say about a man when people will come to church for the first time because of a man’s memory? He was loved by parents and youth the same. He will be missed deeply by all the New Beginnings Fellowship family.”
The legacy of Mitchem’s life in the church is centered around his love for children.
“In our very first conversation, he expressed a deep passion for the youth of Hollister,” Webb said. “He didn’t know how he could make an impact on them. He just knew he had to. It was his calling.”
After spending some time helping the church’s youth leader, he was named full-time youth pastor.
“Nate was a kid magnet,” Webb said. “He attracted kids of all kinds, but especially the down-and-outers. Kids whose lives were messed up and from dysfunctional backgrounds felt safe and accepted with Nate.”
At the visitation, one young man told Webb, “Nate was the only person to ever come see me. He is the only person to ever treat me like I was someone special. I have no other friends.”
At the funeral Sept. 16, the College of the Ozarks chapel was packed with nearly 600 mourners who heard the Gospel. Webb said his sense of the crowd, with many unchurched people who were looking for answers, was that at least one turned to Christ that day.
Mitchem is survived by his wife Crystal and son David.
Allen Palmeri is associate editor of The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.