Shawn Mitchell (83) has a passion for sharing the Gospel. That passion took him to Israel and Europe. It led him to become a pastor and a chaplain for the San Diego Chargers. His wife, Laurie, says evangelism is Shawn’s greatest gift, and it’s a gift he started using as a college student.
Because of Point Loma, I studied in Israel and was asked back to speak to U.S. servicemen stationed in Europe,” Shawn said. “I was then invited to help smuggle Bibles into Communist countries. We traveled 1,500 miles and brought something like 1,800 Bibles and tapes to Hungary and Yugoslavia.”
Shawn described how he and his team hid notes, tapes, and pages of Scripture in the tongues of their shoes, the cuffs of their jeans, and the linings of their coats. Whenthey shared the Bibles and tapes with people, they were repeatedly asked if they had more. Though he didn’t understand the local language, Shawn said one word they’d speak was universal: “Hallelujah!”
When Shawn returned from Europe, he pastored at several churches, including Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego. While at Horizon, he was asked to speak to the San Diego Padres baseball team, which led to him serving as the Padres chaplain or several years. He was then invited to speak to the San Diego Chargers. Now in his 27th season with the team, he’s become the longest-tenured chaplain in the National Football League, sharing Jesus with thousands of athletes in his career.
“It’s been a blessing,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shawn and Laurie moved to Oceanside in 1988. It was there that God gave Shawn what he described as a “burden for sharing Jesus” with his neighbors. That burden grew into a “vision for creating a church that didn’t feel like a church,” where he could share Jesus “in a comfortable environment.” That vision became Shawn’s “passion.” From there, God turned it into a “calling.”
“We started with seven people – me, my wife, Laurie, and five others – in my living room in 1989. At our first Sunday service, we had 57 people. I wondered if they would come back, but they did – and they brought their friends,” Shawn said.
New Venture Christian Fellowship had 400 members at the end of the first year, he said. There were 1,000 people at the end of the second year and 2,000 after the third. Today, about 4,000 call New Venture their church home. The church also runs a pre-K through junior high school that goes through ninth grade. Plans are to include a 10th grade class next year.
Not everything in Shawn’s life has gone as smoothly as his career, however. On March 9, 2008, Shawn was preaching at New Venture when he suddenly had trouble maintaining his balance.
“I thought it was fatigue, but at the end of the morning services, I couldn’t get my leg into the car to go home,” Shawn said. “One of the church deacons had to drive me home.”
A few hours later, Shawn collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room. A brain scan revealed a hemorrhage from a broken blood vessel on the left side of his brain. With his wife and 16-year-old son, Shawn, Jr., in the room, the doctors told Shawn that the vessel
was too deep for them to be able to drill into his skull to help relieve the pressure from the bleeding. If the bleeding didn’t stop on its own, they said, he would likely not survive the next few hours.
“I tell people it’s a miracle,” Shawn said. “It didn’t stop on its own. Dr. Jesus stopped it. Dr. Jesus stopped the bleeding.”
The continued miracle is that after five months of recovery – which meant not preaching or speaking – Shawn regained his strength. At the time of his interview, he said he was nearing 100 percent and expected to be there in the next few months.
“I’m grateful it didn’t take away my speech or my ability to walk,” Shawn said. “I have to believe the Lord has more for me to do. I really believe if you are breathing, you’re blessed. It’s a blessing to serve Him and to be here awhile longer with my family. I’m just very grateful.”
His family, congregation, and team are grateful, too.