The insight I gained during my visit to the church of Christ in Blackfoot Idaho, I gained as I listened to the stories of some folks who kindly hosted us, though I barely knew them.
Thomas was a middle child, born between two brothers in 1950. Raised by Christian parents, Alfred and May, in Loveland, Colorado, he was blessed to be raised by Christian parents and also chose to give his life to Christ.
Thomas went to schools in Colorado, New Mexico, California, and lived in numerous cities and houses following his father around to various jobs. They finally ended up in Belleview, Colorado where he and his brothers were free to roam the hillsides around their house hunting and fishing together. He took summer jobs on a ranch outside of Laramie, Wyoming and fell in love with the “Cowboy way of Life” learning the art of horseback riding and working with mother cows and calves. Life was good until April 7, 1970, at the age of 19, he was drafted to fight in Vietnam. The conditions he witnessed and the experiences he witnessed were so brutal, he seldom speaks of these times, except to say that on his first day out he thought that there was no way he was ever going to make it out alive. As an infantryman, he was trained to kill the enemy in a position called the “Army Grunt” in the 101st Airborne Division. He turned 20 and 21 during his weeks on end in the vast jungle of Vietnam, enduring every through monsoon and sweltering heat as he often carried 100 pounds of supplies in his ruck sack on resupply day.
The immorality around him was as thick as the southeast Asian jungle, and the weapon he used to fight for the life of his soul was the little New Testament he carried with him that his Grandmother had given him when he left. Tom endured this trial for 14 ½ months, and then, by the grace of God, came home having sustained only minor injuries, and by the strength God supplies, was quite successful putting these memories and events behind him and going forward in his life with a stronger faith in God.
When he returned home, November 11, 1971, he found his older brother, Jack had gotten married and his little brother, Ray was to be married in two weeks. And as “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28) he met the love of his life, Kate at the wedding and they were married May 26, 1972. Tom helped Kate learn what God says about baptism and New Testament Christianity, and she was baptized into Christ shortly thereafter.
Through the years Tom has worked a variety of jobs. Carpentry, Fence Building, - Ranch hand on ranches in Colorado and Wyoming loving the work with horses and cows and calves. Tom and Kate lived and worked on 2 ranches, one in summer and one in winter, southwest of Laramie, WY for about 2 years, but they realized that living 75 miles from the Lord’s church, along with working daily around very worldly people, was starting to take its toll on their spiritual lives. The winters were harsh and snowy, keeping them from traveling the miles to worship in Fort Collins, CO quite often, so they decided to move to Idaho in 1977. The small church of Christ meeting in Blackfoot had yet to understand the errors of liberalism and institutionalism, so Tom and Kate patiently and thoroughly examined the scriptures with the humble, teachable hearts there, and were able to come to a common understanding and unity in how to best honor God’s instructions in all things.
For two years Tom went through the Idaho State University Trade and Technical School graduating with a certificate of Welding in 1979, achieved recognition and awards in his field, and eventually accepted the job of Welding instructor at a high school 1987 where he did much good in the lives of his students, so much so, that even today, some of his students still keep in touch with him and attribute him for much of their success in life.
In 1993 Tom and Kate started their own family welding shop, Industrial Metal Enterprises. in 1993. The grit, courage, drive, and prayer the venture took was exceptionally challenging. Then all those qualities became indispensable when, in 1998, Tom and Kate experienced the most trying moments of their lives when their youngest son, Casey had a terrible auto accident leaving him with head and brain trauma with only a 3% chance of making it through a life or death surgery. Together they begged God for mercy while the surgery went on and on into the night. Things were getting worse, when even the doctors had given up on him, believing his accident would be fatal, but then the next morning, Casey began to move, because an Intelligent Designer created a blood vessel to go from the left side of our brain to the right side and it kept the flow of blood going. Thank heaven! Casey was still alive. Recovery would be a steep, uphill battle in months and years that would follow, but Casey was able to graduate with his class in 2002.
Tom firmly believes in the power of God through his Word and that we are not to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ and that we must live by faith.( Romans 1:16-17). One way he has shared the gospel with others is the 14 years he has been a member of the board of trustees for Truth Publications Inc., and continues to serve in that capacity today. Through years of deep Bible study the congregation in Blackfoot has strived to continue being a sound, conservative body of Christ in his kingdom. Tom became one of two elders in the Blackfoot Church of Christ and served in that capacity from 1992 – 2002, until the other elder resigned.
Four years after Casey’s accident, he slipped on the irrigation ditch fatally hitting his head on the ground and he died on Sept 15, 2002. This was totally devastating to the family, having already endured so much.
Tom, the strong head of our family, guided every member of it through the valley by encouraging each of them to look for the good, to use this hard trial to grow stronger in the Lord by putting their trust in Him alone and to look to Him for strength and courage to carry on. This great loss would affect and change their lives forever, but they let God use that shared pain to pull them so much closer to Him and to each other, and stand firm in their faith and hope to live their lives so that they will see their Heavenly Father, as well as Casey again someday.
At the time Mark and I stayed with Tom and Kate Mitchell in Blackfoot, Idaho, their business had been going strong for 27 years. Tom and Kate let us pet the soft muzzles of their horses and told us stories of cowboy life, including the day the gate was left open and 16 horses ran out down the busy street, half in one direction and half in another. They drove us through the grounds of the successful business they had built for a humble little show and tell. As we pulled out, I thanked them for their example, which is really a testimony of what can be achieved by living life God’s way --- with faithfulness, integrity and diligence. Clearly, this business they are now retiring from will continue to be a blessing to their family, their community, and the 60 employees that provide a living for their families by working at Industrial Metal Enterprises. How different this country would be if everyone were as open to the wisdom of God and if everyone lived it out day by day.
At lunch after worship, before we left town, we had time to talk. When the conversation turned to how my mother had obeyed the gospel after a year-long Bible study with Frank Thompson who would NOT give up. My most stubborn stallions to train are often my best horses because of their mental strength”, Tom offered. We talked about how one of the members of the congregation happened to be the son of Frank Thompson. It was then that Tom was moved to tears and brushed them away, at just the thought of how his friend might be feeling today over the fact that Mark, who had preached, was only there because of the Bible class that he grandfather had taught decades ago to my mother. Crying can be a manly thing sometimes. Jesus wept. So did King David. It takes courage to feel, and even more gallantry to allow others to witness what you feel. Moreover, a strong man crying from joy over spiritual realities, especially in empathy for what another brother might also be feeling? It’s a beautiful thing.
What comfort this level of hospitality we’ve enjoyed within your body of Christ, and what strength and encouragement Tom and Kate lent us for the rest of our journey.