New Castle News

May 6, 2013

Making a Difference: Faith leads Gary Mitchell from felony conviction to minister of the word

Sam Luptak Jr.
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Gary Mitchell received the City Rescue Mission’s Joe Jameson Volunteer Award on Saturday.

The honor, bestowed at the Mission’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner, is named for a longtime volunteer and Rescue Mission supporter and given to a person who demonstrates the same effort and humility that Joe Jameson did.

The Rev. Chuck Gavroy saw those qualities in Mitchell when he nominated him for this year’s award.

 “Gary has been a faithful volunteer here in the men’s ministry for over four years,” he wrote in his nomination letter. “Gary has consistently demonstrated love for our clients by conducting morning devotions at least once a week on Thursday mornings. He teaches three classes to the recovery men a week, takes men to church, has discipled and mentored men on his own time, after normal mission hours, and has shown a committed spirit of care to and for our men.

“His consistent Christian character demonstrates to the men that Christianity works. It truly has legs; in short, ‘he walks the talk.’ He is willing at any time to meet with any of our clients to counsel or simply listen to their problems.”

Mitchell has not always been the subject of such glowing reviews. By his own admission, his life is marked with mistakes and poor choices, but it is those choices that have led him to become the man he is today.

Mitchell recalls becoming involved with drugs after the loss of his mother, who died after surviving nine previous heart attacks. His self-medication became a habit, and he soon found ways to make that habit self-supporting. In 2002, a jury convicted Mitchell on two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, both felonies, and additional misdemeanor counts. He was sentenced to 2 to 10 years in prison

 It was there that Mitchell rediscovered the Christian faith he had grown up with. Under the tutelage of volunteer ministers, Mitchell found his faith blooming and growing stronger. Soon he was leading the preaching and teaching.

By what Mitchell considers a miracle of God’s timing, he was released from prison after only 18 months, but that was all it took to make him a changed man.

“They weren’t bad times. They were truly correcting times.” Mitchell said. “The department of corrections works, if you allow it to.”

Once released, Mitchell’s life took a radical shift. He became a minister and began working with other men whose lives had taken a wrong turn.

He became a pillar of the community.

In addition to his work at the Rescue Mission, Mitchell also works as an associate minister at St. Paul Baptist Church. He is vice president of the Lawrence County Cancer Volunteers. He teaches Bible studies at the Lawrence County jail, and he works with the food distribution program at St. Vitus Church.

In October 2005, he founded Rebuilding Life Ministry, his own outreach to those in prison, built around helping pick up the pieces of broken lives and rebuilding a new life on the foundation of Christ.

If Mitchell’s name seems familiar, it may be because he ran for and successfully won a seat on New Castle’s city council in 2011. However, Pennsylvania’s constitution prohibits people convicted of an “infamous crime” from holding office. The state Supreme Court has defined any felony as an “infamous crime.”

Because of this, Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa filed a complaint, seeking to block Mitchell from taking office, and in March 2012, a common pleas court judge ruled that Mitchell could not take his seat on city council.

Mitchell holds no ill will or bitterness for that decision. “God is in control,” he said. “There was something for me to learn or gain by that experience.”

When asked what he would change from his past, Mitchell is both quick and emphatic in his answer. “Nothing!,” he said. “Had I not gone through what I’ve gone through, I would have missed something in my shaping. If I had never got high, I would never be a minister today.”

It is that exuberance and heart for helping others that earned Pastor Gary Mitchell his Outstanding Volunteer Award and the respect of his community.