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Bill Mitchell: Missions Pastor

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What does your job involve?
I oversee the Missions Ministry at First Baptist Orlando including our venues and mission churches, Center For Pregnancy, Lydia House (transitional home for ladies), Language Missions, 2nd Chances Resale Shoppe, Evangelism Training, Local Missions and National and International Mission Partnerships. I am blessed to work alongside Andrew Bosco (Evangelism), Charlie Weatherbie (Love Orlando/Hope Initiative), Anita Grant (Local Missions Director), Sharon Hodges (Lydia House/2nd Chances), and several talented support staff that help keep our church on track “outside the walls of the church.

Where were you born and raised?
Princeton, Kentucky.

How large is the family you grew up in?
I have a younger sister. My parents were Christians and were very active in the church.

When and how did you come to know Christ?
I grew up in the church and knew about Jesus Christ, walked the aisle and prayed the prayer of salvation when I was 10. But years later, in 1978, I walked into a First Orlando worship service and encountered the Gospel fresh and new. I really think that’s when I became genuinely saved. I may have been saved when I was 10, but in was in 1978, when I was 25, that I had that transformation.

What was the first job you ever had?
I grew up on a farm, so I started making money when I was 10 years old by working on the farm. My first official job came working on a golf course when I was 15. I mowed greens. Golf became a huge part of my life.

Where did you go to college?
After graduating high school, I received a golf scholarship to Polk Junior College in Winter Haven, Florida. I played two years and graduated with an Associate’s degree. I then attended Georgia Southern University, also on a golf scholarship. I then went to seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and graduated with a Master of Divinity degree.

Talk a little about your golf background.
From junior high until the end of high school, I won 72 amateur tournaments. I was an NCAA All-American (honorable mention) in 1975. Right after graduating college, I played professionally in Europe, where I competed in all the major tournaments. I also played on the Australian and New Zealand tours. I played professionally for six years. Golf was my god for many years. Becoming a Christian in 1978 helped me balance that. By 1981, I felt God calling me in another direction, and that’s how I got into the ministry. In 2003, after working hard for about a year and a half, I tried to get my senior tour card in Portugal. I played well, finishing tied for 32nd out of 342 golfers. But there were only 16 openings. Golf is still a great platform for me today to share the Gospel. Because I work in a totally Christian environment, golf is my platform to engage lost people and talk about spiritual things. That’s a vital part of my life.

When and to whom did you marry?
I married Greta Wilson. She had been married to a gentleman named Scott, and Greta just found out she was pregnant. It was right after she got pregnant that her husband drowned in a fishing accident trying to save his best friend’s life. They both died in 1980. I met Greta in 1982 and we fell in love. We got married six months after we met.

How many children do you have?
Two. A daughter and a son.

I know you’re proud of your wife. Tell us about her.
She is quite a lady. She was Miss Murray State and a finalist in the Miss Kentucky Pageant. She’s also a talented musician.

How did you get into ministry?
In 1978, when I stumbled into church that first Sunday, I had a “Damascus Road” experience. That night, I made a commitment to Christ and got involved at First Orlando, particularly the Singles Ministry. My first job in the church was as an 11th-grade boys’ Sunday school teacher. I got involved in the Prison Ministry and witnessed at the jail. I also got involved with Evangelism Explosion. My love for ministry is what led me to seminary in 1981.

Of course, by the very nature of your job, you have done a lot of long- and short-term missionary trips. Where have you gone?
My first mission trip was a three-month tour at St. Simons Island, Georgia, working with World Wide Discipleship Association in 1979. I moved there and got a job on the golf course to support myself. I went with 20 other people and we worked in churches working with youth. It was a great experience. My next mission trip did not come until I was a pastor in Tampa after graduating from seminary. That was in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit. That’s what really changed my heart and my life. Since then, I’ve been to Brazil 21 times, along with Wales, Haiti, Canada, Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Philippines, South Asia, Montenegro, Burkina Faso, Johannesburg, Miami, New Orleans, Montana, Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia, New York City, Denver and New Jersey.

Where else did you serve before coming to First Orlando?
After graduating from seminary in December of 1984, I went on staff at Belmont Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida, as the associate pastor for students. At that time, the pastor had some health issues, and I became his associate. He ended up resigning a year and a half later, and the church called me as pastor. I was the Senior Pastor at Belmont from 1987 through 1993. Belmont had about 1,000 members, a great staff, and I loved being there. There was no reason to leave other than that God called me.

Perfect lead-in. What brought you to First Orlando?
While at Belmont, I had begun leading groups to the disaster-relief efforts of Hurricane Andrew in the area of Cutler Ridge, just north of Miami. None of those people had ever been on any kind of a mission trip. But when I saw our mission experience change them, and what God was doing in their lives — as well as mine — it had a huge impact on me. So, when Brother Jim called me in 1992 and asked me to pray about coming to First Orlando as the missions pastor, I said, “no thank you.” I was sure God had me where He wanted me to be. But he stayed with it and continued to ask me to pray. I really thought I would be at Belmont the rest of my life. But the Lord had another plan for me and I started January 1, 1993.

What do you like most about your job?
My greatest passion is to see people engage in ministry whether it’s locally, nationally or internationally. Going on mission trips gives me a great opportunity to see how God works. I also love exhorting unbelievers to start thinking about spiritual things.

What is your most memorable ministry moment?
I remember taking a group of men to Cuba one year. For many of them, it was their first mission trip. Now, many years later, it’s amazing to see where they are missions-wise and how they’ve grown spiritually as a result of that trip. Also, seeing my own children get engaged in trips and seeing their lives change has been very memorable.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
2 Chronicles 16:9a: “The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show His might to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.”

What do you like to do with your free time?
Of course, I love to play golf and it’s still my greatest hobby. My son and I are enjoying playing it together. I also enjoy hanging out at home and spending time with my wife.

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