Dr. Christopher Mitchell’s impact endures at Biola

Students reflect on the impact and legacy of Dr. Chris Mitchell.

%7C+Courtesy+of+Torrey+Honors+Institute

| Courtesy of Torrey Honors Institute

Jenna Schmidt, Writer

Dr. Christopher Mitchell often described himself in the words of author J.R.R. Tolkien as “a hobbit of a man.” However, this beloved husband, professor, colleague and friend led a far more adventurous life than the typical hobbit of Tolkien’s literature.

Mitchell explored God’s creation with his heart, body and mind. Many students and faculty agree that he impacted those he met in incredible ways with the way he devoted his life to this adventure.

A LIFE-LONG CURIOSITY 

Mitchell worked for 18 years as the director of the Marion E. Wade Center and held the Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. A research collection focused on seven British authors including J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, the center hired on Mitchell, a leading Lewis scholar, to the program.

Mitchell enjoyed discussing God, theology and literature, always with an excited curiosity that pervaded every aspect of his life, according to his colleagues and students. When he became a professor for Torrey last year, he shared this excitement with his students both in and out of class. One of his Torrey mentees recalls walking with him through Grand Central Market on an Urban Plunge outing with the Torrey program.

“I was walking with him and he started asking me about my culture and everything,” said sophomore math major Hanna Yi. “The way he asked me those questions showed that he cared. His curiosity was so childlike. He's so recognized for all these intellectual things and all of these credentials, but he could just have a conversation with us students and be so childlike and joyful about it."

Before moving to Wheaton, Mitchell and his wife Julie lived in India as missionaries. This experience played a pivotal role in his ability to relate culturally to different students, as well as in his excitement for new and different experiences. He delighted in sharing cultural variety with others.

“I remember having office hours with him, and we spoke about culture,” said sophomore political science major Emily Vivanco, an international student from Mexico. “I said that one of the things I missed most was the hugs, the aspect of cultural touch. He brought up his experiences in India, and said that it opened his eyes to how different people act in different cultures. At the end, he got up out of his chair and said ‘Let me give you a hug’. For me that was one of the most special moments ever because it showed how much he cared about the small things.”

A LEGACY OF LOVE

Anyone who spoke with Mitchell for even the briefest of moments knew immediately of the depths of his love for his family. Whether in casual conversation or in class, Mitchell found ways to speak of his beloved wife Julie and their four children, as well as their four grandchildren.  

“He was talking about how much he had changed over the years, and he said his wife Julie told him that he had become much sweeter, and he got so excited about that,” Vivanco said. “Coming from her, it meant the world to him because he loved her so much and wanted the best for her. Coming from her, it highlighted a growth of character, which he valued considerably.”

Mitchell’s love for his family permeated his character and contributed greatly to his adventurous nature in everyday life. Julie recalls his excitement for God’s plans and his eagerness to step into whatever situation or opportunity presented itself in their lives, whether it took them to India, California, Scotland or Illinois.

“When we moved to India, I had some struggles adjusting, but not Chris. When we went to Scotland, I struggled, but not Chris,” Julie said. “When we came to Biola and to Torrey, he just fit so perfectly with Torrey that we knew God had him here for a very good purpose.”

Those who knew him said that Mitchell made a profound impact upon those he met, however briefly. With his great love for God, his family and his students, Mitchell experienced a daily adventure with Christ and invited all those he met to experience it alongside him.

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