CBM is saddened to announce the sudden passing of Mary Mitchell on Tuesday, May 5th at her home in Winnipeg, from a heart attack. While Mary had been hampered by mobility issues for many years, she continued to be active in Bible teaching with First Nations church leaders in the Winnipeg area through a small home Bible school that she had established. Although Mary had spent a year in Indonesia teaching missionary children in the mid-1970s, she is best known within CBM for her ministry in Turkey from 1988 until her retirement in 2001, during which she established the Bithynia Bible Institute (since renamed Hasat Church Ministries).
Mary was a cross-cultural educator, initially working in northwestern Ontario among First Nations communities in curriculum development for the Ontario Ministry of Education. After taking early retirement from that work, Mary joined the CBM missionary team in Turkey. As churches began forming there, the need for theological education became critical. Upon learning that Mary had previously taught at a small Bible school in northwestern Ontario, a young, male Turkish church leader asked Mary to teach him and his congregation the Bible and basic theology.
As John Keith has observed, this was remarkable: “When Turkish Christian males approached Mary Mitchell to prepare them for pastoral ministry by conducting the Biblical studies which led to the founding of Bithynia, it was a most remarkable happening– males, in a Muslim national context, requesting a woman to teach them. Other agencies had been working in the region much longer than CBM and they had capable and effective leaders who would probably have given anything to receive such an invitation. Mary undertook it humbly, in her quiet fashion, and the Lord used Mary in a profound way.” Just the week prior to her death, Hasat celebrated its 25th anniversary, and although Mary was unable to attend, she did send a short video with her greetings.
Ron Albinet, a CBM colleague of Mary’s in Turkey for many years, sent this report from the celebrations in Istanbul just two days before Mary’s death: “It’s wonderful to see how God has blessed the work of Bithynia (now Hasat) which Mary Mitchell started in 1989. Although Mary’s been gone for 14 years now, she still received most of the praise and warm memories for the lives she touched. Today Hasat has courses in twelve different cities around the country of Turkey, has trained a number of nationals as teachers, and there’s even some talk now of having a national director in a few years time. They tallied up the number of students since Hasat started in 1989 and found that 1,100 had taken classes. It’s the main and longest provider of theological education for the young Turkish Protestant churches.”
Mary was a passionate, gifted, contextual educator who used all of her gifts for building God’s Kingdom wherever He placed her. There will be a celebration of Mary’s life on Tuesday, May 19th (which would have been her 79th birthday) at 11 a.m. at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, 160 Ethelbert St. Winnipeg. Following the service there will be a reception in the basement and an opportunity to share stories about Mary to which all are welcome. A memorial service is also being planned for Thunder Bay, Mary’s long time home, at a later date.