by Scott Barkley
ROY, N.M. (BP) – Pastor Roy Mitchell will never forget that summer in the late 1970s when he got plastered every day.
A young man at the time, Mitchell was a hired hand at a ranch in northeastern New Mexico. Part of his job that summer was to go with the owner’s son and apply plaster to cattle troughs. Before the fiberglass ones more common today, the troughs were made of steel and would develop leaks over time. For the leak to be fixed, the plaster had to be applied all over and not just in the problem areas.
That’s not what Mitchell remembers most about the summer, though.
“My friend was strong in his faith and witnessed to me. At the time my wife was wanting to go to church, but she wouldn’t if I didn’t go with her,” he said. “Eventually I felt bad about her not going to church, so I went.”
Two Sundays later Mitchell prayed for salvation through Christ. He and his wife Karen became regulars and joined a discipleship group. He left the ranch after getting the chance to buy a saddle shop in Tucumcari, 175 miles east of Albuquerque, and began attending First Baptist Church.
Mitchell, now pastor of First Baptist Church in Roy as well as First Baptist Springer, N.M., said he surrendered to a call to preach in 1982. However, he didn’t feel it was confirmed until on a church mission trip to Brazil.
“We split into different teams for evangelism. My pastor and I had been talking about my struggle with the calling, but I became a team leader and preached down there,” he said.
Before then, Mitchell had preached on a couple of Wednesday nights – “When you can do the least amount of damage,” he joked. But the experience in Brazil turned his calling from a struggle to solid. He would continue to work on ranches and build saddles, but also preach the Gospel.
“God took something and did good with it,” he said.
His first church was in Cuervo, N.M.
“If we were all there it was nine of us,” Mitchell recalled. “The town was right on I-40, but not near anything.”
A year later Mitchell accepted a call to be pastor of First Baptist in Floyd. That also placed him closer to Eastern New Mexico University, where he was a student. The university offered religious classes even though it was a state school. Mitchell credited those classes, taught from different denominational perspectives, with strengthening his preaching.
“It was good,” he said. “It challenged me to think about my faith.”
After another pastorate in Cimarron, Mitchell decided to go back to work on a ranch.
“I could better provide for my family cowboying,” he said.
Still, he continued doing pastoral supply and interim work in eastern and northeastern New Mexico for almost 20 years.
Two months before their daughter’s wedding, Karen was diagnosed with cancer. She died in 2009 after 33 years of marriage. When Roy was on that mission trip to Brazil where his call to ministry was confirmed, Karen had been pregnant with the couple’s first child, Della Luticia, who would be called “Ludy” after Roy’s great-grandmother.
Their son Arlyn, born in 1988, died in 2019.
“He was a diabetic and had kidney failure,” Mitchell said. “That was fixed and he had 72 days free from it, but then was diagnosed with cancer. He died a week before his 32nd birthday.
“If I did anything right in my life, it’s that both of my kids served the Lord and owned their faith.”
For the last two decades Mitchell, 68, has managed a ranch 13 miles east of Logan near the Texas line. Until a few weeks ago, he spent the last two-and-a-half years driving 90 minutes – 12 miles on dirt, 50 on pavement – to First Baptist in Roy to preach at the 9 a.m. service. After that, Mitchell would get in his Ford truck and drive another 45 minutes to preach the 11 a.m. service at First Baptist in Springer.
Those days began with leaving by 6:30 a.m. for breakfast at First Roy. After preaching his second sermon, lunch followed with members of First Springer. At 4 p.m. he would arrive home with his wife Susan – a widow until they married 10 years ago and with whom he dotes on multiple grandchildren.
“First Roy was a little bitty church and I had a good ranch job,” Mitchell said. “I’d worked for my employer, Rex McCloy, for 20 years. When he hired me, I told him that I preached on Sundays and he said that wasn’t a problem. He has supported and prayed for us and was proud of what we were doing.”
When members at First Baptist Springer needed a pastor, the idea was floated of Mitchell preaching for both congregations. “The people at First Roy were excited about it and thought it was a great idea,” he said.
It’s easy to see why. Technically a Texas native, New Mexico is Mitchell’s longtime home and he’s every bit the cowboy, from the Sam Elliott handlebar mustache to the skill in telling a story. More important, his calling as a pastor is well-noted.
Jeff Ogata and his wife Misty were new attendees at First Springer. Ogata had heard Mitchell preach in the ’90s and was eager to hear him again. They hit it off immediately, and Ogata, who had been feeling a call into the ministry, had a mentor.
Ogata watched Mitchell survey the crowd at his son Arlyn’s funeral and express how he’d never spoken to a group that large. He talked about his son and shared hilarious stories, sure. But then it became an evangelistic event.
“He looked at everyone and said he was going to preach the Gospel,” Ogata remembered. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘I want to be like that. That’s so cool.’”
Ogata and his wife would remain under Mitchell’s preaching, but at First Baptist in Roy after the couple began attending there last year. That summer, Ogata and his wife planted Rayado Creek Family Fellowship, sent out from First Roy.
The Roy church is an aging fellowship. With the Ogatas departure, First Roy was going to lose one of its younger families. Nevertheless, the church sent them out gladly and will even join Ogata’s church for Easter services.
“They’re our sending church,” Ogata said. “It was very important for me to have their blessing.”
“We just want to go over there and tell those young people that we support them,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t a sacrifice on our part, but the right thing to do.”
Like everywhere else, COVID affected Mitchell’s ministry. Members of First Springer decided to put off meeting in person, whereas those at First Roy continued gathering. Ogata’s church, located on land once owned by Old West figures Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell, met outside.
Mitchell also joined other pastors in learning how to use Zoom. It wasn’t all bad, he said.
“We have around a dozen meeting in person, with another dozen joining us online,” he said. “It’s been beneficial not only because a lot of our people drive a long way, but also if they have health concerns. One man who lives in California but comes out here occasionally stays in touch with us through Zoom. We have others who join us from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.”
Richard Anderson was another connecting online. Not one for church, he had been battling cancer and frankly, didn’t care for Mitchell. “He didn’t like me,” the pastor admitted.
But Anderson’s wife Diana did. So, he had little choice but to hear the messages Mitchell delivered over the computer. Those messages talked about a healing Savior who could fix the problem areas. It wasn’t a patchwork job either, but one that covered everything, like plaster.
“He ended up getting saved,” Mitchell said. “We baptized him a few months before he passed.”
Mitchell is the kind of pastor who doesn’t think of himself as a shining star. He doesn’t have to, because others do that for him. He simply sees himself as a reflection of the Son, someone who God took and did something good.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.