I loved breakfast at church camp in Batesburg, SC. We would stand in line outside the canteen, waiting for them to unhook the screen door and let 60 sleepy-eyed, bed-headed, teenagers stumble in to heaps of sausage links, scrambled eggs, and a huge pot of grits slathered with butter. We couldn’t even spell cholesterol in those days and didn’t care. Breakfast was the start of some life changing days that remain vivid in my memory after 45 years. There were preacher vs teen softball games, midnight unsanctioned raids of the peach farm next door, afternoon non-mixed bathing swims in the really nasty camp lake, and chapel services. Chapel services that we grumbled about, chewed gum in, passed notes during, and in which our lives were deeply and eternally changed, often in spite of us. And it all began with breakfast.
But the best part of breakfast wasn’t the breakfast. At some point while we were standing in line or sitting at the picnic style tables in the cafeteria, TW Mitchell would come by and pass out the daily newspaper. It wasn’t fancy, a one-page, front and back, little tome, typed magically, as if by cobblers elves in the middle of the night, on an old manual typewriter (It dawns on me that ¾ of the people reading this now do not even know what a typewriter is… Google it.), and then reproduced on a mimeograph machine. There was never a by-line, no editor ever signed his name to the page, but we all knew it was TW who worked every night long after we had crashed into our iron bunk beds to produce this camp staple.
I don’t remember what it was called, the Batesburg Bugle, Nazarene News, but I do remember the impact that little paper had on my life. I was a pimply faced, greasy headed teen. My father pastored very small churches and moved often so my list of close friends was pretty short. My parents were distracted with their own issues and ministry. There were not many places to have the basic need of “knowing and being known” met. Validation and feelings of worth were pretty hard to come by for a lost, lonely teenager. But then I would come to camp. And stand in line at breakfast. And read a little one page paper that would say something like. “It was reported that Mike Courtney got 2 hits and helped the teens beat the preachers in softball yesterday.” Or “Mike Courtney placed 3rd in Bible quizzing on Tuesday.” Or my favorite “Somebody said they saw Mike Courtney holding hands with a little red head last night.” Those short little blurbs would give meaning to the life of a struggling teen and for just a little while I would feel like a million bucks.
My imagination tells me I am not alone. There are probably hundreds of teens that down through the years were lifted to a better place by being mentioned in TW’s little paper. Dozens and dozens of those teens went on to be minsters, missionaries, college professors, boosted along the way by a typewriter, a mimeograph machine, and a loving, Godly man that took an interest in them and wrote funny stories about them. TW and his breakfast paper inspired and encouraged more kids than he could possibly ever know.
At one point in my story my parents moved away for a year to another state. I will never forget my first summer camp after we moved back to South Carolina. The first morning at breakfast I waited eagerly to get my copy of TW’s Tidbits. About halfway down the first page was this short line, “An anonymous source says that somebody that we love has come home. Welcome Mike Courtney. We’ve been waiting for you.” I felt so good. I laughged.
Early this morning they were having breakfast in Heaven. I believe while everybody sat around talking about harps and streets of gold, St. Peter showed up and passed out a little one-page breakfast newsletter. I believe that somewhere about half-way down the first page it said something like this, “It has been reported that somebody we love very much has come home. Welcome TW Mitchell. We’ve been waiting for you.” And TW laughed.
(Dr. Mike Courtney is the founder and director of Branches Counseling Center, a multi-location, faith-based facility that treats people with emotional, behavioral, and spiritual issues. He is the author of two books, Failure and How I Achieved It and Laugh Lines, and a thousand little one page newsletters. Mike blogs weekly at www.branchesblog.com. He and his wife Doris live lives of quiet recovery in Murfreesboro, TN.)