Middle school program starts school year with new coordinator

Criss Mitchell will be serving alongside his wife, Alyssa, as CCC’s new Middle School Coordinator. (photo courtesy of Criss Mitchell.)

Criss Mitchell will be serving alongside his wife, Alyssa, as CCC’s new Middle School Coordinator. (photo courtesy of Criss Mitchell.)

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Community Covenant welcomed Criss Mitchell as the newest member of its staff and as the Middle School Coordinator Sept. 1.

A self-proclaimed Army brat, Mitchell said he’s considered the Eagle River area home ever since his father retired as a soldier at Fort Richardson in 1989. Although he’s traveled around somewhat to attend college and to work over the years, Mitchell, his wife, Alyssa, and their three sons, Zebekiah, 6, Psalm, 4, and Justice, almost 2, settled down in Chugiak a little more than a year ago.

The family has attended CCC ever since they returned to Alaska, but did spend some time in the Lower 48 after Mitchell earned a Master’s in Teaching from the University of Alaska Anchorage and had taught for several years at Highland Tech Charter School in Anchorage.

“My family felt led to let me attend seminary to gain a few more skills in service,” Mitchell said, explaining that he went on to earn a Master’s in Divinity at Seattle Pacific University and to serve for a year as a pastor-in-residence at Pullman Foursquare Church in Pullman, Wash.

“When that commitment ended, my wife reminded me that our hearts have always been in Alaska,” Mitchell said. “When we left, we said it was temporary and that, after school, we would come back to Alaska — specifically to Eagle River, the community that nurtured my young faith as a teenager. So we have.”

Mitchell began working as an English teacher at Begich Middle School, but said he felt led to step out in faith to pursue a career in ministry and to apply for the position as Community Covenant’s Middle School Coordinator.

“My heart is to serve,” he said. “I’ve been involved in serving the church ever since I accepted Christ as Savior and Lord.”

That pivotal moment in Mitchell’s life occurred at a Youth for Christ event in Anchorage in 1991. He said he attended church most of his life, but primarily at Korean churches in honor of his mother’s heritage.

“I didn’t speak Korean,” Mitchell said, explaining that having the Gospel communicated in a manner that translated to him as a teenager so many years ago changed his life forever and is a significant factor in why he feels led to work with youth today. “It just blew me away,” he said.

Lead Pastor Todd Michero said Mitchell’s history, education and experience in the Chugiak-Eagle River community, to include attending Chugiak High School and serving on the church’s Vitality Team, gives him a unique ability to connect with CCC’s youth.

“Criss brings a depth of spirituality combined with an understanding of youth culture that’s certain to be impactful on the spiritual formation of our middle school students,” Michero said.

Mitchell has spent many years teaching middle and high school and volunteering in youth ministry and said his naturally inquisitive nature has always been a factor in his personal and professional experience with teenagers.

“I like to ask questions and look for answers, trying to see how they connect to the larger world, faith, family, life, church, etc.,” Mitchell said. “I think those are useful traits, because young people are often a mess of contradictions, both idealistic and pragmatic, questioning and rigid, passionate and apathetic.

“I’m someone who likes to ask questions of how and why, but at the same time believe that any answer has to be lived into in order to have any real value,” he continued. “I think that gives me a measure of authenticity and relatability, because they’re struggling under the weight of their own questions and convictions.”

Helping middle schoolers understand and embrace that they’re a vital part of God’s church is important to Mitchell as well, he said.

“When we’re talking about youth, we aren’t just talking about kids, but about the Body of Christ, which has no junior members,” Mitchell said. “The church needs the gifts that the Spirit is pouring into the youth, and youth need the gifts that are in the larger body. We’re incomplete without each other. That’s what I hope I can nurture in the program.”

A significant part of that growth will be to build upon the foundation prior program coordinators have established, he said.

“We’re learning — especially initially. I wouldn’t expect any changes, but [will continue] with some of the great stuff that Becca (Loritz) and Jeff (Keyser) have previously done,” Mitchell said. “I’m a big believer in volunteers. Their faithfulness is often the constant in times of change. I hope to not only invest in the youth, but also in the youth leaders, who will be and have been investing in the youth.”

There’s one volunteer in particular Mitchell said he’s looking forward to serving alongside in the middle school ministry, his wife, Alyssa, who began volunteering with the program last school year.

“I’m excited to work with her. She brings a bundle of fun and energy to everything in which she participates, and she just loves God. What more could you want?”

A meet and greet will be featured Sept. 13 from 5:30-6:45 p.m. in the Student Ministries Room for parents and students who’d like an opportunity to welcome Mitchell to the program and to learn more about what the middle schoolers will be experiencing this school year at youth group and confirmation. The evening will include snacks and possibly some family-oriented activities.

“I’m very excited to begin this journey with all of you,” Mitchell said. “I can’t wait to meet you all.”