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Mitch Duininck ’81 named College of Arts & Sciences Alumnus of the Year

Mitch Duininck ’81 named College of Arts & Sciences Alumnus of the Year

Alumnus of the Year Mitch Duininck ’81

“When we lived in Afghanistan, people told me, ‘there’s one thing about the people who follow Jesus. They’re not afraid. We don’t understand why they’re not afraid,’” recalls Tulsa-based physician and 2017 Alumnus of the Year for the College of Arts & Sciences Mitch Duininck ’81. He pauses before adding, almost nonchalantly, “But when our fear is dealt with, we’re free to go and do.”

It’s clear that living fearlessly is at the core of how Duininck approaches life. He and his wife Leah have six kids—Emily ’10, Andrew ’11, Hanna, Samuel, Levi ’21, and Cora—and sent five of them across the country for college. They now have three grandkids, who bring a whole new set of joys and adjustments. Mitch finds time to manage a load of patients while directing a medical residency training program and two non-profits—with Leah walking alongside him every step of the way. Though he has a stunning professional track record and credentials to spare, he lives a full life, built solidly on prayer and God’s provision.

Duininck remembers wanting to study medicine even as a kid, inspired in part by the special role his family’s physician played in their life—and how his mom would drive many extra miles from their small town of Prinsburg, Minnesota, to see the doctor she trusted. He realized then that medicine had a unique way of meeting needs and opening doors.

“If you’re not healthy, what else do you have? The richest person—without their health—has no opportunity. Jesus was here doing ministry for three years, and spent a significant amount of his time dealing with people’s physical needs,” Duininck says. “Whether it’s in the mountains of Nepal or the poor areas of Tulsa, people need the same things. When they feel like they’re cared for—like someone feels their pain, sees their hurt—and that there’s a loving God that wants to heal them? Wow. Medicine is this incredible opportunity and privilege, if we’ll take it.”

With that calling in his mind, Duininck moved across the state to Bethel, studying chemistry and playing baseball. Then he sought out continuing Christian medical education, landing in Oklahoma for medical school and a holistic, Christ-centered family medicine residency program at Oral Roberts University (ORU). Now as executive director of In His Image—a fully-accredited residency program built on that vision from ORU—Duininck pours into 35 up-and-coming physicians, all committed Christ-followers who want to impact the world and God’s kingdom through holistic medical care.

The Good Samaritan Health Services (GSHS) arm of the organization sends mobile medical units—each equipped with exam rooms, a pharmacy, and lab—to partner with local churches and meet the needs of medically underserved populations in the greater Tulsa area. And the In His Image International (IHII) branch offers international health rotations for residents—partnering with and equipping medical professionals around the world through ongoing training programs—and sends many graduates into full-time careers in medical missions.

Duininck and his family members have served on countless IHII short-term disaster relief trips and on longer-term assignments overseas. He and Leah took off on a two-month stint in Kenya just months after they were married. The whole family moved to Ghana from 1999–2001, and Mitch and Leah served with their two youngest children in Afghanistan for a year. Duinincks and IHII team members were in Pakistan after 100,000 people were killed in an earthquake and Indonesia after a tsunami. They’ve been to Nepal, Haiti, Burma, Zaire, and countless other locations. At the heart of it all is, put simply, a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ in some of the most war-torn and devastated areas of the world.

“Mitch is one of our heroes at Bethel. He’s the type of person we want our graduates to emulate. I love his leadership of In His Image and I am awed by the way Mitch and Leah live as adventurous followers of Jesus,” says President Jay Barnes. “He is bold and unflinching in his willingness to use his medical expertise to help hurting people in some of the most challenging places in the world.”

Duininck—in his subtle, soft-spoken way—shrugs off the attention and attributes many of his successes to others’ flexibility and willingness to give financially, take on extra shifts, or pray. He has the training, resources, and support network that make his mission work as easy as it could be. “[Opportunities] come up, we pray and ask ‘God, is this it?’ and He responds, and we go,” he says.

He recalls his prayer before the trip to Burma, just after he lost his youngest brother to ALS. It wasn’t good timing, and it wasn’t convenient. Duininck recalls telling God, “I’m not a thrill-seeker. I’d be fine to stay home! I’m not ready for this one. But if you’re saying go, then I’m your guy.” God always makes the path clear to Duininck. Before a recent trip to northern Iraq to serve Syrian refugees, a song from Sunday school years before began going through his mind, the lyrics clear: I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord…I’ll be what you want me to be. “I had this overwhelming sense of peace,” he says. Both times, he assembled teams and they were gone within days.

“I want my life to inspire people to follow Jesus. To be fearless, to be bold and courageous, and to believe that God could use them. If He can use me—coming from a little town in the middle of nowhere—He can use anybody,” Duininck says. “Looking back, I’m so glad we’ve had these opportunities to do things and see things I never imagined I could—and to be used by God in this ministry of reconciliation to people that desperately need Him.”

Bethel honors an Alumnus of the Year annually for the College of Arts & Sciences; Bethel Seminary; and the College of Adult & Professional Studies and Graduate School. As this year’s College of Arts & Sciences award-winner, Duininck will be honored this week during Homecoming 2017.