1927-1928 (Hopetoun Street/Queen Street Campuses)
When George Clifford Mitchell was born his parents named him after a great Baptist preacher, and prayed that he would be such a man and serve his Lord. That prayer was answered step by step. In 1921 Cliff was converted under the preaching of Rev. Joseph Kemp, and in 1927 he entered NZBTI with the desire to serve God as a missionary. He was accepted by then Sudan Interior Mission to serve in Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia). He knew before he went that bitter toil awaited him, and there was little romance in the missionary call. And it would be sacrificial. In his second year of study at NZBTI he met a new student Myrtle Jenkins who shared his desire to serve God overseas. But the doctor refused to pass Myrtle for overseas service, and Cliff accepted the reality of going without Myrtle. However, that decision was reversed and Cliff left for Abyssinia in March 1931, with Myrtle joining him later that year. The couple married in November 1932.
Living in the province of Sidamo, the couple were involved in language learning, in evangelism, and in health work at an SIM clinic. Cliff also made use of his construction skills as a builder and was involved in translating John’s gospel into the Galla dialect. The couple had one child, also named Cliff. In 1935, the Italian army invaded Abyssinia, forcing many difficult changes on the country. In the resulting unrest, the governor of Sidamo province ordered all missionaries to move to the capital. Cliff escorted Myrtle and 8 month old Cliff to Addis Ababa. He, and a Canadian colleague, Tom Devers, moved to the town of Yerga Alem, 250 km from the capital. With further concern for their safe-keeping, on 7 May 1936, Cliff and Tom set out for Addis Ababa, joining a ‘caravan’ of Abyssinian soldiers to ensure their safety across the Kasse Desert. Tragically, two days later, the whole party was attacked by a band of 200-300 tribesmen and killed; only one servant escaped. Details never fully emerged as to why and how they were attacked.
Clifford, son of Myrtle and Cliff, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident near Queenstown in 1956, aged 20.
Cliff’s sister Kathleen was married to E.M. Blaiklock, Chair of Classics at Auckland University and long-time Greek teacher at NZBTI. Writing an obituary in The Reaper in September 1936, Blaiklock recounted a conversation with Cliff – “If I should die, do not let them talk of me. Use my death to speak of Christ”.
Cliff is remembered as the first of five graduates of this College who died tragically at the hands of others while in active missionary service. A plaque in his memory is located in the Martyrs’ Memorial Grove on the Henderson campus.
Photo: Cliff Mitchell leaving for Ethiopia