About Duke basketball and Coach K’s last game

Dear Diego,

Happy Birthday! Enjoy being 17!

I thought I’d tell you about the college I went to, Duke University, and our basketball team. Our most famous building is the big chapel. Our mascot is the Blue Devil. Our coach is named Mike Krzyzewski. It’s pronounced sort of like sheh-shev-ski. We call him Coach K for short. He retires this year, and we’re all sad to see him go.

Basketball is very popular among students. For the best games, students stay in line for weeks to get tickets. They live in tents to keep their place in line. The lawn where the tents go is called Krzyzewskiville.

Our biggest rival is the college just down the road, the University of North Carolina (UNC). Their team is called the Tar Heels, which is a historical reference. When the Carolina colony was founded, the colonists made and sold tar, which was useful for making ships. Their mascot is a ram named Rameses, which is a reference to an ancient Egyptian king. When the Tar Heels play the Blue Devils, anything can happen!

Most of my family, including my parents and my sister, went to UNC. I’m the only one who went to Duke. They joke with me about that a lot!

This year, both teams got to play in the big tournament. It happens in March, so it’s called March Madness. Both teams won enough games that they were among the Final Four teams. They played each other in a semi-final game a few days ago. It was very close. My sister kept sending me messages on my phone. At the very end, UNC won by just a few points. It would’ve been very special for Duke to win the tournament because this is Coach K’s last year, but both teams played so well that I can’t be too sad. (The University of Kansas defeated UNC in the final game a couple of days later.)

Coach K had a great career. He coached the USA’s basketball team for the Olympics. Duke won the big tournament 5 times while he was our coach. He has donated to children’s hospitals and scholarship funds. His many fans wish him happy retirement! He will be missed.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

Remembering Dad

Dear Diego,

Thank you for your letter. I’m glad to hear that you were able to continue learning remotely. At the college where I teach, we had some events in person, but a lot of classes had to be remote. I found out that it’s very challenging to lecture or give a quiz when part of the class is in the room with me and part are viewing me on their computer. We hope to hold all classes in person like normal this fall.

My family were mostly okay during the pandemic. A few people I know died from COVID, but we weren’t close friends. Several of my close friends and family caught COVID, but had mild cases, so I’m very grateful for that.

I told you my Dad died, but from something other than COVID, and we are sad about that. It was hard to visit him in the hospital because of all the safety measures there. Last week was Dad’s birthday and also Father’s Day. It was difficult for me, and I’m kind of numb. My sister found a funny picture of Dad in his pharmacy uniform. That’s how I like to remember him.

I had two doses of a vaccine in April. My arm hurt a little, but other than that it was easy to do. Now I can go most places without wearing a mask. It’s a miracle that our scientists were able to make a vaccine so quickly. It was about a year and a half from the discovery of the virus until hospitals started giving out the vaccine, which is not long at all compared to how long it took us to develop treatments for diseases in the past. Scientists have been studying this kind of virus for years, so they already knew where to start working when this new one became important. That’s why it’s important to study science, even if it’s about something that doesn’t yet have a practical use.

I am disappointed in myself because I lost my patience so often while we were locked down. I was disappointed by leaders who used the pandemic as an occasion to fight each other instead of trying to bring everyone together. I was disappointed by other Americans who refused to do simple things, like wear a mask, to protect each other. But not everything was bad. I also saw doctors and nurses work very hard, and people who cared so deeply for each other.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.

All the best,
— Garrett Mitchener


Here’s what my sister Allison wrote about Dad to go along with the picture:

I’ve been mindfully bracing for this double whammy of firsts this weekend- my dad’s birthday yesterday and Father’s Day today since he’s died.
I miss him so much. When Susan showed me this picture and we put it out at the funeral, it really touched me. The story goes one of his regular patients came in wearing this visor with the pokey hair and my dad thought it was hilarious. His patient took this pic and then gave it to him later. It’s just so silly, but that’s my dad’s genuine smile, with a bit of his mischievous sparkle. Parkinson’s dimmed my dad in his later years and that was so hard, for him and for us. But flickers of his sparkle were still there… like when I teased him about the crazy mustache he’d grown while ventilated, and he gave me a grin and a wink..
Yesterday I celebrated my dad with a movie marathon of his favorites and ones he took me to see… Indiana Jones and the last crusade and Crockadile Dundee a few of the highlights. “Now that’s a knife” still sings in my ear with my Dad’s voice because it tickled him so much.
I’m so lucky have had such a caring father who helped to encourage my own sparkle and loved his family and friends so much. Happy Father’s Day
June 20, 2021

The COVID 19 challenge

Dear Diego,

It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for telling me about how you celebrate holidays and birthdays!

Life has become a little different here in the past week. You’ve probably heard about the COVID 19 virus that’s spreading around the world and making lots of people sick. In the United States, we’re concerned that many people might get sick all at once, so we’re trying to prevent that. Large gatherings are canceled. The college where I teach is holding classes online. That means I’ll make videos for students to watch, and we’ll meet using computers instead of in person. We hope that doing all of this will slow down the spread of the virus, so that only a few people at a time get sick.

Today is a Sunday, but my church decided not to meet for our regular worship service. Instead, our pastor used a video to send us words of encouragement. He read from Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a source of help in times of trouble.” And he read from Romans 8: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These are good lessons for this difficult time!

God gave us intelligence, so we can understand diseases and figure out how to prevent them and heal people who get sick. Science is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. I hope that we will make good use of it to develop the medicine we need and to explain to everyone what’s happening.

This virus is a challenge to the whole world. Many people will become sick, and frightening things might happen. Even so, we are called to act in love and trust God, no matter what happens.

In Christ,
— Garrett Mitchener

Sit on the floor and play with your children and grandchildren!

Dear Diego,

Thank you for telling me about your family. I will pray for them!

I’m not married yet and I don’t have any children. I’m still waiting for the right woman. Sometimes it takes a while to fall in love.

I do have lots of young cousins and friends. My grandmother’s youngest brother had three sons, and all of them have children. I’ll include some pictures of them.

Every November, on the fourth Thursday of the month, Americans celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving. We gather with our families and eat a meal. I think I’ve showed you some of the fun food my cousins bring to eat. Several members of my family have young children, and I try to play with them at the family gathering to give their parents a moment to rest. We made up a game about tossing a ball into a jar. We also played with a construction toy. It was about using colored plastic screws to make a picture.

My friend Justin is 10. He likes to play sports. We also play video games together. I have to work hard to learn these games. When I was young, video games were simpler because computers were slow and only had a small amount of memory. Now, computers are so fast and have so much memory that games are almost like making a movie. You move a person around in a game by using a controller. It has lots of buttons and two sticks that you move with your thumbs. One stick makes the person walk and one changes where he looks. It takes a lot of practice.

I know too many grownups who love their children and grandchildren, but never sit down and play with them. That’s not good for any of them. Jesus even had to teach his disciples to play with children. In Luke 18, he says to the grownups, “Let the children come to me. The Kingdom of God is theirs, too.” So I don’t mind sitting on the ground and playing silly games with children.

— Garrett Mitchener

Band Concert: Spanish Dreams

Dear Diego,

Thank you for your letter and the pictures of your family!

I’d like to tell you about my band and our concert. I belong to the Charleston Concert Band. The band has been getting bigger. We now have 60 to 80 musicians. We are all volunteers. We play for the joy of playing good music. There are many different instruments: trumpet, trombone, tuba, French horn, clarinet, saxophone, flute, oboe, bassoon, and percussion.

I play the oboe. I think I’ve told you about it before. It’s about 65 cm long, and you play it by blowing into a reed and pressing keys with your fingers to choose a pitch.

The band played a concert in October. Most of our music was Spanish-themed. We played an Argentine tango, and a group of dancers performed on stage while we played. A professional trumpet player from the city orchestra played with us. He asked us to perform a piece called “La Veu de la trompeta.” He played the solo part and we played the accompaniment. He played beautifully. We also played music from a show called “Man of La Mancha.” The show is about Miguel de Cervantes and his book “Don Quixote.” In the United States, we have a long tradition of these shows called “musicals.” They are dramas with a lot of singing. They’re sort of like operas, but the style of music is very different. “Man of La Mancha” is one of my favorites.

Playing music with a group has a spiritual component. Everyone has to practice and commit to being part of something larger than any one person. In the same way, God calls us to participate in work. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote about how the church is like a body, with each part serving a different function. A band or orchestra works the same way. So does a sports team.

I hope you find opportunities to take part in many things larger than one person!
— Garrett Mitchener

Clarinet concert by Lipton, and Pentecost

Dear Diego,

I thought I would tell you about two special events.

My church hosted a concert on Saturday May 25. The performer was a man named Philip Lipton. He is an expert at playing the clarinet. Among other jobs, he was a teacher for a short time at El Sistema in El Salvador. So of course I thought of you! Philip likes Spanish literature, especially poetry by Federico Lorca. Two of his compositions were about Lorca’s poems.

Philip played two different sizes of clarinet. The small one is a common soprano clarinet. The large one is a bass clarinet. He also uses a computer, which plays background sounds. He also has a tool called a loop pedal. He works it with his feet. It records as he plays, then plays back the music in a loop. He builds up music by adding one sequence of notes at a time, until he has a complex piece with many notes playing at the same time. It was fun to watch and hear as he made songs this way. Philip stayed after the concert to talk to everyone about his music. It was a fun concert.

Philip Lipton with a clarinet

Philip Lipton with a clarinet

Philip Lipton with a bass clarinet

Philip Lipton with a bass clarinet

The Sunday before was Pentecost. We had a special service with flags, pinwheels, and dancing. Pentecost is when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, as told in the book of Acts. We read the Bible passage in many languages, because it was about a miracle where lots of people heard the disciples speaking about Jesus in their own language. The Holy Spirit helped the disciples speak all those languages. I read in French. Other people read in English, Spanish, and Swedish. Everyone wore red because the Holy Spirit appeared like little red flames as it came to the disciples.

St. Andrew's choir, Pentecost,  2018

St. Andrew’s choir, Pentecost, 2018

All the best,
— Garrett Mitchener

A bit about Vienna

Dear Diego,

Thank you for your letter. I’m glad you would like to play the guitar. There are many beautiful songs for the guitar. You can play it solo, or sing along. I hope you get the chance to learn it.

You said you would like to visit Spain. I would, too. Some day I hope to visit Spain and France and Italy. I studied French in school, but I’ve never visited France. I have visited Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. I travel to conferences as part of my job, which is why I made those trips.

I can tell you about Vienna. I’ll include some photos. It’s the capital city of Austria. I went there for a linguistics conference. Austria is in Europe. I had to fly there in an airplane, and it took many hours. It takes so long to fly across an ocean that you should plan to stay for a week or more and see as much as you can while you’re there.

There are many beautiful old buildings. The museums are amazing. My favorite one had a collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt. There’s a mansion called Schönbrunn, which was the emperor’s palace before Austria became a democracy. It has big gardens, and a maze of shrubs that you can get lost in, and find your way back out.

Vienna is famous for music, too. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven are famous composers from long ago who lived there. I got to see a concert in a hall where Mozart once performed.

I tried the food and drinks. I hiked in the famous Vienna Woods. I learned some German, which is their language. I made some friends.

When we study the New Testament, we learn about how Paul the Apostle traveled. There were no airplanes or trains back then. He had to travel by boat, and it was dangerous. He made friends all over southern Europe, and got to see so many different places. Sometimes he got in trouble because he told people things that they didn’t want to hear. Luckily, Paul and his friend Luke wrote about their travels, so we can learn from them centuries later.

All the best,
— Garrett Mitchener

Link to all my pictures:


Fixing things

Dear Diego,

Thank you for your letter. You mentioned that you’d like to learn how to repair cars. That sounds like a good idea. Fixing things can be hard work, but it’s also fun.

My car is 18 years old. I really like it, but lots of its parts have broken. The radiator broke. The transmission fluid leaked. There’s a light that won’t turn on any more. Spark plugs, sensors, and batteries wore out. I’m glad that there’s a shop near my house that can fix it.

I’ve learned a little bit about how to fix plumbing and electrical equipment. I’ve fixed electrical receptacles, switches, and lights. Once I fixed a washing machine. I’ve fixed leaky faucets and toilets. I’ve only learned enough to fix simple problems. But I live in an old house, and the buildings at church are old, so I use these basic skills a lot. I have to call an expert to fix the big problems, though.

I also know a lot about fixing computers. I help my friends find documents on their computers. I can add new parts to an old computer that make it work better. I can write computer programs, and help other people fix mistakes in their programs.

I enjoy helping people when I can. Since God gave me a gift for understanding how machines work and how to fix them, I try to use that gift to help others. God promises to make all things new again (Revelation 21:5), and I believe he wants us to do the same in our own small ways.

All the best,
— Garrett Mitchener

Solar eclipse, August 21, 2017

Dear Diego,

I hope all is well. I’d like to tell you about something special that happened here in Charleston. On August 21, 2017, there was a total eclipse of the sun, and it was visible from Charleston.

A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes directly between the sun and the earth. The moon’s shadow covers a small part of the earth. If the timing is just right, the eclipse is total, and the moon completely blocks the sun for one to two minutes! The moon goes around the earth in an orbit that is almost a circle. It sticks out above and below the earth’s orbit around the sun. That means that there are only two times each year that the moon can eclipse the sun. Usually, the moon isn’t in quite the right place, and it only partly covers the sun. But this past August, everything lined up, and there was a total eclipse. It was visible in much of the United States. We got to see it in Charleston. Eclipses often happen over the ocean, where no one can see them. So we were very lucky.

Normally, the sun is too bright to look at. You can only look at it safely through special glass or plastic that is so dark that it blocks anything dimmer than the sun. I had a piece of the right kind of glass. I also made a projector. A physics professor at the college where I teach wrote directions for making it. Light from the sun passes through two lenses and forms an image in the bottom of the box. The image is nice and big, and safe to look at.

I went to my friend Allan’s house to view the eclipse. I know him from church. He invited me and some other friends to watch with him. He’s the man you see in the pictures. We had a lot of fun watching the moon slowly cover the sun.

At the moment of totality, when the sun is completely covered, it’s safe to look at. You can see a ring of faint light called the corona. The sky gets very dark. It’s beautiful. We almost didn’t get to see it because the sky was cloudy, but the clouds broke at just the right time. I was able to get some nice pictures.

Natural spectacles like this are so much fun to see. They make me think that God has scattered them around creation as gifts to us, just to make our lives more interesting and beautiful.

Projector image of partially eclipsed sun

Projector image of partially eclipsed sun

Allan taking a picture of the projector image

Allan taking a picture of the projector image

View of the moon and corona


Elementary school

Dear Diego,

I finally got your letter and drawing! Sometimes it takes a long time for messages to get here from El Salvador. Thank you for writing.

You asked about schools that I attended. I’ll tell you about the first grade school I attended.
Students from all over the city went there. No one has to pay to go to grade school in the United States. The government pays for everything. We didn’t wear uniforms. Our colors were blue and yellow. Our mascot was Lizzy the Lizard. I started in kindergarten and learned to read and write. We had a small paper book about each letter of the alphabet. I stayed there for first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. In each grade, I learned how to read better, more math, social studies, health, and science. In fifth and sixth grades, we learned to play instruments in the band and orchestra. I started learning to play the flute. We also learned a little bit of Spanish.

The school is next to a big park. Most days, we went to the park after lunch for play time. We threw balls, climbed, and played on swings. There was an old fire truck we could climb on.

One room in the school was full of desktop computers. These were a model called Apple II. Back in the 1980s, desktop computers were not very powerful. These could run programs from big floppy disks. We had programs for math games, history games, drawing programs, and puzzles.

The school library is full of books. On one side were the fiction books, in order by the author’s name. I remember reading all of the books about the land of Oz by Baum, and a few novels about the adventures of a man who could talk to animals by Lofting. On the other side were the non-fiction books. There were books about puzzles, science, famous people, and history. I even read a book about how to do calculations with a slide rule. No one uses these any more because we have electronic calculators, but I still learned a lot from that book.

The school has an auditorium. We had classes on singing and playing musical instruments in the auditorium. The school has a gymnasium. We went there for dance classes and physical education.

I can tell you more if you like, but that’s enough for one letter!

— Garrett Mitchener