Eleven years ago, FCA’s Mitch Mason became the University of North Carolina football team chaplain and never looked back. He is an invaluable asset to their culture as he serves the team with purpose, determination and faith. It is this foundation that allowed Mason the strength to battle through the last year after he began to experience unexplained paralysis and pain.
“I went through what seemed like every test that could be conducted to rule out the cause of my symptoms,” explained Mason. “It wasn’t until our former head football coach Larry Fedora called Duke’s head football coach David Cutcliffe, who ultimately got me in to see renowned Duke neurologist Jodi Hawes.”
Last spring, Dr. Hawes found and diagnosed Mason with small fiber neuropathy, and later tests revealed his disease is idiopathic, meaning there is no known explanation. The debilitating illness may have changed the way in which Mason serves as the team chaplain, but it has not changed his steadfast reliance on God. He is humble in response and quick to note that the illness has actually strengthened his faith and renewed his mission of bringing others closer to God.
“I hate going through this experience,” shared UNC’s chaplain, “but the trial and adversity have been good for me. It’s forced me to say I can’t do this on my own; I have to trust the Lord.”
Determined to continue his ministry work with the team despite these physical setbacks, Mason credits UNC’s coaching staff, players and Tar Heel Nation for the ongoing support as he navigates these stormy waters.
“What kind of example would I be if I don’t live what I preach?”
“Coach Brown and the staff have been so understanding and compassionate with my circumstances,” Mason shared. “It’s forced me to be transparent with the players and coaching staff. This is my opportunity to really live out what I preach every day and to trust in the Lord. There is comfort knowing they understand and support me if I am not feeling well and unable to make into the office on any given day.”
Twenty-five to thirty daily medications, in addition to monthly infusions, are what allow Mason to continue his work as chaplain. And while this plan will not cure his neuropathy, it does allow him the ability to continue ministering to Tar Heel Nation.
A priority in his ministry to the team is to actively show his faith and lead by example. Mason is a living testimony to his players of what it looks like to rely on God in the midst of a storm.
“What kind of example would I be if I don’t live what I preach?” asked Mason. “That doesn’t mean I do it perfectly. Do I get down sometimes? Yes, but I am determined to just try and live a faithful life dependent on God.”
Part of his determination to fight through this adversity comes from Psalm 112:
“They do not fear bad news;
they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
They are confident and fearless
and can face their foes triumphantly.” (vv. 7-8)
Mason is perfectly imperfect and that is what gives him creditability with the young men he serves at UNC. He lives a faith that reminds them that Jesus did not promise His followers an easy or carefree journey; instead, He calls them to lead a life that serves others.
“When these symptoms first started, I had to take a little break from chaplain duties,” shared Mason. “They continued to honor the Lord even in my absence by leading Bible studies without me even asking. To see new leaders rise up has been rewarding.”
With added team leaders and their chaplain making his way back into a regular schedule, the future of UNC’s spiritual health is looking bright as their focus will be on what it looks like to bounce back from adversity. This can range from a bad game, injury or players not meeting their own expectations. While it sounds easier said than done, the Tar Heels have a notable visual aid of what it looks like to struggle and bounce back no matter what.
“I want the guys to see that this illness won’t keep me down,” said Mason. “I might be moving slowly, but I’m still in the game and I am not going anywhere.”
God continues to work on campuses across North Carolina, and FCA is grateful to partner with Him equipping and empowering coaches and athletes with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray for the football players at UNC, for God to raise up student-leaders who will disciple their peers, and for Mitch’s health and ministry.
If you would like more information on how to support Mitch Mason and his ministry with the UNC football team, please visit Mitch Mason’s page.
Photos courtesy of Mitch Mason, Jeff Camarati and UNC Athletics