Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – How would you define faith? Most think faith is believing in something unseen, something unexperienced, and just knowing and trusting that it’s there. The question should be, could you keep your faith even through the darkest hour in a miserable hellish place?
For a pastor, leaving a job with a large church to plant a new ministry takes faith. It requires faith that when the doors open, people will come inside. Faith lets you know when payday comes, there’ll be money in the bank to cash your check. Faith is believing your family will stay with you even when the road gets rocky. For Pastor Michael Sims, he has faith established over the entirety of his life. Since childhood Michael’s been walking in faith even though his father wasn’t there at home for him. Michael Sim’s father isn’t dead and didn’t just leave, he’s a serial killer.
Michael’s father’s name is Mitch. He was the son of a couple of the “free love” generation. Mitch’s upbringing was anything but conventional.
Mitch’s parents were swingers. Swingers are people who openly swap or share sexual partners and have sex with other couples. When Mitch’s parents hosted or went to parties, he and the other children were locked in a bedroom.
By the time Mitch was in middle school, his parents’ lifestyle had already taken its toll. He was an alcoholic and addict at 14 and his stepdad physically and sexually abused him. Clearly, this type of life can be bad for a child.
To get away, Mitch enlisted. He also married Michael’s mom when she was 17 years old. While in the military, Mitch would disappear for weeks as he went on drug and alcohol fueled binges. He’d leave his family and stay gone until he came down to keep from becoming the abuser. Eventually, Mitch’s substance abuse led to his first stint behind bars.
Though married, Mitch had a girlfriend. She was married too. At some point, Mitch and his best friend hatched a plot to get rid of the girlfriend’s husband. The friend would shoot Mitch in the back and they’d frame the girlfriend’s husband for the crime. As with most plans hatched while high or drunk, this plan fell apart quick. After shooting Mitch in the back, his friend confessed the truth to the police, and Mitch was court martialed and sent to US military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He also was discharged.
As a child, Mitch’s wife was exposed to faith and God’s love by her grandparents. She was always taught that once you were married, you were married until, “death do us part.” For that reason, she waited for Mitch while he was in prison. When he was released, his wife and three young children were waiting for him.
He returned to SC to his family and Mitch went to work at Domino’s Pizza. He eventually left his wife and took a girlfriend named Ruby. He was in line for a promotion at Domino’s, but when the promotions were announced, Mitch didn’t get one. This sent him off the deep end again.
Mitch and Ruby hatched a plan to rob Domino’s. Together they went into the one where he’d been working, intent on robbing it. In the process, two of the employees there were shot. One died instantly. The other lived long enough to identify Mitch. Both he and Ruby were indicted, and a manhunt began. Knowing police were scouring SC for them, the pair fled to California.
In California, Mitch and Ruby were living in a motel room but running out of money. They thought robbing another Domino’s would be an easy target. They ordered pizza, and when it was delivered, Mitch and Ruby tied up the driver, strangled him, and left him in a tub of water. Then, they went to the Domino’s and held that up. They were going to kill two more employees, but someone came in and they fled. The media, police, and the community dubbed them the “Domino’s Killers”. Eventually, they were captured. Since Mitch had killed in SC, he was extradited here to stand trial. He was found guilty of the murders and sentenced to death. He landed on Death Row at the old Central Corrections Institute or CCI.
His entire life, Mitch really didn’t believe in God. He thought Christianity was just a scam to take people’s money. He only began attending chapel at the prison to get time out of his cell.He went, but to him it was just a game.
One Easter, while Mitch sat on Death Row, he turned on a small television in his cell. Since it was Easter Sunday, there wasn’t much on. He finally found an Easter Church Service from Columbia’s First Baptist Church. For some reason, he paused there.
As the pastor gave the message, Mitch mocked him. To him this was all a game, a scam to get people’s dough. Eventually, as a part of the joking, Mitch asked God to give him a sign if he was real. Quickly, the pastor on t.v. said something that Mitch knew was his answer. Coincidence you might ask; he tried the test a second time. God provided the answer again. Right there in a notorious prison, the Holy Spirit broke through to Mitch and he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. He was born again! Almost immediately, Mitch knew he had to share what he’d just found with his family; he had to lead his children to Christ!
Michael said even as a child, he began noticing his dad change. They began having devotions in the visiting room of the prison. He prayed with his family and tried to be as good a dad as he could be from Death Row. “Right there in the middle of a prison visiting room, this man who’d ruined peoples’ families was fighting so hard to save his,” Michael said of his father.
Mitch was eventually extradited to California to face execution since he too was sentenced to death there.
More than 25 years have passed since Mitch went to prison. Mitch and Michael, father and son, have a unique relationship. Mitch calls from prison about once a week and talks to Michael and his family here in South Carolina. Michael and his wife Chrissy have a daughter, Kierra. She knows her pops took a few people’s lives and is in prison. Right now, she’s not asking for more.
This growing up in a less than conventional family made an impression on Michael. He could have been a killer too and once people knew who his father was, they’d say it was inevitable. Instead, Michael’s mom took her family to Laurel Baptist Church in South Congaree. Her own relationship with Jesus Christ was strong and growing. Laurel’s congregation treated Michael’s family like their own. When the power was being cut off or there was no food, the church was there. During the toughest time, the children could open the door and find a box of groceries just sitting there. Sometimes, someone else would pay the utility bill or help with repairs to the house. God showed the Sims that with faith in God, all things are possible. During these years, Michael’s faith foundation was laid and grew stronger
The men of the church were like a father to Michael. They taught him to fish, hunt, and do the things men do. With everyone’s help, this son of a serial killer graduated Airport High School and was accepted to USC. Michael was even on the Gamecock’s football team and played for famed coach Lou Holtz. He later transferred to Columbia International University. At 19 years old, while still in college, Michael became youth pastor at Oakwood Baptist. He later worked there for 11 years before taking the job of family pastor at First Baptist Church of Lexington. For the last 7 years he’s taught parenting courses, done marriage counseling, and coordinated the programs for children and teens.
Now, Michael feels God has led him to plant a church. He’s left First Baptist on very good terms and started The Church at White Knoll with about 20 friends and First Baptist congregants. Over the past few months that number has grown to a little over 100. Just last week they held their first inaugural service where 325 people joined them in worship.
They meet at Carolina Springs Middle School. Since the church was planted, they’ve grown weekly. Michael says that The Church is a non-denominational bible believing Christians. “We believe the bible is the word of God but feel there is room for some freedom in interpreting things differently on some points. We want everyone to know that we are creating a space where members are not judgmental. Our church is already reaching out to the community and taking an active role in it.”
According to its website found at thechurchatwhiteknoll.com, The Church at White Knoll seeks to be a church for people every race, age, and socioeconomic background. They want to be a church that spends more time in the community loving, supporting, and encouraging their neighbors than they do behind closed doors praying for everyone ‘out there.’ They are a church that doesn’t just talk the talk, they want to walk the walk.
As for Mitch, he and Michael are just waiting to see what God has in store. “Right now, California has stayed all executions because of issues with the chemicals for lethal injection. Until that situation is resolved, I’ll keep talking to my dad on the phone and occasionally try flying out,” Michael said. “I believe my childhood, as unconventional as it was, did contribute to my relationship with the Lord and strengthen my faith.” Mitch continues to live his life as a Christian and does what he can to help other inmates find the correct path in life when he can.
If you’d like to know more about The Church at White Knoll, meet its congregation, and hear Pastor Michael, you can find them at 9:30am every Sunday at Carolina Springs Middle. This Is located at 6180 Platt Springs Road, Lexington.