Giving Back: A Season for Healing
Rev. Mark and Sheryl Douras are connected to Bethel College in way that has touched them deeply. Both of their children, Jonathan (attended ’02-’05) and Elizabeth ’07, chose Bethel. And it was at Bethel that their son, Jonathan, made friends, played music and searched for his career path, before a cancer diagnosis changed the family’s plans.
When both kids were in college, Mark and Sheryl, who had led short-term mission trips domestically and abroad, decided it was a good time to take their most extended mission trip ever – as full-time missionaries in Russia. Mark had taught, worked with youth and conducted leadership training in St. Petersburg, as a guest teacher for a period of years.
With Jonathan and Elizabeth entering college at Bethel, Sheryl says, “we knew Bethel would be a good, safe place for them.”
Just five months after they arrived in Russia, Jonathan was diagnosed with cancer. The couple returned home and moved to Mishawaka to be close during treatments and Sheryl taught at Bethel as adjunct faculty.
Jonathan had been at Bethel two-and-a-half years when he passed away in 2005. He loved music, playing several instruments and was a member of the college choir. Jonathan and Elizabeth both had participated in short-term mission trips before college.
“I think those trips gave Jonathan a real passion to work with kids overseas,” Mark says.
As a way to honor their son’s life and passions, the Jonathan M. Douras Legacy Scholarship was established to assist a student’s ability to participate in a cross-cultural experience.*
Mark and Sheryl receive thank you cards and letters from scholarship recipients expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and expand their education. Jonathan’s life connected his family to Bethel in a special way. Through his scholarship, he can continue to impact students for a long time.
“It is a privilege to have this scholarship. We admire Bethel’s mission,” Mark says. “Not just the mission, but how it is implemented,” he added.
“We feel connected to [Bethel],” Sheryl says. “We feel part of the family.”
In 2018, Mark and Sheryl Douras will open Refreshing Mercies Ministry, a place for those experiencing grief or loss, inspired by the loss of their son. Through shared meals, creative expression projects, and guided journaling activities, people will have opportunity to grow closer to God and heal.
“When you lose someone, there are significant anniversary dates … there is a need to get away, focus and let God speak,” Mark says.
The facility will include a chapel and outdoor spaces conducive to prayer and meditation. They will host one family at a time for two-night stays, or groups up to eight individuals for retreats. They will also offer support for pastors or missionaries who are transitioning to new roles and places or who are experiencing burnout.
“There are so many different kinds of loss,” Mark says. “Even a loss of dreams. We want people to experience healing,” Mark says.
*The name of the scholarship was incorrect in the printed issue of Bethel Magazine, Fall 2017. This electronic article reflects the correction.