LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. -- Firefighters in Lincoln County are trying to help a man who was a mentor to many of them as he now faces a serious illness and mounting medical bills.
"These are wonderful people," said Reverend Robert Fred Mitchke Friday night.
He was talking about local firefighters, many of them volunteers, and the members of his own congregation at the Bethphage Lutheran Church.
When he is not wearing his pastoral collar, Mitchke puts on firefighting gear and heads down to his local volunteer fire station in Bessemer City.
Over the years he has been a mentor to many of the young first responders.
One of the firefighters who helped organize a fundraiser at the church Friday night for Rev. Mitchke is Brandon Heavner.
"He is there for moral support -- the pastoral figure for the fire service -- but he works just as hard as any of the younger guys even with his health and age," Heavner said.
Reverend Mitschke is fighting lymphatic leukemia.
"I might have six months. I might have 15 years. But then, none of us are promised tomorrow," the pastor said.
His medical bills have piled up as he has faced numerous hospital visits and chemotherapy, so those firefighters he mentored helped organize the barbecue fundraiser as a way of saying thanks.
"Firefighter John Hoyle said, "It is just a way of helping him with his expenses and it is something that we could do to help him out."
Despite all he is going through, Rev. Mitchke still hopes to give more of himself to his congregation and to those firefighters.
"I just can't say thank you enough," he said.