Becoming a Mentor

apprenticeI am rich. I grew up in a Christian home with two parents who loved each other. They taught me about God and hashed out spiritual issues with me. God led me to a husband who had been raised in a similar way. We raised two daughters. When it came to parenting, we naturally knew what to do about many things, because we had watched our own parents.

Of course. That’s normal and natural. But what about people who grow up without the advantage of Christian parents or godly examples? When they become Christians, they may struggle with issues that rich people like me find easy.

About twenty five years ago some men in one church realized their need for spiritual mentors. They came from unsaved backgrounds and struggled to meet many of life’s difficulties. So they asked some older men in their church to mentor them. They wanted to be Christian husbands and fathers, but didn’t have role models to help them. Sadly, the men who were more mature in the faith turned down this great opportunity. They decided that no one had helped them, so they would let these younger men figure things out for themselves.

Many parents could greatly benefit from a Christian mentor who would help them understand what good parenting involves. Should I spank or not? What do I do when time-outs don’t work? Do I have a right to tell my children what to do? What if my child doesn’t want to go to church?

I am rich in other ways. My husband and I have served on two different mission fields. We studied different languages and cultures up close and personal. We experienced victories and defeats and moved past them. We learned about missions first hand and by talking to fellow missionaries. We don’t know all the answers, but at least we know many of the questions. God didn’t allow us to learn all this just for ourselves. He expects us to share what we’ve learned.

Missionary apprenticeship programs have given us opportunities to mentor a number of young people considering missions for their future. Church ministry allows us to draw from our experiences to help families in crisis.  We share Scripture and our perspective and help people see things from a different angle. I want to use this blog to share ideas about ministry as well.

I am rich in ideas. God has given me the kind of mind that sees a problem and immediately dreams of ways to fix it.  The need for programs and stories and crafts creates all kinds of ideas in my mind. Sometimes I can hardly switch the ideas off. When I see people who struggle to think of ideas I know I am rich.

Ideas are crucial for a writer, but I probably wouldn’t be writing for publication today without the help of a couple of mentors who showed me the first steps.

Mr. Clarence Townsend, my English teacher at Faith Baptist Bible College taught me how to submit my first manuscript to Regular Baptist Press. Gladys Doonan encouraged me too. Thirty-five years later I continue to write articles, programs, and books for Christian publication. But without Mr Townsend and the late Mrs. Doonan I probably wouldn’t be writing for publication today.

In recent years I have sensed that the Lord wants me to do more to mentor conservative Christian writers into writing for Christian publication. I am a full-time missionary and I work actively at freelance writing. I can’t personally critique many articles and explain what needs to be changed, but I can point to resources to get you started. I offer many writing articles that will help you write for publication. Once a month I write a blog especially for writers. If you have a writing question, you are welcome to leave it in the comment box so that I can address it in upcoming blogs.

This year I plan to chronicle my path to self-publication of a true story which I hope to launch in September 2013. In that way I hope to use my experience to help beginning writers.

God doesn’t provide us with life experiences to grasp selfishly, learning from them but refusing to share the knowledge. What unique experiences has God given you? Will you share what you’ve learned from them? Or will you be like the men in the beginning of this article who felt too intimidated to open themselves to the scrutiny of others?

Mentoring can sound scary. “Who am I to tell someone else how to live?” you ask. “I don’t have all the answers. What if I steer them the wrong direction? If they search my life too closely they’ll see my faults. These young guys are so computer savvy they make me feel like a dinosaur.”

In the New Testament we get a glimpse of Timothy, a young and timid pastor. Perhaps a false form of humility prevented him from displaying his abilities. But Paul urged him not to neglect the gift that was in him or hesitate because of his youth. Paul encouraged him to be an example to others in every way, to mentor the people under him.

Mentoring doesn’t set you up as a perfect authority figure who straightens everyone out. It doesn’t mean you know all the answers or that you don’t make mistakes. It just means you are willing to share your experiences and perspective with others in a transparent relationship.

Ask the Lord to lead you to people who you can help. Then wait for Him to work through you in new and exciting ways.

Coming next week: 5 Ways to Mentor

One Nameless Man

A nameless man left his home in Ireland to spread the gospel in Peru. No one listened. As far as we know, not one person came to Christ under his ministry.

When he died in the mountain village where he had given his life, the villagers refused to bury him in the respectable cemetery. That was reserved for faithful Roman Catholics. They laid the missionary to rest with criminals, homosexuals, suicide victims, and other social outcasts. No fancy gravestone recorded his name for posterity. A simple pile of stones marked the spot of this man who, though he was faithful, gave his life for nothing.

A single lady gave it another try. Mabel Walker, an American, fared a little better. From her faithful efforts to plant the seed of the gospel in this rocky soil, she saw several people saved, mostly children. Yet after years of service, she left Peru with no churches started, no lasting ministry to show for her work.

Twenty years later, Bob and Betty Whatley left the jungle and came to that same mountain valley. They gave it another try. At first they saw little fruit, but after a few years, things began to change. After years of indifference, the Peruvians grew interested in the gospel. This slow, unfruitful field became incredibly receptive.

Today, in many areas, Peruvians mob missionaries for tracts, then sit down and read them immediately. Churches are springing up everywhere. Peruvians come to the city and are saved. Then they return to their villages to share Christ with friends and relatives. Once a group of believers is formed, they beg missionaries to help them start a church.

This area of Peru now has more than one hundred fundamental Baptist churches. Missionaries cannot begin to meet the needs of Peruvian churches crying out for help, much less start churches in every place Christians are begging for them to come.

Of course, Satan won’t give up Peru easily. Pockets of great opposition still slow the spread of the gospel. In some areas, school teachers refuse to pass students who attend Baptist church services.

Other schools, however, invite missionaries to come and teach Bible classes. Today, missionaries to Peru are reaping an abundant harvest of souls.

And what about the Irish missionary who so faithfully planted the gospel, yet died in apparent failure? Today Peruvians lead Bob Whatley to the little pile of stones that cover his grave. “This man,” they tell him, “told us about Jesus.”

Across the world today, missionaries and pastors grieve over fields that produce little, if any, fruit. They’d gladly give their lives to bring souls to Christ and build a lasting ministry. Yet in the middle of their apparent failure, Satan whispers, “Why give your life for nothing?”

The cemetery in Peru is still filled with the bodies of criminals, outcasts, and one nameless missionary whose life ended—in failure. Few would desire such a site for a final resting place. Bob Whatley, however, disagrees. He says, “When I die, bury me beside that old missionary. He was faithful.”

Equality as a Cultural Issue

I always thought I knew what equality was.

Americans believe in equality. We don’t like to think of ourselves as snobs. We try not to judge a person’s worth by their fame or income level or what they look like. We try to treat all people with a certain degree of respect. So when we moved to New Zealand, where equality is very important, I felt we fit in and understood. Years later, however, I learned that the New Zealander (Kiwi) idea of equality was slightly different.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is a label used in New Zealand and Australia to describe their aversion to people who “get above themselves.” They are friendly to almost anyone, but eye with suspicion the “tall poppy” who grows higher than the rest. Kiwis and Aussies rarely celebrate success and don’t generally aspire to build wildly successful careers.  Sports is the exception to the rule. Everyone loves the All-Blacks, the nation’s rugby team. Compared to many other cultures, however, education is not highly valued. New Zealand is, as a result, always short of doctors, but they have plenty of tradesmen.

Kiwis will tolerate a certain amount of success if the successful person lives in an average house, drives an average vehicle, and like everyone else.  Anything that could hint at being flashy or pretentious will not impress the average Kiwi, but will have the opposite effect.

Equality and Leadership

Understanding the Kiwi concept of equality becomes important in a leadership position. Titles are rarely used. Even kids often call doctors and pastors by their first names. While Americans use titles as a sign of respect, expecting it in New Zealand often signals superiority.

Some cultures weigh a pastor’s advice very heavily and nearly always follow it. In an egalitarian culture like New Zealand, however, a pastor or leader has to tread much more carefully when giving advice or correction or he will risk offense.

Formality and Leadership

Kiwis like to keep most things casual. Formality often comes across as unfriendly. Formality often emphasizes a central figure standing up front, leading things. Casualness emphasizes everyone in the group, because individuals can speak out quite freely.

People sitting in a circle drinking tea is friendly. Casual dress, informal settings, unstructured meetings are friendly too. Having tea and biscuits (cookies) makes anything seem more friendly.

On the other hand, anything highly structured or planned can seem unfriendly. Rules, punctuality, formal dress, evaluation, one speaker talking without comments from the audience; all these can easily come across in an unfriendly manner. Meetings are often much more casual than the American counterparts.  While Americans may be uncomfortable with such a degree of casualness, it makes the meeting seem friendly to Kiwis. And friendliness is the brother of equality.

For a closer look at  New Zealand culture read my book Two Sides to Everything. This book targets the reader who is about age 9-13.

Have you seen examples of differences in culture when it comes to equality and formality? Can you describe those differences?

4 Common Cultural Differences

Every society has its own way of doing things that are common to all. However, when an outsider steps into that society, things are not familiar at all. While it is impossible for us to discuss all the various and differing nuances of a culture, we will look at four areas that affect missionaries almost immediately when they set foot on their field of service. Interestingly enough, these are very closely intertwined.

Task-oriented or People-oriented

The way people interact or relate with each other varies widely within cultures. We as Americans pride ourselves on our individual accomplishments. We are very much task-oriented, with the purpose of reaching a specific goal. Because of this we oftentimes have a tendency to run over people as we strive to finish our task. However, a large number of cultures are more relationship-oriented, and being with people and interacting with them is seen to have more importance than a task to be finished. When this is the case, the missionary must adapt and develop those close relationships if he or she is going to be able to share the gospel.

View of Time

Another aspect of culture that many missionaries struggle with is a society’s view of time. We are very time-sensitive and accustomed to deadlines and being in certain places—on time. Again, in many cultures, being bound by a clock is not important. Because they value relationships and people so highly, if a person is in need or has just stopped by to visit, that would take precedence over being at a meeting on time. When they do arrive, and because they value relationships, they will take the time to greet each person present—even if the meeting has already begun.

Directness of Language

A third aspect of culture is the manner in which people communicate with one another. We Americans pretty much tell it as it is! If a boss is displeased with an employee’s work, he does not hesitate to tell him or her so. However, in many cultures where the maintaining of relationships is important, a more indirect language is used to exhort or correct one another. Oftentimes, an intermediary is sought to help resolve the issue. Many a missionary has made the mistake of confronting a national, which in the end has caused both to “lose face.”


The final aspect we will note has to do with food and meals. We often look at food as a means of sustenance and grab it while on the go. In many countries this is a time when family and friends gather and each has opportunity to share. Again, we see the importance of relationships. The sharing of food with others is a way of showing kindness and respect. To refuse such an offer can do irreparable harm.

A failure to recognize these nuances of culture can cause both the missionary and the message to be rejected. Remember Paul’s words, “I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”

Thank you to Steve Fulks who gave me permission to use this partial article on Culture Shock which featured in the November 2011 edition of Baptist Mid Missions student paper Vision.

What experiences have you had that demonstrates one of these cultural differences?

Furlough, Deputation, and Other Revolving Door Ministries

Every week you meet a whole group of new people. You try to minister in a meaningful way, but you find yourself feeling like so much window dressing. Dress pretty. Smile right. Answer the same timeworn questions about your ministry and your country one more time. Move on to a new group.

Furlough and deputation or pre-field ministry can feel like a revolving door of strangers. How can you relate to individuals when their faces change each week? One approach says you’re here to present your ministry and field. As long as you’re doing that you don’t have to worry about the strangers you meet each week.

True, it is totally unrealistic to expect to connect with everyone. You’ll never be able to remember even the names of key people in every church you visit. But you can touch individual lives in a significant way.  Here’s how:

Send out feelers

When my husband and I go to camp we each sit separately with different campers every meal. We line up last so we can spot spare places and sit with kids who might show more interest than others. We ask the names of kids closest to us and ask where they are from.  We ask about camp activities. If we’re familiar with their families we ask about them. We might ask about their interests: sports, music, future career, hobbies, college expectations. This often gives us a way to connect with some of them.

I look for potential writers or missionaries or Christian workers. Art is more likely to ask about sports and physical activities. The key word is “ask.” Many kids and teens are willing to talk if you get the conversation started, ask them about themselves, and show genuine interest.

You can do a similar thing while you stand by a display table, watch a soccer game, or visit at someone’s house.

Focus on them

As missionary guest speakers the focus is usually on us. We go first in the food line. We are featured and welcomed in the service. We talk about ourselves and our ministry. Some of this is necessary and helpful. But if we want to have a significant impact on individuals we need to shift the focus at some point. This is not just about me and my ministry. Who are you? What’s going on in your life right now? What are you passionate about? What can I learn from you?

When you focus on a person you listen to more than words. You search for their concerns or joys or passions.  You listen to what they say to learn about them, not just to use their words as a springboard for your own comments. You may never see this person again, but right now he deserves your full attention.

Connect as a friend

This is not sermon time. I’m not here to straighten you out or perform like super-missionary. I just want to know you and affirm you.

You like to play baseball? Cool. What position do you play? I know missionaries who use baseball for a great outreach in the Dominican Republic.

You play the piano? How long have you played? God can really use that skill on the mission field.

You do patchwork? I’d love to see your work sometime. Do you display it anywhere?

You’re a football fan? In New Zealand they play rugby. I actually know very little about it, but you should talk to my husband sometime. He likes sports, but he’s more of a runner.

Sound pointless? Actually making conversation is an important missionary skill that will help you wherever you go. Today we have more forms of communication than ever before: texting, email, phone calls, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, even snail mail. But with all of these, we have less and less time to actually focus on one person and communicate well. It’s becoming a dying art, and yet one that is desperately needed.

I’m convinced that one of the most effective ways to impact people is through quiet, personal conversations. We don’t usually see the results of this kind of ministry, but it is real and memorable.

What are some ways you reach out to people during periods of constant travel?