Mentoring: An Important Form of Discipleship
Group 21. Jakarta, Indonesia. August 2016. The Lausanne Movements’ Younger Leaders Gathering was finally getting underway, and I was excited to meet my mentoring group of six up-and-coming Christian leaders from all over the world.
We were assigned a place and time to meet up, take roll and make quick introductions, but then we could find a preferred spot where our daily meetings would be held for the next eight days. John Nyadjro from Ghana - Sammy Hammork from Kenya - Ian Nagata from Japan - Ksenia Bondarenko from Ukraine (how DO you pronounce that?) - Kevin Avery from China - Sharoon Sarfraz from Pakistan (I’m butchering these names!) All present and accounted for!
I had the bright idea of moving our group to a quieter spot in another building I’d scoped out earlier. I marched our group down three flights of stairs and across the college campus we had invaded, like a mother duck with her ducklings all in a row. When we got to the other building, I realized I was completely turned around and the spot that I was thinking of was actually in the building where we started. I was so embarrassed! I was sure these bright young millennials were thinking, “She’s our leader?! Can I switch to another mentor group?”
The group decided to just choose a corner table in the big open-air cafeteria and that became “our spot.” It turned out to be a blessing to be outside for our group sharing time with so many conference sessions indoors. We also had inadvertently just accomplished several goals of forming a group:
1 - Sharing an experience that is either funny, embarrassing or both;
2 - Making a decision as a unit that impacted us all; and,
3 - Extending grace and forgiveness when someone makes a mistake, even the leader!
The dictionary definition of a mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser, especially of a younger colleague.” The 1,000 younger leaders at this conference ranged in age from about 20-40. The 200 mentors were all over 40. As each group member shared more about what they were doing in their lives and ministries, I realized that, yes, I was older than they are, and, yes, I have more experience than they do, but most importantly, yes, we were all colleagues. Co-workers in the building of the Kingdom of God!
Everyone brought something valuable to our group. We all learned from one another. We each shared our life stories. We prayed for one another and the world. One unexpected theme that emerged was how many of them were working with special needs populations. I have a special needs young adult daughter Kelly who was born with a rare genetic syndrome. Only God could have orchestrated that we would all be in Group 21!
In addition to the mentoring groups we led, each mentor was available for 30-minute one-on-one sessions throughout the day. Each conference attendee had a profile accessible on the conference app so young leaders could choose which mentor they wanted to meet with. I was surprised by the number of young men who selected me. There was sometimes the sweet connection like a mother and a son. Some women chose me to talk about the issues facing women in ministry leadership. Some were interested in a specific area of expertise like evangelism or missions.
This was my first experience of being a mentor in this way. What I quickly realized was that it didn’t matter what expertise I had or how much wisdom I may have acquired over the years. What mattered was that I was available, fully present in this session with the person I was sitting with, listening with my ears, my heart and my spirit, to them and to the Lord. A word of encouragement, a good challenging question or two and a prayer lifting them and their circumstances to the throne of grace was all that was really needed.
After observing and experiencing dozens of these short 1/2 hour sessions with different young leaders from completely different cultures, I was amazed at how quickly the mentor and “mentee” bonded. Two people who were complete strangers just moments before were now having deep heart-to-heart talks, often including tears and always including prayer! Because we were connected through the app, we could follow up with one another later and then decide if we wanted to continue the mentoring relationship after the conference concluded. I am now continuing to mentor half a dozen young international leaders from that conference.
My Group 21 friend Sharoon from Pakistan is a young Christian leader in a majority Muslim country where persecution is a daily and very real threat. Through Skype calls, I was able to help him prayerfully discern which ministry opportunities to pursue. When he accepted an invitation to attend the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Summit on Religious Persecution in Washington, D.C. last spring, it was my privilege to drive from North Carolina to host him in my country, showing him the sites and talking about his future. I was able to take him to the headquarters of the International Justice Mission (IJM) where he was introduced to the Director of IJM India. IJM doesn’t have a base in Pakistan…yet!
This summer, Sharoon was invited to participate in the World Evangelical Alliance’s Fellowship of Emerging Leaders internship in New York. New Wineskins was privileged to be able to financially assist with his program fees. Sharoon’s wife Saba and two young children, Simone and Stephen, were able to come to the States for a visit before he had to return to Pakistan. His wife has a cousin, Gebran, who lives in Philly with his young family. Sharoon knew I had extended an open invitation for him to visit me in North Carolina anytime, but I told him that Elon, NC, is a long way from Philadelphia, PA.
Before we knew what was happening, eight Pakistanis were crammed into a mini-van on a ten-hour trip to come to our home for the weekend, which happened to be my daughter Kelly’s birthday weekend. We introduced them to corn hole and hushpuppies, taught them to swing dance, exchanged gifts, learned how to say Happy Birthday in Urdo, jumped on mattresses with three little kids, learned about how blasphemy laws nearly claimed the life of their family member back home, and talked of dreams to come. A lot of pressure is on Sharoon to return to his country and grow into the Christian leader that God has called him to be. He’ll need lots of prayer…..and mentoring!
Heavenly Father, your word teaches that older ones should always be helping younger ones, whether we are 20, 50 or 100 years old. Help us to be generous with our time, our experience, our prayers, and our resources. We pray especially for the younger generations of Christian leaders that you are raising up all over the world. Help us as we seek to disciple others! Amen.
Jenny Noyes is the Executive Director of New Wineskins Missionary Network. She is a passionate speaker, writer, and evangelist. When she's not working, Jenny can be found playing tennis with her husband Larry, spending time with her children, and enjoying the great outdoors. You can contact Jenny here.