By Samuel Gill
Like many of my generation, I grew up with a dad who was never home. Well, never truly home, emotionally. My father, a good man and a hard worker, learned the art of avoiding parenthood by embracing the work ethic to the point of being a workaholic. He worked ten to twelve hour shifts his whole life. Later in life when his railroad union was forced to cut back his overtime hours, he filled his time with a second career as a house painter.
When dad was home he was so tired that mom’s advice was physically beneficial, but emotionally damaging. “Hey kids. Listen up. Your dad’s car is pulling into the drive way. Be quiet, don’t bother him, stay out of his way, otherwise he will get angry with you.”
Thus my quest for a substitute father was ignited. Over the years that followed, well into early adulthood, I intuitively reached out to a score of men to fill that void. Unconsciously, my emotionally starved soul longed for adult male attention. I survived the hunger of childhood, adolescence, and early teen years through the goodness of a few good men. Thankfully they were all God-fearing men who I admire to this day.
Unfortunately, I made one major mistake in the selection process. They all had one thing in common. They were as quiet and silent as my dad. They were, however, at least willing to make time for me and lend attention to a needy boy.
A tall, handsome Swede named Don modeled gentleness as he taught a skinny, eight-year-old how to swim. During pre-adolescence, bald-headed Hank consistently modeled patience and commitment as he welcomed me into his church-based boys’ club. He even drove me there each week.
In high school a neighbor on our block, named Lon, adopted me as the son he never had. His plight was having a house full of six daughters. His acceptance and encouragement carried me a long way.
Just prior to college, a young married couple, Ron and Joyce, delivered up numerous meals to a teen with a bottomless pit. I admittedly had little to offer in return.
The encouragement, time spent, and presence of each of these men filled a deep void in my life. I would have not survived those formative years without them.
In 1991, my friend Alan had just arrived from the east coast of the United States at the São Paulo airport in Guarulhos, SP. As we began the long drive across the outer rim of the city from the international airport to our home ninety minutes away, a queasiness began to take shape in my belly. I feared a disaster was in the making. So I felt compelled to offer him an out. “Alan, I’m afraid that the very reason you have come this month may not become a reality. If you want, we can return to the airport, and see if they can reschedule a return flight sooner than your scheduled thirty-day visit.”
He had come to São Paulo to help me design a curriculum centered on Christian education for the denominational Bible college I directed.
His answer not only stunned me, but made a significant difference in my life then and for many years to follow.
By this time, I was a full blown adult, with three teens of my own. My career had hit a snag, though, with my future as executive president of our young Bible college in doubt. There had not been any Dons, Lons, or Rons in my life for quite some time. I had made my share of mistakes but still managed to carve out a meaningful career as a school administrator.
The Bible college had grown from a freshman class to a full-blown four-year curriculum, proudly planning its first graduation. The Bible college was drawing students from several outlying states alongside those from the capital. We had twenty-five part-time teachers, two staff professors, and three part-time secretaries serving a student body of over fifty students.
But over the months prior to Alan’s arrival, there had been bumps in the road in my role at the Bible college. The directors had gone mute about finding a solution for a new property in line with our income. A major shake-up that resulted in releasing a core staff member had left a huge hole in our facility (emotionally and spiritually). No one inside or out was offering advice, encouragement, or direction concerning the future of our fledgling Bible college.
A few months before his visit, Alan’s church had agreed to allow him to spend a few weeks in São Paulo helping to design a curriculum for the Christian Ed department of our growing Bible college. In the interim, I had traveled to his church to share the vision with his vibrant, caring church and to confirm the timing of his trip.
Alan’s credentials are stellar. He has a doctorate in education. His openness, and that of his church, was timely and strategic.
But there was a fly in the ointment. The directors of the school were hiding something from me. I could feel it in my bones. A crisis was just around the corner.
Alan, I fear that the Brazilian directors of the Bible college are planning to close the doors on our school in the very near future. It’s not a matter of if, but when. I fear it may even happen in the next few days. If you like, I can turn around, and we can try to reschedule your flight to leave Brazil in a week or so. What do you think?
I was not prepared for his answer. However, what Alan said in the next few moments became a catalyst to bless my life for years to come.
“Sam, I came down to Brazil to be with you and serve you, not the Bible college per se. I’m here for you. No, I don’t want to change my ticket.”
Wow! What a boon those words proved to be. But there was more to follow.
My gut feeling about an imminent crisis was unfortunately correct. During Alan’s first week we conducted the graduation ceremonies for the first senior class. To the surprise of everyone, even me, right there at the graduation ceremony the directors announced that they were closing the school until further notice.
The students were enraged. I was stunned and emotionally unprepared for this news.
Alan remained silent and waited a day or two to offer a comment. When he did, it came in the form of a question. But, the insight of his inquiry was the key to unlock me from a dungeon of depression and gave me the momentum I would need to move forward. Listen to what he asked,
“Sam let’s envision your future. Now that you are free from your role in the Bible college, you can pursue anything your heart desires. What do you dream of doing? What big dream is in your soul that you have not yet gone after?”
That conversation gave birth to a dream. That dream turned into a vision, and the vision became the major focus of my life. That focus carried me for the next twenty-five years – a focus on team ministry.
Let me ask you a question: If God had not sent Alan to Brazil at that precise time, do you think that I would have survived? Probably, but not without a long road of recovery from disappointment and a lack of focus on what to do next.
Admittedly we don’t necessarily face such dramatic moments every day. Maybe just once a month or a quarter. But there are multitudes of times we need a consultant, a mentor, or someone to hear our heart and encourage us to consider other options.
In the Bible there are scores of examples similar to mine.
At a crucial time in his life, David was blessed with a close friend, Jonathan. Jonathan’s father, Saul, saw David as his arch-enemy. Despite the fact that Jonathan was the king’s son, he chose to risk a friendship with David. Jonathan often spent time encouraging David and envisioning a kingly future for David, despite the obvious obstacles.
After Moses fled for his life from Egypt, he ended up bumping into a Midianite shepherd family, whose father was Jethro. It wasn’t long until Jethro became Moses’ father-in-law. He not only welcomed him into his household, but lent a calm, listening ear to the dark story of woe burning in Moses’ heart. Moses would need a personal encounter with God to clarify his life mission. But, on the path to that encounter, and afterward, he enjoyed Jethro’s support, advice and encouragement.
Queen Esther had Uncle Mordecai who knew the value and the timing of a well-placed question to motivate her to take action when needed.
The Moabite widow, Ruth, was blessed with the personal touch and guidance of her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, who helped her map out her future.
What do you think would have become of the twelve disciples if Jesus had only enlisted them without lending them his patient, steady presence for three solid years?
After Paul’s conversion, where would he have been if it weren’t for Barnabas who came alongside him at the right moment? Barnabas’ name means “son of encouragement.” On repeated occasions, Barnabas exercised that role with Paul over the weeks, months, and years that followed.
The list of biblical men and women who had mentors, friends, guides, or coaches is nearly endless. They benefited from the openness, acceptance, and understanding of those mentors. Their gift of time and a listening ear gave these folks the impetus they needed to move forward and experience more meaningful lives.
You too, could benefit from a spiritual mentor, a guide, or a coach to help you grow and sort out the next steps of your life.
Walter Bennis wrote the following, “One mark of a future leader is the ability to identify, woo, and win the mentor who will change his or her life.”
So where are you now on the scale of knowing that mentors matter?
About Samuel Gil:
Samuel served as a missionary over 40 years overseas in Brasil, spending 20+ years in developing leaders and his last few coaching & mentoring new & emerging leaders. He is available for coaching Christ followers who want to discover their Life Purpose. To contact him visit his website https://www.