The term mentor comes from Homer's Odyssey. Mentor was the name of the old guy Odysseus left to care for and educate his son Telemachus. The goddess Athena had hidden herself in the form of Mentor to help Telemachus stand up to the suitors who wanted to marry his mother. Through Mentor, Athena also encouraged the young man to start his journey to find his father. Thus Mentor was not only an example of a trusted advisor to a younger person, but an embodiment of divine help and encouragement as that person launches into the journey of life.
As I look back on my life and ministry, I can see my mentors were a gift from God. And their example has been what I seek to provide those I am now mentoring.
I grew up in Schenectady, New York, where my dad worked all of his life on the security detail at the General Electric Company. My mom was a nurse. My folks were first- generation Christians whose faith had totally reconfigured their lives. I was the youngest of four children, and while I was brought up in that faith, I did not initially share my parents' passion for Christ. I grew up in church, youth group, Christian summer camps, and yet I loved sports more than all of these. It was in sports that I developed my identity.
A Life Mentor
A new couple moved into town and started attending our church—Dave and Betty Lou Pollock. Betty Lou was a nurse and Dave was a recent graduate of Moody Bible Institute. Dave was the new area director of Youth for Christ (YFC), and he took an interest in me. We started a friendship, and he took all the initiative. He came to my football games, wrestling matches, and track meets. He took me out to lunch and invited me to his house for dinner. When they adopted their first child, they asked me to babysit.
I liked them because they liked me. He invited me to attend YFC meetings, but I refused to go. He kept inviting me, and he never gave me the impression he was disappointed in me when I would not attend. I had my reasons, but he never asked me what they were. I felt bad for him though, so one night I went to a big rally he was doing at the YMCA. I purposely got there late and stood in the back just to hear him speak and then left when he finished, even though the program was only half over.
My relationship with Jesus did finally gain traction, and my friendship with Dave continued during my college and seminary years even though neither of us lived any longer in Schenectady. I would often visit him and Betty Lou and the kids. We would talk long into the night, and Dave loved to talk. He even officiated my wedding.
Wherever he went he pulled me into his ministry as a speaker or resource person. Sometimes he would call just to bounce ideas off me. I was always amazed: Dave was asking me for my thoughts!
Dave was an important part of my life and ministry until his untimely death in 2004. As I sat in his memorial service at Houghton College, listening to the various speakers share how they were influenced by Dave's life, I was overcome with the thought that I had lost one of my lifetime mentors and my friend.
A Ministry Mentor
Art Gay was the new young associate pastor at my home church. Art and his wife, Joann, were actually friends with Dave and Betty Lou. I remember going to Art for his help in preparing a report for my senior biology class on Creation and Evolution. He also took an interest in me beyond that report. He came to my sporting events even though I had stopped my involvement with the church's youth program. He stayed in touch with me while I was in seminary, and he was the first older adult (over 30) who called my attention to this girl named Gloria with whom I was working at a summer camp where Art was the speaker.