Another Look by David Faust
Carmen* is only in her 20s, but the years have taken a toll on her body and soul. She grew up around substance abusers, and her mother and grandmother abuse drugs to this day. From a very young age Carmen learned to use heroine and other drugs as a way to cope with problems and ease the pain. Numerous times she has been arrested for stealing so she could get money to buy more drugs.
But that’s only part of the story. Carmen has become a Christian, and she has been drug-free for two years. The last time she was arrested, instead of going to prison she opted to participate in a rehabilitation program run by a local Christian ministry, and the program literally has saved her life.
My wife Candy serves as Carmen’s mentor. They get together for lunch and have fun going to a museum, an aquarium, a park, an ice cream parlor, or a concert. Mostly they just talk, listen, and learn from each other. It’s been a joy to watch Carmen grow in faith, maturity, and self-discipline.
Her progress shouldn’t surprise us. The Spirit of God often uses one-on-one relationships to encourage positive life-change. Moses set an example for Joshua before his younger successor led the Israelites into the promised land. Naomi passed her faith along to Ruth. Jesus spent three years grooming his disciples for leadership. Paul served as a spiritual father to Timothy and Titus.
In Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, the character Odysseus trusted a friend to educate his son, Telemachus. The name of Telemachus’ tutor has become a permanent part of our vocabulary. His name was Mentor, and the word has come to mean a trusted counselor, a wise friend or guide.
Call it what you will—mentoring, coaching, discipling—for a Christian it’s the Great Commission at work. By pouring yourself into the development of a younger believer, you “make disciples of all nations, baptizing . . . and teaching them” (Matthew 28:19, 20). You equip God’s people “for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12) and carry out Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
In his sermon at the 2010 National Missionary Convention in Lexington, Kentucky, veteran missionary to Venezuela and convention president Dave Linn spoke about the “exchange zone,” the area on the track where the runners in a relay race hand off the baton. Dave posed a challenging question. When it comes to the ongoing work of the gospel, he asked, “Who is in the exchange zone with you?”
But it’s not enough just to pass the baton to the next generation and then stop in our tracks. At least for a while, why not run beside them toward the finish line? The older generation shouldn’t say, “I have carried the load this far; now it’s your turn to carry it alone.” Say, “Let’s carry the load together and then I will step aside.” Don’t say, “I’ve done my part, and now I’m going to sit back and take it easy.” Say, “While you’re getting ready to carry on the work, I will be here to help.”
Young whippersnappers need to link arms with weathered veterans. Older Christians need to stay in the race long enough to help the next generation of leaders get ready to run on their own. Up-and-comers like Joshua and Timothy needed experienced leaders to run with them for a while. So does the young woman who has become my wife’s dear friend—a woman whose life shouldn’t be summarized as a drug addict, but as a sister in Christ.
*‘Carmen’ is not her real name.