For Chinese Christians, the word “mentor” has been a problem to translate and understand. In the context of Chinese culture, there seems to be no exact vocabulary equivalent, much like words such as vulnerability, fellowship, and others. In Greek mythology, Odysseus entrusted the good teacher, Mentor, with educating his son. Presumably, the word “mentor” comes from that and today is used by people in that connotation. To me, the closest meaning to this word in the Chinese language is “good teacher and valuable friend.” A “good teacher” is often someone who is much older in age and has more experience when compared to oneself, while a “valuable friend” is someone who is of value to oneself in one or several aspects and does not have to be older but can be a peer.
While I can also use this concept in secular culture, within Christianity I add a more transcendent and spiritual connotation. After becoming a Christian, I experienced blessings in my life through the Lord’s provision of a “good teacher and valuable friend.” This was far superior to what a worldly mentor could offer. It was only because of Christ that such a relationship and blessings were possible. My “good teacher and valuable friend” in the Lord has been due to God’s grace and blessing that he prepared for me at the time I became a seeker of the faith.
I am the oldest in my family. From the time I was little, I had felt bad for not having an older brother or sister. However, upon becoming a member of the Father’s family, I realized that my Heavenly Father had prepared older spiritual brothers and sisters to walk alongside me to keep me from being alone in my growth. Due to the space constraints here, I can only share brief stories of three mentors: the sister who led me to Christ, my pastor, and my present best friend.
The Sister Who Led Me to Christ
Strictly speaking, the one who initially sowed the seed of faith in me was my college professor. However, due to my doggedness and subtle pressure from my Muslim family, until my college graduation, my attitude towards Christianity was that “it is a good religion I can draw from but I am still my own god.” When I returned home after graduation, I soon realized that Sister N., from New Zealand, had assumed the role of mentor in my life—even before I had taken the step of coming to Christ.
At the time, I met with Sister N. weekly at my own initiative because my soul was troubled, lonely and thirsty, and she was able to give me a sense of security, inexplicable comfort, encouragement, and hope. Every time we met, I brought with me lots of questions about faith and life; she would brew me a special, flavored tea and then just talk with me. My questions were mostly disorganized and loaded. They reflected the weariness and turmoil in my heart and life. However, each time, regardless of whether Sister N. could give me an answer or not, by the time I left her place, my heart was filled with an indescribable sense of peace. Then one day, I said to her, “My present situation is like standing before the door of a big family, peering in to watch all the kids having a fun time together, but I don’t understand why I cannot bring myself to step over the threshold.” Finally, one day after returning from a business trip and putting away my luggage, I immediately headed for Sister N’s home. As soon as I stepped through her door, I told her, “I have made the decision. I want to believe.”
Shortly after that, I left home to further my education. Several months later, Sister N. came from my hometown to visit me bringing a guitar with her. We had a full day of worship and sharing. It was then she told me that the night before I showed up at her door and told her “I want to believe,” she had prayed for me, and the Lord had said to her, “Tomorrow you will reap.” She immediately knew that it was me that the Lord meant. Later on she had to return to her country due to illness. This was before the e-mail and internet era, so we gradually lost touch. However, in the two to three year period before that time, Sister N. was a most precious “good teacher and valuable friend” in my life.
Not long after becoming a Christian, I started attending a college fellowship group. The one who headed the group at that time is now my pastor. He and his wife were not much older than the students, but they were very different from most of us. They had already graduated from college and were married with children. During those years, for me the most important thing every week was to attend the Bible study, prayer meeting and Sunday worship. Furthermore, since I still struggled with various life issues, I would often contact the pastor for his counsel. Frequently, the pastor’s wife would invite me to stay for dinner. After dinner, I would play with their two children and observe how the couple interacted with and nurtured them.
The relationship between my parents has never been good. They often fight, and I have not felt much love from my parents and family. One day, after having lunch at my pastor’s home, I sat on the couch and watched the children play. Suddenly, I realized that my pastor was like both a father and an older brother to me. These were the two types of love I had missed experiencing throughout my childhood. Right then, the Heavenly Father opened my eyes to see that in him, through my pastor, He was allowing me to experience the two kinds of love that I had been yearning for but had never known. In that particular moment, I felt so warm, so blessed, and so thankful.
My Present Best Friend
At present, the one who is playing the role of mentor in my life is my good friend, Sister A. Actually, we were in the same class when we were students. However, our relationship was just casual until several years ago. We had been working apart for a few years until God brought us together through a seeming coincidence. I had matured a lot since my student years, and now I immediately sensed that Sister A’s life demonstrated many virtues. She possesses quite a few qualities that I am lacking or struggling with. Though she is basically my age, she has a nurturing and motherly heart. Although her work is more demanding and higher stress than mine, she still has passion and zeal to love and care for many people. Though she is very talented, well-learned in Chinese and foreign poetry and is an associate professor in a prestigious university, she is very humble and modest without arrogance or conceit. While on the surface, I appear to be more rational and collected, in actuality, I soon discovered that her understanding of the faith is more thorough and spiritually deep. She is close to God’s heart and walks at Jesus’ side.
Because of these things, I was attracted to her and often sought her out for sharing. Over the past two years, we have been meeting consistently every week or two for lunch and then have a time of deep sharing and prayer. I can share with her my deepest secrets, the weakest and darkest things in my heart. Sometimes, I break down and weep as we share and pray; yet, when we part, I am filled with warmth, encouragement, strength, and peace.
The difference between her and the other mentors in my life is that Sister A. is not only my good teacher, she is also my valuable friend and peer. We have common problems and challenges. We can support each other and intercede for each other in prayer. I can say that she is a sister who is closer to me than my own blood sister.
In my life journey, the presence of these mentors testifies to the reality, omnipotence, compassion, and greatness of our Heavenly Father. They make up the cloud of witnesses who surround us. They are God’s messengers to inspire us to “run with perseverance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Photo Credit: Mustang Mentoring 2011 by Brian Ujiie, on Flickr