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Mentoring as member care

For some years now, I have had the privilege of being a mentor for missionaries. It is already six years since I and my husband ended our own ministry abroad but being a mentor for those who are in active service has kept me involved in a meaningful way.

Mentoring has become more common part of member care provided for new missionaries. The younger generation asks for it, and I will argue that is an important addition to the more practical and formal part of member care provided by sending organizations or churches. We have become more used to communication via online platforms because of travel restrictions. This also makes mentoring from our home location possible. We can reach out to people in any location where there is internet connection.

Mentoring can be defined as a one-on-one relational experience in which one person empowers another person by investing their God-given wisdom and life experience in somebody younger or less experienced. I like to focus more on the God-given gifts and skills of the individual, and to help them see their experiences as an opportunity to grow both personally and spiritually. Depending on the relationship and level of trust, we can come along side and help the individual who is dealing with practical or cultural issues, or we can help them deal with more personal or relational issues.

Some workers are part of well-functioning teams where peer mentoring is happening- even if it is not named like that. In those cases, a mentor may not be needed. But others do not have close co-workers like that. The way we do mission is changing, and these days there are many more cross-cultural workers who have a work- or business visa. Their support structure is different from the traditional missionaries and in those cases an external mentor may be really needed.

The main task of the mentor is to listen and let the other person decide what is on their heart to talk about. The mentor can pick up both what is said directly or indirectly and help them to see more clearly what the issues are about and sometimes bring new perspectives. It is important not do dominate the talk by giving advice or share too much of our own experience.

Every individual is unique, and they usually know best how to handle the situation, but they may need reassurance and emotional support, or sometimes new knowledge or maybe a warning that makes them think again. Most of all, they need somebody who sees their struggles, who cares and can pray with them. The relationship works best if the talks are regular and ongoing. In that way we can see development and growth – or we may sense persisting problems that need attention. Through encouragement and accountability, we can help the mentee to maintain their own spiritual life and to keep up a balanced life of work and rest amid the demands of life.

I believe there are many missionaries who have finished their service abroad that could be engaged in this kind of ministry. Sending organizations can lose out on valuable knowledge and experience, good or bad, if it is not redeemed and shared with new workers. Of course, not everybody will feel confident to do this and it might require some training in mentoring or coaching. There is always something more to learn about themes like cultural differences, personalities, leadership development or handling of relational conflicts. But we do not need to be experts in issues like these as long as we are willing to listen, have a caring and humble attitude and ask questions that allows them to share and reflect about their own situation.

To integrate mentoring well in an established sending body, there must be some structure in place. Expectations and roles need to be clarified, and confidentiality must be kept and honored. A written mandate can be given to the mentor and shared with the mentee.  If the co-operation works well, the cross-cultural worker may have a more fruitful ministry and want to stay longer. Through the experience the mentee will also indirectly learn the importance of mentoring and hopefully be willing to mentor others when the need arises, becoming a link in a 2. Timothy 2:2 chain.

This month’s blog is by Reidun Haugen Dalseth, a returned mission worker living in Norway.

 

 

 

 

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