It happened 50 years ago! I had just begun my senior year of university. I was old enough to order a glass of wine, but at 21, I wasn’t mature enough to comprehend how my career would come together.
Enter a 33-year-old Presbyterian pastor by the name of John Huffman. John was the visiting cleric on campus for spiritual emphasis week at Seattle Pacific University. In addition to being the pastor of the church where Richard Nixon, our current President, often attended, this James Garner look-alike was a skilled orator. He had a way of connecting faith and life that resonated with me.
The fact that I was a Biblical literature major was an indication of my interest in a faith-focused vocation. But I was unsure of what awaited me after graduation. Somehow, I sensed that this articulate preacher might be able to help me process my uncertainty.
I booked a one-on-one appointment with John and shared with him my faith journey as well as my aspirations and options. He listened to my hopes and dreams and didn’t dismiss my doubts. I felt understood by someone who understood where I was and where I was likely headed. I had no idea as I opened my heart to this virtual stranger that John Huffman would become a lifelong mentor.
Just last month John and I had lunch near his home in Southern California and celebrated a half-century of friendship. It was a meaningful meal punctuated by laughter, sighs and knowing glances. There were no limits to the amount of withdraws we could make from our memory banks. The wrinkles in our faces were evidence of the years we’d made deposits.
Looking back on the past five decades, I can identify the adhesive that glued our friendship on a strong foundation. Letters, emails, phone calls and occasional golf games nourished our long-distance relationship. Through the joyful times of courtship and marriage and the birth of my three daughters, John celebrated with me. Through the challenges of difficult pastoral transitions, John heard my hurting heart and offered wise counsel. When new opportunities to invest my experience came my way, my friend was willing to pray with me for direction.
John’s role as spiritual counselor to our former president proved advantageous years later. It helped pave the way for a growing friendship with Richard Nixon’s younger brother who lived in the Seattle area. When Ed Nixon passed away, I had the unique privilege of eventually officiating at his memorial service. And it is John whom I credit with my getting to know Rich Stearns, the recently retired CEO of World Vision. For years John had been the chairman of the WV Board of Trustees and developed a close working relationship with Rich.
As a result of what I have personally experienced in my relationship with John, I am a huge proponent of mentors. The power of being a modeling influence in a person’s life cannot be underestimated. Mentors make a difference. Mentors lead by example. Their example inspires leadership. Mentors provide a three-dimensional picture of what is possible in any field of endeavor.
No wonder the New Testament is replete with examples of mentoring. Jesus chose twelve individuals to dog his footsteps as he barked out critical comments to the religious leadership who didn’t practice what they preached. What the dozen disciples observed resulted in a perspective of what living faith looked like. And then of the twelve, the rabbi from Nazareth chose three who qualified for executive management training. In Peter, James and John. Jesus saw potential that was worthy of his personalized focus.
We can’t forget Barnabas who mentored his cousin John Mark or Priscilla and Aquila who mentored Apollos. And then, of course, there was Paul who invested in the likes of Silas and Timothy. The end result is attested in the growth of the first century Church.
Mentoring equates to the multiplication of talent and the maximization of opportunities in the church and in the corporate sector. Like coaching in the NFL, mentoring provides hands-on encouragement and correctives. Mentoring is the key that unlocks future success. John Huffman was my Pete Carroll. And I can only hope that my attempts at mentoring those who looked to me for an example were as productive.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is a former chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.