1999 was a bad year for the white rhinoceros in South Africa’s Pilanesberg Park. Despite the diligent protection of park rangers, rhino after rhino was harassed, wounded, and, in the worst-case scenario, killed. An investigation ensued, the outcome of which surprised even the most experienced of naturalists.
No, poachers were not at fault, nor tourists, nor the rangers themselves. Much to the bewilderment of the investigators, the conundrum at hand presented a much larger challenge. A much, much larger challenge—about 7,000 pounds of challenge, to be exact.
Twenty years prior to this rash of violence, elephant families at Kruger National Park had grown too populous to sustain life in a fragilely balanced ecosystem. Researchers could unearth no other solution than to relocate a portion of young elephants to a site better equipped to nourish them. Elder elephants were left behind, essentially rendering their younger counterparts orphaned at a critical developmental stage. The relocation plan “created a whole generation of traumatized orphans thrown together without any adults to teach them how to behave. Years later those lonely orphans developed into troubled teenagers,” according to CBSNews.com.
Without role models, the elephants went rogue. They began unleashing their aggression on tourist vehicles and eventually their fellow park inhabitants. Researchers were forced to either take the lives of the band of rebels or to get creative.
You may ask yourself at this point, “What could mutineer elephants and mentoring possibly have in common?” The answer: Everything. “The solution turned out to be the biggest Big Brother program in the world,” reported CBSNews.com. It was a long shot, but rangers took an unprecedented step and introduced bigger, older, and wiser adult elephants to the habitat with the hope that they would model to the teens appropriate elephant behavior.
The results were miraculous. The elder animals had the exact effect that rangers had intended; they “established a new hierarchy,” as though “a group of teenagers who have been acting up … are confronted by their fathers all of a sudden” (CBSNews.com). But not one of the adult elephants fathered the young in question; each was simply a presence who had been around the block and could impart their example.
It’s not so different with human beings. In fact, it’s not different at all. The question remains, then—if not elephants, who are those in need of a mentor? Again, a simple answer: Everyone. Young and old, rich and poor, Caucasian and African American … the list goes on. The popular notion, and certainly the one that tugs the most heart strings, is that of a young child, growing up fatherless and poor with no one to take him to a baseball game or teach him to tie his shoes.
To be certain, this picture of need is pressing. Traditional one-to-one mentoring is of prime importance, and today is as good a time as any to begin mentoring—technology and creativity have opened myriad outlets for your mentoring juices: e-mentoring by e-mail, mentoring as a family, coaching, reading to a child over the phone, and countless more.
The word “mentor” is used rarely in the Bible, and not at all in most translations. The fingerprints of mentoring, however, are pressed from cover to cover, from Saul teaching David to be king to Jesus discipling his chosen twelve. Paul reached out to Timothy to grow him into the leader the early church desperately needed. “I give you this instruction” mentor wrote to mentee, “so that you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:18,19). Paul was compelled to give Timothy a fighting chance, and there was no better way for Paul to do so than to impart his own wisdom, his own experience, his own legacy—in effect, to mentor him.
But do not be deceived. You need not be Jesus, or even Paul, to profoundly impact the life of another. All that is needed is a little time, energy, and commitment from ordinary people in ordinary circumstances.
Becky Rutka, a staff member as well as a formal mentor at Kinship of Greater Minneapolis, MN, was just living her every day life when she came face to face with a 15-year-old girl who triggered something in her heart. “I kept waking up in the morning going, ‘Fatima doesn’t have a mentor yet!’ I knew she would be out of the program once she turned 16, and I just had to do something about it.”
Those at Kinship will make one thing clear to you. You may think you are going into a mentoring relationship to serve someone less fortunate, but Becky and those like her say they get as much, if not more, from the relationship in return. “I think mentoring has actually made me feel better about myself!” a Kinship mentor stated. “[My mentee] reminded me that fulfillment in life doesn’t depend on material possessions or life circumstances.”
Take a moment now to think about the people throughout your life who have provided guidance to you. Perhaps your mentor came to you informally as an uncle who taught you to ride your bike, or perhaps you were part of a program that matched you with a formal mentor because you needed more adults in your life to show you how to live it. Or perhaps you were provided no mentors, and now looking back you realize that you want to do what you can to ensure that one more person has what you didn’t.
We all stumble—that’s a fact. Whether we fall down or keep walking depends on the people willing to grab on tight and join us on the journey. The person in need of your firm grip may be a child from a single parent home, as those served by Kinship of Greater Minneapolis, an entire family trying to get back on their feet, or possibly even a person older than yourself. The person in need of your mentoring may actually be in the house next door to you or the cube to your right. Keep your eyes open, because the next elephant called upon to mentor may just be you.
To learn more about mentoring opportunities, visit: