Article by Kendra Gerbrandt
Often, we think of mentors as people who will speak into our lives by keeping us accountable to a higher standard or who act as a sounding board for us to bounce our life decisions off of. But what if a mentor is more than that? What if a mentor doesn’t narrowly speak to us about the specific life situations that we find ourselves in, but rather is someone who models how to live life amidst all of life’s ups and downs and displays what growing trust and maturity in Christ looks like? For mentorship to be Christian it must be more than situational advice. It needs to be about spurring us on in faith, growing us in confident hope that God is who he says he is, that he is trustworthy at all times (even if our times don’t go as we plan), and that all his promises are sure (even if we don’t seem to experience them).
In my life there have been several people who have profoundly mentored me—people who have influenced my thinking, my decisions, my desires, my hopes, my courage, my prayers, my submission to God, my awareness of sin and need to repent, and my willingness to persevere in faith. Some of these people I have lived close to and spent long hours with, but others I have never even met. Their deep influence in my life has taken place through reading Christian biographies.
Reading Christian biographies is a fruitful task for the Christian, not just to learn about the lives of others, but to have them teach us something about living life with God. We can be tempted to read biographies and think, “Remarkable!” But the reality is that none of these people were thinking “I’m being remarkable” as they were living their lives in the various situations that they found themselves in. The Christian life is not one of wrestling with how to be remarkable, but rather a constant wrestle with how to live faithfully before God in the situations we find ourselves in.
I once heard someone say that reading Christian biographies is a powerful kind of theology because it is lived out, theology bursting forth from the lives of people. Let me introduce you to 3 people who burst forth theology—people who can mentor you as you desire to live for God and set your hope fully on Christ in the midst of any situation you are facing.
I hope that as you read about the lives of these people, you will not just marvel at them, but that you will be taught by them about faithfulness in the ordinary, about confident trust in the chaos and confusion, and about hoping in God who is always good.
Helen was born in England in 1925, and moved to the Congo in 1953 to work as a medical doctor. She experienced the ups and downs of discerning God’s call for her life. She records that one day, “I went up into the mountains and had it out with God. “OK God, today I mean it. Go ahead and make me more like Jesus, whatever the cost. But please (knowing myself fairly well), when I feel I can’t stand anymore and cry out, ‘Stop!’ will you ignore my ‘stop’ and remember that today I said ‘Go ahead!’” While working in the Congo, she experienced some small accomplishments and many major failures, and then she endured the extreme violence of the civil war and the Simba rebellion.
Despite all the adventures that she lived through, Helen isn’t someone who will let you put her up on a pedestal. She writes with such blunt honesty about her sin, her hatred of it, and demonstrates what a life of continual repentance and putting sin to death looks like. Her life is a profound testimony of a God who never gives up on his people. She writes, “My life has possibly included more dramatic episodes than many others, but this is not the impression I wish to leave with any reader. Rather, it has been for me a journey towards one definite and glorious goal, ‘that I may know him’ . . . our God, revealed to us in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Reading about Helen’s life will be an encouragement to any Christian who shares this one glorious goal. Read: “Give me this Mountain” by Helen Roseveare.
Sabina was 32 years old when the Communists invaded Romania in 1945. She was present at a significant congress meeting that year, and could not bear how things were unfolding. She told her husband, “Go and wash this shame from the face of Christ”. The risk of Richard publicly opposing the Communist party at that meeting was embraced by both of them, and three years later the dreaded outcome was realized: Richard was arrested for that speech and was kept in prison for 14 years. His shocking story is written in Tortured for Christ and is worth a read. But so is Sabina’s story.
She is someone who was willing to lose everything for the sake of the gospel. And she did lose. She spent 3 years in prison, during which she didn’t how or if her young son was being cared for. She endured 11 more years without knowing if her husband was dead or alive. She struggled through all those years with despair close at hand, bitterness, constant fear, and was often starving, as she endured life under the constant threat of the government. She is a woman who suffered immensely with the loses in her life, and the cost of faithfulness to Christ.
Sabina is an amazing mentor not because she experienced these trials with ease or constant joy, but because she trusted God in the midst of every deep and intense struggle. Like us, she was not immune to fear, anxiety, loneliness, doubt, or worry in the face of such troubles. As we take the time to read her story, we will come away built up with strength and resiliency to face significant loses in life as we endure them for the glory of God.
In reflecting on her life, she wrote, “We have had great joys. We have also had our anxieties. Whenever I am away from Richard, I fear. But if it is dangerous to do God’s work, how much more dangerous it is to leave it undone.” Oh, to have such a confidence in the power and importance of God’s work, that we would have courage to live boldly for him, come what may.
Read: “The Pastor’s Wife” by Sabina Wurmbrand (link is to a free PDF). This book is hard to find in print, but is available through audio sources: kindle, scribed, and Christianbook.com.
John was born in 1824 in Scotland, and at the age of 34 he arrived on the island Tanna (now called Vanuatu) in the South Pacific Ocean eager to share the love of Jesus with the people living there. He lived there for 4 years, enduring a level of hardship, grief, and setbacks that few of us could dream of.
His life is one that called for courage at nearly every turn. Before he left for missions, he faced severe criticism from respected Christians in his country for leaving his current work and going into foreign missions. On deciding to go to a foreign land, he risked losing his loved ones, and then he had the courage to press on when his wife and baby son died within the first four months of arriving there. He risked frequent illness with no doctors and no way off the island to seek medical help. And he endured almost constant threat to his life from the hostilities of the people on the island. Reading about John’s life, is like reading an adventure book. There is no shortage of risk and intensity. But his is more than a life of heroics—it is a life of theology. John was only courageous because he had a big view of a God who is in control, a life of prayer that submitted to God’s sovereign wisdom, and deep joy in God knowing that he wouldn’t find happiness in any other circumstance in life. John wrote, “Whatever trials have befallen me in my Earthly Pilgrimage, I have never had the trial of doubting that perhaps, after all, Jesus had made some mistake. No! my blessed Lord Jesus makes no mistakes! When we see all His meaning, we shall then understand, what now we can only trustfully believe that all is well—best for us, best for the cause most dear to us, best for the good of others and the glory of God.”
To read his story is to be educated in prayerfulness dependence, and humble submission to the sovereign wisdom of God even when life hurts in extreme ways. We will not live the extreme events of John’s life, but may we desire to learn from him about prayer and faith that can cause a person to live with such confidence and commitment to their Saviour.
Read: “John G. Paton. Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography” edited by James Paton.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily held by everyone at Christ City Church.