The #iMentor Initiative was started to honor the investment of mentors all over the world, and to encourage potential mentors to take the initiative in starting an intentional relationship with a college student today.
I met the Rev. Jack Fogleman when I was eighteen years old and a freshman in college. In United Methodist organizational nomenclature, Jack was a district superintendent. That meant he had supervisory oversight for roughly sixty congregations in a particular section of the State (Kansas). Another responsibility that district superintendents have is to keep track of young ministerial candidates. At the point of our first contact, I was not one of them, but Jack was paying attention.
Jack had heard about me through the church grapevine. Kansas is a rural state and I lived in one of the “ruralest” parts. At the time, my last year of high school, I was in an area-wide singing group that gave programs combining contemporary choral music and brief testimonies. (I could tell you about Betty Jo Banks, another mentor, who led this group, but I’ll stick with Jack.) Three of us senior boys had been pegged to give brief devotional messages beyond the testimonies. Somewhere along the way, Jack saw something in me that needed nurturing.
So, one day I got a call from Jack, asking me to come to his office to talk. When I arrived, he asked me about considering pastoral ministry and entering the denominational candidacy process. His approach was direct, friendly and understated all at the same time. At the end of a rather brief, but compelling conversation, he prayed with me and that was that.
That conversation began a twelve-year relationship during which Jack maintained a steady, supportive, calm presence as I grew up, struggled with my call, and fussed about the problems that frustrated me about my denomination. He listened to me, mostly, only occasionally offering perspectives about church problems that helped to quell my ire. He gave me chances to preach, calling me to supply pulpits when pastors in his district took their vacations. He helped me keep track of logistical requirements for candidacy and movement toward ordination. Always, he prayed with me.
Even after a hiatus in our relationship (my wife and I lived in Italy for three years while I served an expatriate nondenominational congregation), Jack made contact and, when the time was right for a second season of mentoring, picked up where he had left off previously.
In several ways, perhaps, my relationship with Jack Fogleman was not a typical mentoring relationship. His influence in my life, however, was huge. He provided steady support. He let me talk out my issues and he listened carefully. He gave me room to say what was on my mind, unvarnished as those thoughts often were. (I’m sure I said some really stupid, immature things.)
But most importantly, he guided, with real purpose, while not over-controlling. He took the grist of my life and helped me, over time, gain clarity about and make sense of my calling. In today’s jargon, he “did life” with me, though not in the way that campus ministers often use that term. We never went out to eat together, never played golf together, none of those more relational things. But every time I met with Jack I left feeling affirmed, challenged and focused.
Jack went to be with the Lord many years ago, but in some ways his influence continues. I have always felt like a particular part of my calling is to spend time with students, helping them sort out their vocational direction. I find myself operating with my young charges much like Jack did with me. As long as I live, I will give thanks to God for Jack Fogleman’s legacy.
Mentors are just ordinary people, who avail themselves to being used by God — in the life of another — in extraordinary ways. Check out the #iMentor page and consider how God might want to intentionally use you in the life of another. I bet you’ve got a story to share!