Thank God for the Mentors

by Commissioner David Edwards –

It is rather interesting, when one takes a look back in time, the number of people who have, at one time or the other, helped us develop and become the persons we are now. I was thinking about this the other day. People who have influenced me for good. People who helped me grow spiritually.

Major Alfred Townsend was one such person. I first met him during my student days in training, while I was preparing to become an officer of The Salvation Army. At the time he was the manager of the Sal-vation Army farm just on the outskirts of Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica.

A friend and mentor

Our friendship really developed when I was sent to my first appointment in Trinidad, where he and his wife were stationed on Divisional Headquarters while at the same time managing one of the institutions. This institution was a hostel for young men, and I lived in one of the rooms there, commuting daily to the corps where I was stationed and which was located some distance from the city. My wife to-be was also stationed in the same city. Major and Mrs. Townsend took a keen interest in both of us. They became our mentors.

The Major was promoted to Glory in 1985 shortly before we left the Caribbean for an appointment in the USA Eastern Territory. We still keep in touch with his wife, who is now retired and living in Kingston.

Someone to be admired

The old Major was someone I admired. He was a strong man, with strong convictions. He valued integrity. He was not afraid to speak his mind. He was not always right; neither was he known for his tact. He occasionally made the administration mad at him. But he was loyal to The Salvation Army. His ultimate allegiance was to God. For him there was only one Lord. Yes! I learned a great deal from watching and listening to this man, whom I came to love and respect.

I recently had occasion to mention the Major’s name. It was at the official launching of the territorial mentoring program put together by the Pastoral Care department of the territory. I mentioned his name and the name of one other officer, both of whom I considered mentors, especially during those early years of my officership. Both my wife and I can bear testimony to the fact that we are officers today because of the interest these individuals took in us. They took the time to care. Their interest in us was not so much that we might be better officers, but that we might become the people that God intended us to be.

Discouraged and disillusioned

One of the things revealed by the Schmidt survey of the territory was that while most of our corps leaders were happy in their work and felt encouraged and affirmed, there was a small percentage of that groupwho were somewhat discouraged and somewhat disillusioned. The number, though small, was significant for the researchers to flag it as something about which we should be concerned.

This report confirmed something that had previously been drawn to our attention by Dr. Jack Anderson, the head of our Pastoral Care department. At the time he was serving as the consulting psychologist working with the territorial Personnel department as well as the Youth and Candidates’ department. He had done some research and drew attention to the same concern as identified by Schmidt in his report.

Being proactive

One of the first things that we asked Dr. Anderson to do on taking up his assignment in the Pastoral Care office was to come up with a plan that could help us be proactive in dealing with this issue. The result was his proposal for us to put in place a program of mentoring. In this initial program a number of officers, retired and active, were invited to participate in the mentoring of second year cadets ­ the Faithful Intercessors. The cadets were partnered with a mentor or mentors whom they had selected from the list of officers who had agreed to participate in the program. The mentoring will continue into the first year of officership and beyond if the parties involved desire it.

Know that we care!

As shown by the example of the Townsends towards Commissioner Doreen and myself, mentoring of one officer by another has been around in The Salvation Army for as long as the organization has existed. It is true that it has worked best where it has been allowed to happen. I am sure that even now, without any encouragement from the administration, there are mentoring relationships taking place, people caring sufficiently to take an interest in others. Why then a formal program of mentoring, you might ask? The answer is simple. We care. It is a way of letting those for whom we care know that we do.

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