Godmothering: The Power of Mentoring To Change Lives

“Profound Accord” by Tracey Penrod

A year ago or more, I bought this print from my friend Tracey Penrod. The image spoke to me of friendship and motherhood…of dreams yet to be fulfilled. I kept both the impressions and the artwork to myself until today. With permission from the artist to reprint her work here, I tell you that today, this image speaks to me about mentoring others.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is about giving back to the world some portion of what you have learned in it. When I write to you, dear reader, it is my attempt to help you learn and grow from my experiences.

But, actual mentorship gets more personal than a conversation like this. Mentorship is face-to-face and walking out life together with someone that can learn from you.

Why Do You Need Mentorship?

If you are young, the Bible says you are supposed to be mentored (into godly character and living) by older, more experienced Christians. So, in part, you can say mentorship is a part of developing your faith. But it is more than that.

To be a mentee makes you have wings to fly in your business, relationships with others, and personal life. It helps you more clearly define who you are to yourself and others. That clarity is immeasurably important–especially in business–because you have to be able to advocate for yourself to get ahead in this world.

Why Should You Be A Mentor?

If you think back to when you got started in your adult life, you did not do it alone. You had parents, teachers, or other business owners answering your questions. Most of the time, they did that all for free just to help. That is what mentorship is: selfless sacrifice for the good of others.

If you still don’t get it, think about how you want to be remembered and celebrated when you die. Will your funeral be Ebenezer Scrooge with one faithful employee that shows up–if you are lucky? Or will it be Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose passing was felt around the world and, when he died, a funeral train carried his body 3000 miles through 9 states for people to gather at the tracks and say farewell to his body as it passed.

What I find surprising about death is how much it tells you about the person. You learn things you never knew about them when they were alive, and you find out just what they meant to you emotionally.

Such was the case with my friend, Juanita Green.

What is a Godmother?

It wasn’t till she passed that I realized who she was to me. Juanita was a godmother to me, and by that I mean she poured her life sacrificially as a mentor. Pastor Jim Wall, the Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church, used 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 to show us that the church “is desperate for some spiritual mommas and daddies”. Do the needs of the early church still stand true today? The answer is: absolutely!

Lisa Bevere coined the term “Godmother” for this in her latest Bible study, Godmothers. It means someone who is investing actively in the lives of other people around them. They do life with these people and show them God’s love in practical ways. They invest even to the point of taking a risk because they see value even when it isn’t there yet. They make sacrifices and sometimes live frugally because it is more important to them to make other peoples’ dreams come true than their own.

Show God’s Heart

1 John 2 has some strong words for those who claim to know Christ but hold on to hatred and unforgiveness towards others. I have to admit–I struggle with this one two. What it is trying to say is that God is not a god that plays favorites; if we want to be like Him and claim to be his, we have to be less and less prejudiced with our love. It also means that we have to be willing to forgive when people mess up–because they will…we all do. If you are honest with your own relationship with God and you show who you are with actions not just words, you will exhibit the character of a person who is what they say they are. THAT is a person people will follow and trust.

Make Room For Love In Your Timeline

All throughout the New Testament, Paul’s letters open and close with reminders of what he did in the presence of the people he was writing to. They also talk about people he left or sent to them as examples and witnesses of what he was saying. All those verses are good examples of what it looks like to make yourself available. Paul wasn’t always able to physically be where someone needed him to be, but he was always with them in spirit. I think that is an important thing to note because we all struggle with time management. Nevertheless, he made it a point to make time to communicate to the people he cared about. We should do likewise.

When is the last time you sat down with the people you loved and spent quality time with them doing something they cared about? When have you last told your loved ones that you love them? As a mentor, you need to be clearly communicating all that to your loved ones, but you also need to be available for the people you mentor.

Being a spiritual momma and daddy is about every interaction you have. It’s being available and sharing your life–not just leading a meeting.

Jim Wall, Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 gives us a picture of what this looks like in a family setting. It shows us parents who make their faith a part of their everyday living. They teach their faith to their children and children’s children. They set up reminders around the house of the goodness of God.

How does that translate into mentorship?

Mentors need to see themselves as spiritual parents and grandparents. They should make faith a part of their everyday lives and live it out with their mentees in a true honest friendship relationship.

Believe To The Point Of Taking A Risk

Every great person in the Bible had someone believing in them when they were not yet great. That is what Jesus did with the disciples—especially Peter. How could Christ look at the man that would deny him three times and still say, in Matthew 16:18, that he would be the rock on which the church would be built? He said this not just because he was God. He said this because he believed in Peter and saw his potential even before there was evidence of it.

To be a good mentor, you have to be willing to do the same thing. Sometimes you have to trust someone when they are not currently getting it right or being trustworthy. This can be a risky thing to do because sometimes you have to invest in them in ways you don’t know how they will end up. Paul did that with a former slave in Philemon 1:18-19. He offered to pay off the debt he owed for him! And guess what happened to Philemon after that? Scholars believe he went on to pastor a church that changed a whole city!

The Risk Reward is a Legacy

The legacy you leave behind when you are a mentor is the people you invested in. It is their lives living on after you, leaving a mark in the world, that you have made different. Whether that is one life or one million doesn’t matter. What matters is that you didn’t keep it all to yourself. What matters is that you took the risk to gain the reward of a legacy of lives touched by your presence in it.

That is the risk Juanita Green took at the end of her life. She did not always live life well, but at the end of it all giving and mentoring was the refining fire of all her former selfishness (as she would have called it). She was not the first important mentor in my life nor will she be the last, but I think it is important to note here that she left the impression she did on me in just four months. It doesn’t take a lot of time to make a difference that changes a life for a lifetime. It just takes a heart open and willing to love.

A father [or mother] who serves the destiny of others above serving his own, will, in the end, fulfill his destiny.

Pastor Bill Humphries

Nydia Negron-Lopez, English Language Learner and High School Equivalency Coordinator at Sampson Community College

When I first met Nydia Negron-Lopez, I was inspired by her bravery and enthusiasm. Dressed in red, white, and blue decorations, she acted out the part of a human firework for a group cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. She was not afraid to look silly for a good cause and bring on the laughs. It made me want to know more about her, so I contacted her for an interview for this blog.

Nydia was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico. She loves summertime and the beach and spending as much time as she can with her family. Nydia has a passion for reaching the needs of the Latino community. She started teaching adults in 1999. She worked for the Employment Security Commission (now NC Works) and taught part-time at Wayne Community College and Sampson Community College. She continued working like this for seven years before a position opened up for her to become the ESL and HSED Coordinator in the College and Career Readiness Department at Sampson Community College. 

Interview Q & A

What made you choose to become an adult educator?

I chose to become an adult educator because of my interest in helping adult students become better educated, especially the English language learners who are in need to learn English and integrate into the community.

The adult student is different depending on local demographics and what academic level you are teaching. Describe the average student in your classroom today and some of the ways you encourage their engagement in the classroom.

My class is very diverse, but most are Latinos.  To encourage students, I ask them to do their best.  I assure them that it is ok to make mistakes because that’s how we learn.  I also allow and encourage students to help each other while understanding that respecting everyone is imperative

As an educator of English Language Learners (ELL), I’m sure you have heard a lot of stories from your students about why they are pursuing their education. What are some of the biggest motivating factors they have shared with you?

There are many factors why students are enrolled in English as a Second Language program.  Some students had shared that their willingness to learn English is to be able to incorporate in the society or to get a promotion at work that might get them a higher salary.  However, the reason that stands for why they are in class is to be able to help their kids with school work and able to understand school officials and teachers.

ELL students create a community environment with their classmates and instructors that encourages growth and retention. Why do you think this is a characteristic trait of ELL students?

One characteristic of the Latino population is that they like to accomplish what they have in mind and their commitment to learning the English language.  That’s what attributes a positive learning environment where everyone helps each other and learns. These students incorporate students from other counties and make them feel welcome immediately.  There is a sense of camaraderie. They value their instructor and the effort they make to help them learn the language and their new culture

What are some of the ways you encourage the community environment in your classes?

Explaining we all are diverse, and we can learn from each other is a method to create a positive learning community.  We have events where students can showcase their culture, their food, and their folk. Another way to create a positive classroom environment is by having students understand that the differences make us unique; therefore, we have to respect each other at all times.

You have a natural charisma that makes you work well with others, how does that help you in the classroom?

I think what helps me is that my parents raised me explaining that we all are human beings despite our skin color, who you are, where you come from,  the social status, or everything else society tried to dictate us. My parents preached to us that being humble, and help others without judging is what we need to do to make this world better.  Therefore, I place myself in my student’s shoes. I put myself if I am in a foreign country unable to speak the language, unable to understand, speak or not even knowing the culture. Nonetheless, I try to understand their needs, assist them with school and to provide community information.  One important rule is we can do all by respecting everyone.

What life experiences do you believe best shaped who you are as an educator today?

Many life experiences shaped who I am today; anyhow, the education I received from my parents was the most significant one.  Another person who influenced how I am today as an educator is my aunt. She was a professor, entrepreneur, and now retired from one of the most prestigious Universities in PR.  She had a Ph.D. in Math and wrote children’s books. She taught us that educators could improve people’s life; by teaching valuable lessons, where students not only learn academics but life skills.

What are some helpful ways that you have been able to reshape negative situations into positive opportunities in your life?

As with our daily lives, we learn from our negative outcomes.  This is how we also used the classroom negatives outcomes and turned them into a positive one.  For example, when a student makes a mistake, and the outcome turns wrong, it is imperative to explain to the students that it is normal, healthy and that is how we learn.  Always explaining them we fall many times before we learned to walk, we mispronounced many items before we learned to talk; therefore, with practice and time, we will master our objective.

How has the ability to shape negatives into positives helped you with your students? Explain.

It help me demonstrating students that mistakes are the way we reach perfection.

What are some things happening in your program at Sampson Community College that make it unique from other colleges?

What makes SCC ESL classes unique is the way faculty and staff approach students.  Making them feel welcome, comprehending them while providing an excellent classroom atmosphere, and going above and beyond to make sure students are receiving the best in academic and their necessary daily skills.

As educators, we are always encouraged to teach towards jobs and job markets that haven’t been created yet, so we stay ahead of the curve and teach what is needed for the demand of the marketplace.

We also see a changing demographic in our student populations over time. Based on your experience, what do you predict the future student to be like in your program and what do you think the job market will be for you to fill?

I foresee the Community College system providing more trade and certification classes. This way students are more prepared to enter the workplace with knowledge and some training and experience.  

What advice would you give to a new instructor coming into the field of ELL education?

My advice to a new instructor is to make sure to understand and nourish the students. Understanding that every culture is different and by not establishing bias or judging because we never know what the reasons are for why they migrate to the USA.