On a blustery afternoon, I grabbed an umbrella as protection from the sun and slid on my flip flops. Leaving my boisterous home-schoolers with my husband, Steve, I walked around the corner to my neighbor’s house. Aunt Nitaya* is a middle-aged grandmother, raising two grandkids. She helps her husband with field work, cattle-raising, and keeps the house. She is a steady, reliable woman with steely determination and a quiet strength but it isn’t easy to feel close to her. In our first year here, it was hard to draw out this reserved woman. But the days and months passed. Some of my seemingly more rewarding discipleship relationships crashed and burned. Other friendships from which I expected growth, languished in the doldrums. I finally noticed that Aunt Nitaya was still showing up. While I didn’t have any natural common ground with a 55-year-old rice farmer, if there was someone who was growing — if there was someone who would consistently study and apply what she was learning, it was Aunt Nitaya.
Multiplication — it’s what we all want to see. It is a temptation to find satisfaction in discipling those we like and to whom we can relate. Or in those who are younger than us and instinctively look up to us as mentors. My dad always said to me that if you want to see multiplication, you have to strategically use your limited time to pour into someone who is growing and sharing what they are receiving from you. During times of crises with people we love but who are disobedient, we need to show up and say things that they won’t like and may not receive. We sow generously and leave the harvest to God. As Christ did, we also have to be intentional with a few key people, giving our time to those who are responding to the gospel with obedience.
After a few months of studying, Aunt Nitaya opened up more. I rejoiced to hear her articulate her journey out of pride and self-righteousness — one which I could identify with so well! “When I first believed,” she would say, “it was because I wanted my husband to improve himself. He was the real problem. The Bible didn’t make much sense to me, and my heart was cold towards the Lord. After a while, I realized that I was like the Pharisees in the Bible. I never admitted I was wrong. I was an angry, spiteful person who never forgave. This salvation was for me. Now I am working on calming myself down when I get angry, and on showing more love and patience to my grandkids.”
In multiplication, a mentor coaches the growing leader by giving them a chance to observe them in action in their other discipleship relationships. The mentor models mentoring while the mentee watches — and then eventually, they are released to mentor their own disciples who in turn pass it on to others. I was delighted when Aunt Nitaya asked if we could visit a new believer in our church together. This was a person I wanted to visit but finding time was difficult. Visiting her together was not only the right next step, it was an exponential use of time. We prepped for our visit by talking through a plan. After the visit, I spent some time alone with Aunt Nitaya talking about how it went and what we learned. A week later, we made a more challenging visit to one of our church’s “squeaky wheels.” After two hours of listening to tears and woes along with manipulative deceit, I expected Aunt Nitaya to be as weary and disgusted as others have been. I was thankful to hear her respond well as we discussed how to balance both wisdom and compassion.
What am I modeling?
It was definitely more intimidating to take Aunt Nitaya along on some of these visits. I felt like I was thinking at a whole other level about what I was modeling. Taking mentees along helps us get out of a mode where we feel good about being the intimate confidant and expert who alone can solve suffering people’s problems. Instead, we are trying to help others become even better than we are. I certainly don’t always know the answers to the morass of life’s tangled problems, let alone how to tell when someone is telling the truth! Instead, I asked Aunt Nitaya to weigh in and share what God was saying to her. I would like to learn even more about how to lead confidently, yet with humility. Obviously, I have a long way to go in that.
Walking with Aunt Nitaya has shown me that it is important not to overlook the steady, unflashy, obedient ones. While their talents may not be immediately apparent, ultimately it is their stewardship of the gospel over the long haul that makes them a gift to the church. I am thankful that I can continue to invest whatever I have to give in Aunt Nitaya. I believe that in time, she’s going to bear a lot of fruit.