In an ideal world, seminary students would be able to find more mature Christians who could invest in them and help them to learn to work with people. I was in seminary in Louisville from 1992 to 1997 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). While I was there, I was privileged to serve in a few different ministries with different ministers and church leaders. I learned a lot from them, but two of them stand out in particular. Through various circumstances, I came to know June and David. June was a committed Sunday school teacher and the head of a committee that I was on. David was the minister of education at the church, which I was attending. David and June also had a strong relationship with one another.
June was a mature Christian in her 60’s. She had experienced a good bit of suffering in her life including a serious case of polio and the death of a son at a young age. Yet her suffering was never something that she wanted to dwell upon, and there was no trace of bitterness or anger toward God in her words or actions. June gave me hope that it is possible for suffering to refine us and mature us in our faith, even as the Bible itself repeatedly suggests. Her experiences produced in her a lot of wisdom and a certain generosity of heart. She encouraged me to be generous and forgiving towards others. I could see that she was trying to help me to develop my character so that I would become more like Christ in how I related to people and cared for them. Her wise words and good example challenged me in ways that I can still remember today, over 20 years later. She was such a special influence upon me that we kept in touch over the years through phone calls and birthday cards.
At the very same time that my friendship with June was developing, David and his wife were becoming friends of ours as well. My wife and I met with them several times in their home and we looked for opportunities to visit with them during and after church activities. David provided a similar example to June’s. Like June, he had a generous heart and encouraged me to try to understand other people and to be patient with them, even as I wanted God to be patient with me. David taught me a lot about how to be a good husband. He encouraged me to think carefully about my wife and how to care for her. In particular, David encouraged me to enter into conflict carefully and with the goal of understanding rather than winning an argument. He tactfully pointed out how much I had to learn about how to have productive conflicts with my wife.
I do not think that I ever asked June or David to be my mentors, but that is clearly what they were. I was in my mid-20’s and in need of direction from more mature believers. So many things that June and David taught me could easily be described as teaching me how to put the Scriptures into practice. They were able to provide the practical preparation for working with people that complemented what I was learning in the seminary classroom.
They have both been on my mind over the past few weeks, because June called to ask me to speak at her funeral, which I did this week. I was hoping that David would be there for it, and sure enough he was. It was such a privilege to be there to honor June and to reconnect with David. God uses people like these in our lives and we never forget them. Their words and their encouragement are always with us. Such people are not always easy to find, but when we find them they are truly an answer to prayer.