My experience as a mentor
December 13, 2021 / By Rhonda Chester, MDIV, United Methodist Ecumenical Chaplain Hendricks Chapel, Syracuse University
Editor's Note: The following article originally appeared in the 2021 Issue II of the Advocate, which focused on mentorship. Click here to access the issue.
I am looking at a power outlet on the wall here in my office. Reflecting on mentoring, I realize that it is all about tapping into the power that is available to you. Mentoring is about plugging into the right sources to access the energy needed to make it through life.
In my role as chaplain here at Syracuse University’s (SU) Hendricks Chapel, I understand that a major part of my role is to be an available source of positive influence, encouragement, and direction to students with whom I come into contact.
Over the years, I have provided guidance, direction, and positive energy for several students as they navigate their academic careers. In the Fall of 2019, I met the Mbungela family. I had never been asked personally by parents to mentor their child. I was hosting the table at the University’s annual International Students Welcome Dinner. Xiluva Mbungela, a promising engineer from South Africa, was one of the students sitting at my table along with her parents. I made a connection with them as I shared who I was and how my role as the United Methodist Ecumenical Chaplain influences and energizes the lives of the students.
By the end of the dinner conversations, I promised Mr. and Mrs. Mbungela, who asked me to mentor Xiluva, that I would do my best in providing spiritual care, guidance, and encouragement as she pursues her studies here at SU.
That semester was the beginning of what turns out to be a deeply meaningful mentor-mentee relationship between myself and Xiluva. Through the worst of times and the best of times, Xiluva and I have stayed connected. Though the onset of the pandemic threatened to derail her academic dreams here at SU, she persevered through the challenges of learning online while adjusting her whole life. South Africa is six hours ahead of New York, so imagine the adjustments Xiluva made during her three semesters away from campus. Even though I was also navigating the crises -personal and communal- that the pandemic triggered, I was committed to my role of mentor. I kept in touch with Xiluva and encouraged her not to quit but to remember our conversations about life and balance and self-care and grace - both God’s grace and graciousness with herself.
We revisited conversations we had in pre-pandemic moments; conversations that addressed issues such as:
- The importance of setting healthy boundaries in professional and personal relationships.
- The wisdom in walking away from toxic people, places, and things.
- The sensitivity to know one’s value to God even as others try to devalue our worth.
- The ability to open one’s mind to the endless possibilities amid life’s variants.
- How to survive and thrive during chaotic moments.
Giving Xiluva guidance and being present for her at critical moments is the highlight of the relationship for me.
Xiluva managed to return to SU for this Fall ‘21 semester. We met up for breakfast recently and we were both teary-eyed as she shared stories of her fears and struggles while living through the pandemic, away from campus and adjusting to an engineering curriculum virtually.
“Being back in Syracuse to continue my academic journey is a real joy for me,” Xiluva said.
Listening to her express that joy and hearing her include me in her expressions of gratitude is a sweet sound to my ears. Xiluva gave me a greeting card which expresses her feelings.
Xiluva teaches me a lot about her South African Heritage, her faith, and her values as she shares stories from her culture. Our mentor-mentee relationship is unique in that she sees me and feels comfortable relating to me as though I were a kindred family member (she calls me “aunty” Rhonda, a South African term of endearment and respect) and I am comfortable being regarded as such.
The thing about mentoring is that it is a hopeful relationship.
As a mentor, I hope to be a powerful source of influence, light, and life for those I mentor.
I see Xiluva’s value and worth as a human being and then I create sacred moments that allow her to tap into her own inner strength. This process gives us both necessary hope.
Despite all that has appeared on her academic journey so far, I am proud to say that Xiluva stays on the beat. Like good music, she keeps a consistent rhythm. I am proud to be her mentor. I am proud that she chooses tenacity and strength to navigate the variants of life. And most of all, I am proud that she is connected to the ultimate source - God- who is light and life.