My Christian Mentor
The man who shaped me the most
This page continues with the use of personal stories as illustrations to help readers better understand who I am. This story is about one man in particular, who God used in a powerful way to shape the spiritual “trajectory” of my life.
I was 26 years old and married, with a one-year old daughter, living back in Houston, Texas where I was teaching High School Science. Even though I grew up there, I sincerely hated living in Houston after having fallen in love with the incredible beauty of the Rocky Mountains while attending college at Utah State University the four previous years.
During my summer breaks from teaching, I worked at a small, retail store called Trekker that sold camping and backpacking equipment.
Chet Russell, the owner of the store was also a Christian, whose focus was more than retail sales. His broader focus included a ministry called Voice of the Wilderness, taking young kids from the Houston area on multi-day backpacking trips into the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. The objective of these trips was to get the kids away from all the distractions of the big city, and then to redirect their attention to God to help them experience true life in relationship with Jesus.
My part in that “mountain ministry” was preparing all the food and equipment needed for each trip. And then, while on trips as a co-leader, I also shared responsibilities for leading the devotions and discussions we had each evening.
A “Chance” Encounter
One of the trips was to Pagosa Springs, a small town in the Rocky Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Before actually starting out on our seven days of hiking in the Weminuche Wilderness area, we stopped at a local “outdoor” shop to buy licenses so we could fish the many lakes we would see during our hike.
As I came out of the store with my fishing license, I was met by a slightly older man who—seeing two young adults with about twelve teenage boys—introduced himself as Marvin Robbins, and started asking questions about what we were up to. I explained we had a Christian ministry of leading kids on extended backpacking trips, to try to encourage those who didn’t yet know Jesus to become Christians, as well as to encourage those who were already Christians to become more serious about their faith.
That’s when I learned that Marvin was a Christian too, and lived there in Pagosa Springs working as a builder and also as a back-country outfitter and hunting guide. I think he offered some general encouragement about the backpacking ministry, and then he also offered some specific details about the route we were about to hike, saying that it involved some serious elevation changes. Then he said goodbye and left.
At the time, bumping into Marvin seemed like a chance encounter. But, after a little more than one year, I realized that the initial, brief introduction wasn’t by chance, but by God’s design.
Escape from the Flatlands
Chet, the owner of Trekker had come up with a plan for a new Trekker store, which was to be built in Pagosa Springs. And he wanted me to be the manager!
I was thrilled about that opportunity, which meant living back in the mountains again. But, it also meant having to move my family 1,000 miles away from Houston. Fortunately, my wife was supportive of moving, as we were both wanting a less materialistic environment for raising our daughter, and we felt a rural town in Colorado would provide that.
The plan for the new store began to take shape soon after our return from the first Pagosa Springs backpacking trip. But the plan was based on locating the new store in a large retail center that was supposed to be built within a large resort development just outside the Pagosa Springs city limits.
The next summer, after a year of waiting—during which time there was no progress on that retail center—we began to seriously doubt that we’d ever be able to move.
Since school was out, I was working back at Trekker, helping plan and outfit upcoming trips. When it was decided that I would be leaving in about a week to lead another trip to a different area of Colorado, I came up with a backup plan. I contacted the local Pagosa Springs school district to see if there might be any teaching openings for science.
As a matter of fact, there was one!
They were wanting to fill a Middle School Science position, and were interested in interviewing me. So, I made arrangements to be able to leave the group after the upcoming hike was completed and make a quick trip to Pagosa Springs to be interviewed.
The interview went very well. One surprising thing shared during the interview was that they were hoping the Middle School Science teacher would also be able to be the school’s cross-country ski coach. As I had done four year’s worth of cross country skiing when I attended Utah State University, and as I also had experience in coaching, I felt especially confident of being offered the job. Which is exactly what happened about a week after returning to Houston.
So, near the end of that summer, we moved to Pagosa Springs.
After only a few days of school, I’d already met most of the other teachers in the Middle School, and found out that several were also Christians. Two guys in particular were about my age, were also married with young families and lived very close to us. They told me about the small Bible Church they attended, which—because of the excellent experience I had growing up spiritually at Spring Branch Community Church—sounded like a great place to check out.
The next Sunday, my wife and young daughter and I showed up at Pagosa Springs Bible Church. As I looked around at the people waiting for the services to start, I saw Marvin.
I walked over and said something like, “Hey, I met you last year on a backpacking trip.” He remembered me, and suggested we attend his adult Sunday school class before the main worship service. We did, and that quickly became a pattern. Every Sunday, if Marvin was teaching, I always attended his class rather than any of the other adult classes being offered.
After maybe six months of sitting in on his teaching, I went up as one class ended and simply said to him, “Man, I can’t get enough of you and your teaching!”
He said, “That’s good because I’ve been praying specifically for you. I have a one-year Discipleship program that I take young men through, and I’d love for you to considering meeting with me once a week and going through this program.” I didn’t need to hear anything else, and immediately said yes.
Marvin’s Discipleship Program
That was the start of what turned into a three-year period of being mentored by Marvin, which remains as one of the brightest highlights of my entire Christian life. Much of who I am as a Christian man—and in particular, my appreciation for and love of God’s Word—is the result of Marvin’s godly influence on my life.
His training started with explaining that his purpose was not just to help me become a disciple of Jesus. His ultimate purpose was to help me become committed to making “makers of disciples makers.” Let me use an illustration to explain what phrase means.
Give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.
This proverb basically says it’s a better strategy to help someone learn how to do something on their own, rather than you doing it for them.
In terms of Marvin’s goal for his own life, his focus was a model of multiplication—not a model of addition. That way, his efforts were multiplied by every new “maker of disciple-makers” that he helped equip. I immediately saw the wisdom of his approach and adopted as mine as well.
When I met Marvin, I’d been a Christian for about 10 years. I knew a lot of Christian doctrine and I had a relatively good understanding of how each of those doctrines related to one another. But I didn’t have any idea how to make “makers of disciples.” But Marvin explained that was exactly what he wanted to help me learn to do—and to actually become myself.
Understanding that, I expected that Marvin would simply share all the details of his own program with me. But, that’s not what happened.
Rather than simply discipling me and teaching me how to mimic his program, he discipled me in a way that guided me in creating my own, unique plan for making “makers of disciple makers.”
The initial assignment he gave me for my discipleship training was based on the question, “What’s God’s goal for your time on earth as a Christian?”
While it probably wasn’t my first answer, he guided me to see that it was for me to become a godly man. He then asked, “So, what truths do you need to understand and what practices to you need to adopt for that to happen?” There were so many components to the answer to that question that I didn’t know where to start. Marvin encouraged me to spend time in God’s Word making notes of the things that seemed most important. And to then prioritize that list.
Over the next couple of months, I continued to both expand and refine my list, which developed into my own systematic program for helping others become makers of disciple makers. And, having been guided through that process by Marvin, I was committed to implement my program in the same way with others—by not simply giving them my answers. But instead, by encouraging them to search God’s Word and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit to create their own strategy and plan for making makers of disciple makers.
Another invaluable thing he taught me was Inductive Bible Study techniques. He especially focused on the critical role of making careful observations about what the text actually says. And also paying attention to what it doesn’t say. He also emphasized the need for intentionally reading and rereading the text multiple times, so that all that was there would become more obvious. And he helped me see how powerfully effective those techniques could be in opening up the truth of God’s Word—so that what at first glance was confusing, would become obviously clear by using that approach to studying God’s Word.
The Main Point
It was God’s sovereign design to bring Marvin and me together in relationship. It was also His sovereign design to use Marvin to bless and shape me in many ways. Marvin truly gave his life in relationship with others, and my relationship with him has been an extremely bright highlight in my life.
As I said in the introduction, God used Marvin in a powerful way to “set the trajectory” of my adult life.
And, the way that Marvin was a blessing to me inspires me to give my life in relationship to others—in particular, other men who are serious about living out their faith in Jesus, and who are open to learning how to become makers of disciple makers.