Mentor?! Siao Ah!

Written by: Joseph Koh (Photo by: Lee Wei Jie)

Thoughts on investing in the next generation

“With all these tragic events that have happened to me, how can I proclaim that God is good? I feel like I did not deserve this at all.”

There was nothing I could muster that could convince him otherwise.

Even through five years of mentoring and loving youths, there are still days that pan out exactly like this. Bleary days where I’m rendered speechless; I feel like I’ve completely wasted my time and my words lay in shatters on the ground — utterly useless. With every moment of invincibility after a mentoring session, come moments where all I can do is hide in my prayer closet, on my knees, hands trembling, and intercede.

We all hate being caught still in front of someone, tongue-tied, and mouth agape as if helping the ears to pick out a clue on how to continue the conversation. We all have this desire to appear competent, and silence always spells weakness. Many people I know have refused to mentor the next generation precisely because of this fear of appearing helpless; “I, myself, need all the help I can get…and you want me to mentor someone else?” They conceive of mentors as poised and articulate sages, causing them to postulate that guiding someone younger will be more frightening than free falling from a cliff.

Ceding Control

There appears to be a dearth of mentors in my home church. As I pondered on the possible factors, I came to a conclusion that taking someone under our wing opposes what we Singaporeans are accustomed to — being in firm control. In stark contrast, mentoring is all about letting go of this insatiable need for control. Cultivating a thriving mentoring relationship is arduous and you will occasionally find yourself at a cul-de-sac. I have encountered situations where my mentee knows more than I do about a particular topic, causing me to lose my confidence; I have felt inordinately frustrated over situations in my mentee’s life that I cannot alter.

This process of guiding the next generation has shown me first-hand what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 when he said, “Rather than using clever words and persuasive speeches, I [rely] only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so that you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.” I have sat in a legion of cafés half-listening, half-crying for the Holy Spirit to back me up. Everything may seem perfectly fine on the outside with my assured nods at every sentence, yet my insides are unspooling in unspeakable fear. Prayer is a pre-requisite for every mentoring session, as without the partnering and conviction of the Holy Spirit, the eyes of my mentee’s heart shall remain stiffly shut. This practice is a significant reminder of my position in the mentoring session — He leads the way and I undisputedly need His guidance.

He Can Use Anybody

Over the years, I have realised that sometimes love cannot be translated into “clever words” or “persuasive speeches.” There have been occasions when love can only be received through the corporeality of your presence — the sharing of the same space brings deep comfort, silent like a mother’s affection. Sometimes that listening ear or that “you’re-not-alone” hug can reach into the rib cage and soothe the heart more than some fancy spiel.

1 Corinthians 1:28-29 illustrates that God often chooses “things [that] the world considers foolish,” “powerless,” or “counted as nothing at all.” I believe that He would pick an available heart over an adept one on any given day. Many have turned themselves away from mentoring someone due to their self-professed weaknesses; “I have not been mentored by someone, hence I don’t know how” seems to be the common refrain. Yet, too often have we forgotten that God can use those very weaknesses. He is like cement that plasters the meandering cracks in the bowl, enabling us to carry living water to parched souls.

Whenever I think back on the very first time a 17-year-old asked me to mentor him, I was completely transfixed. I had only been a “serious” Christian for a couple of years, and I had not even read a single book on mentoring. While I was slightly flattered, my thoughts were beset with: “What?! Why me? Cannot one lah…” Fast forward to today — five years on — the tents of my heart for this dear mentee and for mentoring have grown tenfold. God has honoured me as I took this leap of faith, and has since shaped me as a shepherd in staggering ways. Even till today, I stand in awe that God would actually choose me to mentor a youth whom I believe will travel the world and preach to thousands one day. If he could use me in all my coarseness, there is no doubt that He can use you.

He Can Use Your Stories

I know of many youths who are lost and confused when navigating change — loved ones have packed up and left; they are increasingly uncomfortable in their own skin; the world now dangles an array of choices in front of them. The lamp they carry has grown cold and now flickers in the darkness; the puzzles of life only seem to have broken into tinier, messier pieces.

Any wayfarer falls into fatigue after a night’s journey; we all hope for someone who has gone further ahead to tell us if our true north has been pointing in the wrong direction all this while. I was once on a trek with my mentee towards the Tree Top Walk in MacRitchie, and we had walked all the way to the entrance only to realise that it was closed for the day. On our way back, we crossed paths with two ladies that seemed to be heading towards similar feelings of disappointment. After I cautioned them that the Tree Top Walk was not open, they expressed such relief and gratitude; they later explained how they had taken a longer route and had already been trekking for more than two hours. Isn’t it the same with mentoring? Everyone needs an insider tip or a nudge in the right direction sometimes. Your stories of past success and slip-ups can be fuel for their fading light, keeping them warm in the biting cold.

Looking Out

God reminded me recently about the importance of mentoring when he revealed to me that there is no automatic passing on of faith from one generation to the next. In Deuteronomy 6:7-9, it beseeches parents: “Repeat [God’s commands] again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” We need to impart God’s revelation to the next generation. When this knowledge is preserved within a family or community, faith is nourished and obedience abounds. If we do not undertake this solemn duty to nurture the young, we are actually inflicting destruction upon them. Should we adopt them as spiritual children and teach them gently about righteous living, I have no doubt that Singapore will stake her destiny as the Antioch of Asia.

All About That Belief

I feel that too often have we focused on the to-do’s of mentoring. Beyond knowing what to say and what to do, the heart of mentoring is essentially about ‘Belief’. Mentoring is a conscious choice (and effort) to believe in someone’s potential, as God has inscribed destiny in them. Even when entrusted with the dolorous details of your mentee’s life, you choose not to fixate on the shame of their past, but instead peer into the potential of their mature, complete selves. I am convinced that every youth longs for someone to see them as Christ sees them, for someone to tell them that they are “good enough” and that greatness is within touching distance.

Throughout my teenage years, whenever I examined my life, all I could spot were my failings and insecurities. It took a few individuals to identify leadership potential in me, before I could see myself in a different shade. As they painstakingly invested their knowledge and stories in me, I caught glimpses of God’s exceptional heart for me with each meetup. I am a handiwork of their unflinching belief, and now that I have understood its power, I feel heavily responsible to pass it on.

All of us have been called to “make disciples” and “teach them” (Matthew 28:19); and I pray that your heart will be irrevocably marked with The Great Commission. There are some needs only you can see, some dots only you can connect, some hands only you can hold. May you commit to help someone discover his/her destiny today; that you’ll understand someone to the bottom, yet love them to the sky.

P.S. This article is dedicated to Daniel, Matthew, and Ryan. Thank you for allowing me open spaces in your life; thank you for teaching me on how to be a better person.

JOSEPH thinks that Nasi Lemak ought to be Singapore's national dish. He is passionate in discovering how faith can collide beautifully with urban culture, and believes in mentoring the next generation. He also wishes that a singular Singaporean accent will emerge in his lifetime. Follow him @firesandtimbers.


  1. mel

    19 December

    Thankyou so nuch for the write up! It is indeed somethibg we need to start pondering in this age and era

    just some questions
    1) how do you keep each other accountable?
    How do you overcone awkwardness?

    2l) how is the mentoring structure like in your church?eg is there any opt in or out system?

    Thank you!

    • SELAH

      12 January

      Hi Mel,

      1) I believe that accountability (and transparency) is built on trust. As the relationship deepens, I believe that accountability would naturally increase in scope. Awkwardness will fade as the relationship grows, and when the mentee opens up more and more.

      2) There is no fixed mentoring structure in my home church. Every member is encouraged to find a mentor though! :)

      In His grip,
      Joseph + The SELAH Team

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