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Story Magazine

Third Quarter 2002

Three mentor stories

Joshua Fite, master of divinity junior

Pastor Paul Kirschner may have no idea how influential he was to a young boy named Joshua Fite.  A first-year student at Luther Seminary, Fite considers Kirschner a mentor and a very good role model. "Although I was hesitant to become a pastor, when I was around Pastor Paul I would feel those tugs...He made me think twice about my call, and it became stronger!"

Kirschner became pastor in Tyler, Texas, when Fite was 10 years old. Their relationship lasted through confirmation studies, high school graduation and college years. "It wasn't until after I was confirmed that it started to have a personal affect on me," Fite recalled. "He was always ready to listen. I was becoming so interested in the activities of the church and thinking about ministry. Whenever I had a question he was ready to listen."

As their relationship grew and years passed, Kirschner became a friend and a role model for Fite. "It was in Pastor Paul I saw that cool people could be pastors," he recalled. "He really woke our church up, and I wanted to be like him."

"The most useful advice that he gave me is that it's okay to doubt. Doubt makes our faith stronger and causes us to search harder," Fite said. "He was open and honest...I hope I can relate to people as well as he can, even in times of trial."

Four years ago, Fite's mother, JoAn, died. Her death happened the Sunday before Kirschner left the church to take a new call. "He was her pastor," Fite said. "My family had a pretty strong faith and we were pretty positive. Pastor Paul knew how we felt and that affected the way he ministered to us. He could laugh and smile with us."

Amy Fondroy-Eich, Master of divinity middler

Amy Fondroy-Eich counts herself among those blessed with many mentors...too many to count, truly! Some supported her when she needed it most, others prayed for her and still others helped her become the person she is today. She defines 'mentor' in the broadest sense: "People that I think God brought into my path, whether they know it or not."

That's a lot of people.

Fondroy-Eich will testify that an entire congregation can successfully mentor a person. "I can't separate out people--that's one whole body," she said of the church she grew up in, St. John Lutheran in Albert City, Iowa. "It has been a wonderful church of support and encouragement to me and my discernment of God's call. They're struggling with whether they'll be able to maintain a pastor or stay open. In the midst of that they continue to support me."

Sometimes mentors can be close relations, too, according to Fondroy- Eich. Her parents Richard and Doris Fondroy, mentored her by faithfully fulfilling their baptismal vows and affirming her call to ministry. "When I told my dad I planned to go to seminary, he said, 'I told you you should think about that in high school,' " she recalled. "The affirmation from my parents means a lot to me." Her husband, Pat Eich, is also something of a mentor. "He's just been phenomenal! He'll be the one to tell me I'm supposed to do this; that I have the gifts for ministry. When I can't find the strength, he gives it to me." 

Mary Hinkle, assistant professor of New Testament

Dr. Mary Hinkle hopes to treat others with the respect, kindness and patience that she has received from her mentors. "It is a gift when someone says to you, 'I know you're new at this, but I'm interested in what you have to say.' I hope to pass that gift on to others," she said.

A 1986 graduate of Luther, Hinkle doesn't have to look far for some of her mentors...they're down the hall from her office or just across campus.  

Some of them she knew from her student days, while others she met after joining the faculty. She learns a lot from watching her colleagues work. "I'm also really honored when one of them asks me for my opinion or for advice on some aspect of teaching and learning," Hinkle said. "I don't think they realize the extent to which they are helping me find my voice in this field when they ask me what I think. The best mentors don't seem to try to be mentors. They just treat their junior colleagues as colleagues. By doing so, they honor us and help us grow."

Hinkle recalled a time she needed a point out a mistake she made. "Like a good coach, a mentor can draw attention to mistakes without demoralizing you," she said. "I remember one of my mentors dropping by my office one day to talk about something I had done that was illconsidered. He complimented the intention, and then told me I had been wrong to carry it out the way I had. Offering and receiving that kind of critique is hard, but it is vital if we're going to grow in our competence in a new job. I'm glad he took the risk to speak to me."

Another quality she noticed in her mentors is that they have a sense of the big picture. At Luther, she notes their appreciation of the institution's history and the work that she shares with her colleagues. "They don't sweat the small stuff," she commented, "and it has been important for me to see that, especially early in my work when I wasn't sure how to tell the difference between small stuff and anything else."

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