Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 11, 2008

Historical Mentors

   While driving down the long black ribbon of road dissecting the barren moonscape between Koya and Dohuk, those of us wedged into Heather Mercer’s Jeep sipped from warm cups of conversation. The aroma of friendship filled our vehicle as we bumped our way past occasional outcrops of buildings and sped past gutted remains of abandoned vehicles. As we turned to avoid Mosul because of a recent outbreak of violence there, the conversation in our Jeep turned to the topic of mentors. Each of us took turns talking about the people who are currently investing in our lives. I enjoyed listening to personal stories of how living mentors have enriched and shaped the lives of my Jeep-mates.

   Our conversation about mentors took a new twist when Dr. Don Ellsworth asked us to share about historical personalities who have shaped our worldview — people now dead but who serve as our historical mentors. What an intriguing thought. While there are many historical figures whose lives I enjoy reading about, I have never thought of them as my historical mentors. So, we filled our cups with this new brew of conversation and took our first sips by defining historical mentors. Here are a few of the things we discussed about historical mentors.

   First, historical mentors have already lived and died. Their story is not likely to change. Barring some unforeseen discovery, we know what we’re getting. No big surprises. Their influence, whether good or bad, continues through what they wrote or through what others have written about them. We can learn good lessons from both their good and bad examples.

   Second, historical mentors are always available to visit with us. We can approach them anytime of the day or night. They can accompany us on any journey. We can pack them in a suitcase or toss them in a backpack. Their wisdom lies buried between the pages of books and is accessible to anyone willing to carefully dig through layers of words.

   Third, historical mentors provide a standard by which to measure or evaluate our own progress. Their flags are still waving atop the summits of their respective achievements. Their accomplishments or failures are permanently etched on history’s map. We can avoid their mistakes, smell their sweat, and trace their steps.

   I like the idea of historical mentors. Outside of my favorite Biblical characters, I have enjoyed learning from men like Ernest Shackelton whose failed trans-Antarctic expedition in 1914 made him the most successful failure in history. Trapped on the ice for two years, he did not lose a single man. Mother Teresa is one of my newest historical mentors. Her love for Jesus and desire to serve Him led her to found the Missionaries of Charity. She led by an example so extreme that she continues to inspire others to look for Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.

   Do you have a historical mentor? If not, then make your way to your local library or bookstore and start a new friendship with someone who can enrich your life, challenge your thinking, and inspire you to live adventurously for God. You’ll be glad you did.

• • • • •

Note | This discussion took place during a long drive in Kurdistan on Wednesday, October 22, 2008.


  1. Omar,

    I count Dr. George Washington Carver as a historical mentor. I read a book about him once and was impressed with his tenacity and patient goal achievement in spite of great adversity.

    He took the exceptional gift of his intellect and combined it with a strong character to bring betterment to mankind.

    We never had a third son, but the name Jacob Carver would have been selected, with “Jake” for short as we live in Texas, but “Carver” for a remarkable American who gave back to a nation in a day where few allowances were made for people of color.

    Tammy Swofford

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