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Mentors: Blessings in Shoe Leather

James and Ella Zuch, wedding photo, many years ago

If you ever had a faithful mentor, count yourself blessed.

One of my favorite persons in all the world was my college mentor, an elderly lady named Ella Zuch.

Though less than five feet tall, Ella was a giant in many ways. She was no stranger to hard manual labor. Decades before I knew this saint whom I called “Sister Zuch,” she and her husband, using mostly hand tools, helped clear a piece of jungle-like property for what became a thriving campground and college campus in the tiny village of Hobe Sound, Florida.

Ella resided at the edge of this small campus. Although she eventually lived to be 106 years old, she was nearly eighty when I met her.

She probably noticed me because of the bewildered expression on my face the first week of school.

I arrived on campus over a thousand miles from home, a few days late and a little nervous. Transferring from a state university in the morally-loose flower child/free love generation (though I wasn’t) to a structured, religious setting was—well, overwhelming. As a new Christian, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

New rules—lots of them—and a different environment left me feeling like a deer in the headlights.

Ella was instrumental in answering myriads of questions. Her door always was open if I trotted to her house in the next block, asking for explanations. I was too embarrassed to disclose my ignorance to the seasoned young people around me, who grew up knowing church culture.

Ella had a keen mind and widely read the religious classics. She could discuss deep theological ideas and explain them with clarity when I brought up questions—and I had lots of them.

Each Saturday I would drive Ella to a big city about 45 minutes away and invite people to the small church she kept open after the death of her husband. During those drives Ella would talk about the “old days” as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.

Leaving me practically speechless, she described watching ladies in old-fashioned bathing suits covering them from neck to ankles, swimming in their farm pond while her father watched from a distance and muttered, “Nasty women.”

It was then I realized this jewel in plain clothes lived through an entire era. She witnessed the time when even non-believing people like her dad possessed firm views about what was appropriate. I was impressed by this walking history book. Ella knew how to explain complicated thoughts in everyday terms.

I thank God for the blessing of this elderly saint, who invested so much time in mentoring a fledgling young Christian.

Knowing she prayed for me is worth all the treasure in the world. Without her patient input, I might have dropped out of the race.

Mentors—making the difference between success and failure in the lives of young people.

What about you? Do you owe anything to a mentor? Use the comment box below to tell us about them.


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