The Value of a Spiritual Mentor

At Union College, students and mentors build a community that makes faith the foundation of learning.

Ryan Teller, Union College, for North American Division News
<strong>The Value of a Spiritual Mentor</strong>
Agustin Castillo (right) and Santi Fernandez take time together to delve into spiritual learning and growth through Union College’s HeartScan program. [Photo: Union College]

When Agustin Castillo heard about HeartScan as a new student at Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States, it seemed like an easy way to simplify his life.

“All the uWorships and uGathers seemed like a lot,” he explained. “I originally joined HeartScan to get rid of the worship credits.”

As part of building a deeper community that makes faith the foundation of the learning experience, Union requires students to attend a certain number of worship events each semester — ranging from campus-wide chapels to small Bible study groups.

HeartScan provides an alternative for students who want to delve more deeply into their spiritual growth with the help of an employee mentor. At first, Castillo felt this was a preferable alternative to ensuring he attended enough events — but soon he discovered a lot more.

Castillo’s HeartScan mentor Santi Fernandez commented, “At the beginning I saw that Augustin was a little anxious.” At the time, Fernandez was a life coach on the Student Success team and has since transitioned to serving as assistant dean of men. “Augustin was unsure of what to expect with college life. When we started going through our meetings, he would expect me to lead. But as the semester progressed, he started leading,” Fernandez added.

Students and mentors meet on a regular basis to build a spiritual growth plan focusing on four key areas: personal worship, corporate worship, service, and calling. For Castillo and Fernandez, this meant studying a devotional book about the lives of Bible characters and their relationships with God. But their talks grew well beyond the book.

“I realized we could have deep conversations,” Castillo said. “If I was struggling with school, he was a person I could talk to. He is a staff member, but I consider him a really good friend too.”

Works Both Ways

The same proved true for Fernandez that next summer when his grandmother lay on her deathbed. Completely discouraged, he prayed for a sign that God was still near.

Then his phone chimed with a text from Castillo: “You’re in my heart. How are you doing?”

“It’s summer, and we usually don’t have a lot of contact with students,” Fernandez said. “To see that spiritual maturity, to reach out to me like that. Yeah, he’s definitely leading now.”

Castillo has noticed the difference too. He remembered his mother’s words growing up. “God is with you,” she would say. “As long as you want Him there, He will be there.”

“Theoretically I have always known that. but I’ve always struggled to actually feel it,” Castillo said. “Even though I read my Bible in the mornings and in the evenings and I prayed, I never actually had that vivid relationship with Him until that year.”

After two years with Fernandez as a HeartScan mentor, Castillo has stepped aside to let other students have the same experience. Now working as a student dean in Prescott Hall, he tries to mentor the men in the dorm.

This leadership role comes as no surprise to Fernandez. “I think the time that we spent in HeartScan has already shown that he can be a leader,” Fernandez said. “I remember watching [Agustin] help students move into the dorm. He wasn’t just carrying their luggage, he was taking the time to get to know them.”

“Sometimes guys come to me and ask me a lot of the same questions I used to ask Santi,” Castillo explained. “I don’t always have the answers, but through my time in HeartScan, I actually learned a lot more about myself — which gave me confidence when relating to the guys and leading out in the dorm.” In the process that started with trying to get easy worship credits, Castillo found an unexpected path to spiritual growth and leadership.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.

Ryan Teller, Union College, for North American Division News