Courtesy of   New Man Magazine (Strang Communication)

March/April 2003

Feature:
Mentor Quest
Nigerian authors Olu and Kay Taiwo are challenging feminism, encouraging men to find and become mentors.

Olumide Taiwo is man enough to admit that he watches The Oprah Winfrey Show. Right now, the episode in question is the one that featured young Ryan Hreljac, the 9-year-old who was once deemed "too sensitive" by a grade school teacher then went on to raise more than $210,000 to build 50 clean water wells in Uganda. His legacy of compassion was immortalized as the people named one of those structures Ryan's Well.

"If Ryan can start his legacy before junior high school, then at age 30, I think we qualify," Olumide says. "When people think of a legacy, they think of someone in a wheelchair looking back over their life. But look at the sports arena and see a guy like Tiger Woods whose legacy is now."

Olumide and his twin brother, Kayode, better known as Olu and Kay, are on a fast track toward establishing their own legacies. Last year, the pair co-authored their second book The Progenitor Principle: Why You Must Leave a Legacy Behind (WinePress Publishing). The book is aimed squarely at the family and the church as a reminder of the importance of mentoring.

The concept of the "progenitor" (or forefather) and its role in mentoring is something the Taiwo brothers learned from an early age. They were born to Nigerian parents while their father, Moses, was attending Long Island University in New York. When the brothers were six, their family uprooted from New York and relocated to their parents' homeland, Nigeria.

In a relatively short period of time, the family was assimilated back into its indigenous culture. There were the occasional blackouts and the two-mile walks to and from school in the blazing sun (the Taiwo family lived directly on the equator), but Kay and Olu say those challenges made them appreciate their lives in the United States even more. More importantly, they discovered a sense of community that set the course of their lives and their ministry.

"You hear that old African proverb: 'It takes a village to raise a child.' That was our experience," Olu says. "Everybody is interconnected."

The brothers say this "collectivist" way of life is common in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, and that this community-based ideal transcends into every walk of life, from family to business to government to church.

In a collectivist culture, people come to visit you spontaneously to check up on you. "It's no offense that they didn't give you any prior warning," Olu explains. "You cater to them as if you had expected them all along."

People also aren't as hung up on time in a collectivist society. "People are not so much in a rush," Kay says. "If you need attention, they give you the attention you require."

This attitude also affects the way the church deals with people. It's common for people to ask such confrontational questions as, "Did you read your Bible today?" or, "How is your spiritual life?"

Says Olu: "The pastor sees himself as a father to his church. The mind-set of mentoring is that you need to impart into people's lives. There's a sense of responsibility with that role."

Having been immersed in a collectivist society for the better part of their lives, the twins experienced culture shock when they returned to New York to study pharmacy at St. John's University. (It was an appropriate field of study as they had brought a bad case of malaria with them.)

Kay and Olu also spent a large part of those five years involved in the mentoring process as part of a youth ministry in Queens. "When I came back here, it was interesting. The young people looked so distracted," Kay remembers. "Early on, I couldn't put a word to it, but over time, I started to understand the cultural differences.

"I found that the predominant philosophy that governs the American culture is the individualistic outlook. America's history was more community-based but over time has become more individualistic."

This individualistic ideology has eroded the American family, the brothers say. Upon their arrival back in the United States, they were shocked to see such a high divorce rate as opposed to Nigeria, where it is virtually nonexistent.

"In situations where children don't have fathers in their lives, their mentors first have to take time to pull them out of the ditch or out of a hole because they don't have that foundation," Kay says. "It takes extra time to bring them up to the next level.

"That's why you have so many people, especially young men, with low self-esteem and an identity crisis. That's also why so many men in America don't want to be mentors. When they see these young men, they have so many deficiencies and issues. It takes so much time and can be draining."

The twins also found a stark contrast between the role of husbands in America and in Nigeria, where fathers are the undisputed heads of most families. They say that the feminist movement has both helped and hurt women.

True, feminism has helped make men aware of the value and importance of women and pointed out the inequity of men being paid more than women for the same work. But, the movement has also hurt families by stripping from men their role as the heads of the household.

"Men are afraid to assert themselves, afraid to be men," Kay told the Tulsa World.

When wives challenge the authority of their husbands, and don't see them as capable heads of the home, men withdraw and find their purpose and fulfillment outside of the family, leaving a void in the lives of children who need their guidance and direction, Olu added.

"Women don't like the monster they've created," he said. "And we talk to men in their late 40s who look back and don't like the path they've taken."

At the same time, husbands who demand submission create resentment in their wives. Christ is head of the church, but never forces anyone to obey him. Olu explained: "He loves them unconditionally, and they freely submit their lives to him in response to that love."

While the problem of mentoring (or the lack thereof) in American culture is very real, the Taiwo brothers have deliberately focused their writings and teachings on the good that comes from mentoring rather than the failures of the family and the church.

"One of the things we didn't want to do is highlight negatives," Kay says. "We come from a very positive perspective by giving illustrations of what people did well. Any leader reading [The Progenitor Principle] will immediately see for themselves if they are doing these things or if they are not."

Kay and Olu also are quick to point out that the onus is on both the person needing to be mentored as well as the mentor himself.

First and most importantly, we need to recognize where we need help (spiritual, financial, marital). Then, we need to seek out people of integrity who are succeeding in those areas.

These people might be found in school, on a job or at church. But they can also come in the form of books, teaching tapes and other forms of media, not just through face-to-face contact alone.

"Because of the social philosophy of the society in which we live, it is not reasonable to think that finding a mentor will be automatic or without effort," Kay says. "Really, if we think about it, an individual will not need one mentor. We will need several mentors who have expertise in specific areas."

And what about those who are looking to become mentors? According to Kay and Olu, the first step is to take inventory of your experiences and skills. Then, you must be willing to get involved in the life of a person who needs you.

"Be accessible," Olu suggests. "And be approachable. Create a policy that allows for open dialogue with those you are mentoring. And when you find yourself in a position to lend a helping hand to someone who is traveling along the path you have already gone, help them."

Olu also recommends finding creative ways to share your experience with others: Write a book, record a teaching tape, start a newsletter. The twins themselves are using all of these tools as part of their own mentoring program.

Currently, the Taiwo brothers are working on a series of workshops for 2003 called Vision, Identity and Image-Building Seminars. While they maintain jobs as licensed pharmacists at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the plan is to eventually deliver their message across the United States and abroad.

"We're going to take what God has shown us and start passing it on to others," Kay says.

In 2002, both brothers were married to Nigerian women, whom they met while traveling to England for a seminar. Eventually, all four plan to work together in Vision For Life Ministries. More importantly, they look forward to practicing the mentoring principles with their own children someday.

Still, they are quick to point out that mentoring is not just for married men. "Even though the word 'progenitor' means forefather, it's not limited to being a natural father," Kay says. "The progenitor's responsibilities are to nourish, protect and uphold. I don't need to be married or be a father to do those things."

So what do the brothers want their legacies to be? Much like their personal mentors (including the late Edwin Louis Cole and etc.), they want to be remembered for inspiring others to fulfill their destinies in Christ.

"Any leader with a true kingdom agenda will always seek for his successors to outperform him," Olu says. "Jesus was so secure in who He was that He says those who believe in Him would do greater works. That's the mark of a secure leader."

Adds Kay: "Our vision statement is 'raising men and women of foresight and impacting generations.' We can't just think about the here and now. It's time to start thinking about the next generations. That's a key to the legacy we hope to leave behind."


Chad Bonham is a freelance writer and author. For more information on the Taiwo brothers, write to Vision For Life Ministries, P.O. Box 3553, Broken Arrow, OK, 74013; e-mail contact@vflm.org; or visit http://www.vflm.org.