Mentorship and Kidnapping

My most hated word in the english language is mentorship. Ya, you heard me. Most people hate other words like moist, but I hate mentorship. Well, I should clarify that I don’t hate the word itself, I hate the way the concept of mentorship is a glorified as the pinnacle of discipleship when in actual fact it’s weird and creepy. If you harken back to 1999, you’ll recall there was/is one rule of fight club – you don’t talk about fight club. Same principle applies here.

Augmented with my personal thoughts on the subject, I learned many things from reading a book by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, called Lean In. I rated it quite highly on Goodreads– check out my short review when you want to be not entertained.

Here are some basic guidelines of not talking about mentorship:

  1. Don’t ask someone to be your mentor. It’s like asking someone to be your friend. Who does that? Your grade 5 self. Just play it cool and don’t disclose your intentions because applying this title will put too much awkward pressure on the relationship.
  2. Ask good questions to the person you’ve selected to learn from and keep asking them. The onus is on you to push things along and your line of inquiry will be the inspiration.
  3. Schedule time with them, always be on time and pay for lunch or coffee.
  4. Telling others you have a mentor is counterproductive to the process of personal growth and your relationships with others – because everyone will expect more. If you are focused on learning, your mentors will become your friends and you will become mentors to others.
  5. Do good stuff for people.

This portion of the post is unrelated to the content below.


Now onto the kidnapping.

Let me set the scene for you. The year is 2007. Victoria and Rigoberto are watching their two sons Ruben and Jonathan become independent and move out of the house.

Their oldest son, Jonathan, has taken out a loan to start an internet cafe in San Vicente with help from a friend in the U.S. who has a nice house he can use for this business while living upstairs. In exchange he will provide upkeep and maintenance.

The cafe proved popular with the local University students and is always busy. This draws the attention of an unknown crime syndicate who settles on this business as a target for extortion. They request a monthly payment of $200 for his safety which is quite a sum for a country that lives on $1-$2 day. He pays for the two years, keeping this secret from his family but as university let out the second year he can’t make his payments any longer.

Late one night as he was taking out the garbage, two guys knocked him out, blindfolded him and took him away in a car.

The next day, Victoria and Rigoberto realized Jonathan was missing and searched for him by the river with help from the military and checked the morgue.

Jonathan was taken to northern El Salvador called Chalatenango where he marched through the forest, starved and physically abused. He was questioned about the ownership of his business and why hasn’t made the payment. He explained that he owes payments on his loan and is staying in a friend’s house. Eventually, the well educated and well dressed man came in to talk with him. Jonathan was surprised to realize this man knew more about his life than he suspected – including details of his bank account. He questioned the answers Jonathan gave and warned him that if he wasn’t truthful, he’d disappear. During interrogation, the gang leader asked him three questions:

  1. Is the virgin Mary still a virgin?
  2. Did Jesus Christ die on the cross?
  3. What is global warming?

These questions sound strange on the surface but were Jonathan’s University thesis questions, making a point that they truly knew everything about him. Jonathan answered all questions as honestly as possible realizing that he will be killed regardless.

At the same time this was happening another man knocked on Jonathan’s parent’s door and asked about the internet cafe, who owned it, how it was financed and other details about his life and business. They both answered honestly, realizing their answers were a matter of life and death.

Back in Chalatenango, his captors asked the well dressed man where and how they should kill Jonathan to make an example of him.

The man responded, “don’t touch him. He’s telling the truth, if you hurt him in any way, you’ll deal with me.” For some reason Jonathan found his respect.

Instead, they took his clothes, rubbed dirt all over them from another part of the country, sedated him and left him on the street. He was found by a man who called the police who in turn called Victoria and Rigoberto. They sped to meet him and were joyfully and tearfully reunited.

Every member of the family and the police in San Vicente agree that the way this kidnapping unfolded with Jonathan being returned alive was a miracle. This kind of event is not uncommon in El Salvador, the most dangerous country on earth not at war. 9 in 10 people kidnapped never return.

Organized crime and extortion adds to the daily pressure of poverty for Salvadorians.

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Victoria and Rigoberto’s new house. Inside is one main room and two small ones. It has a concrete floor.
Jonathan keeps a low profile these days and has settled into running a small call centre out of his home for Spanish real estate clients. Victoria and Rigoberto are gratefully moving into a new house we built for them today. They are planning on selling cold drinks and used clothing out of it. The trauma remains very real to them but they are slowly healing.

Tomorrow, a love story.

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