Her name was — is — Amy. She’s a family friend, about seven years older than me. One night she called up my folks and asked if she could take me to Barnes and Noble. I lived in the country on a farm, and at that point in history, didn’t know what Barnes and Noble was. I still remember the smell (who doesn’t?), the look of the little Starbucks, also a fairly new phenomenon. I recall the artsy, promising book covers that gave off a whole lot cooler vibe than I did there in an incredibly awkward freshman year of high school. I don’t remember much else about that night, other than that for more than a decade I kept the pocket Espanol-English diccionario I purchased that night.
I don’t know what made her strike up a relationship with me, or even if that was our first outing. But it took on multiple forms: Her as my camp counselor. Her sponsoring a missions trip I was on. Harmonizing our voices together to worship songs in her little Honda on the road to somewhere. Sitting under a weeping willow tree by a lake while I asked her furtive questions about guys and sex that I hadn’t the fortitude to ask my parents. Laughing about how to handle our mutually (super) naturally curly, mildly out-of-control hair. As in, using a brush may cause you to resemble a Chia pet: Watch it grow! Gel and a whole lot of deep conditioner are your friends.
When I received a standby plane ticket to anywhere in the continental U.S. for my 16th birthday, I chose to visit her in college over my spring break. I still remember the late nights as we talked about her upcoming wedding. I’ve put some of the songs we listened to that week on my iPod.
Being in her 20s made Amy a perfect mentor for me: the perfect mix of my awe; her street smarts, coolness, and openness; and our shared love for God. Plus, mentoring in her 20s meant she had energy. Wiggle room in her schedule. Fresh ideas. And passion to fuel world change, one life at a time. One life, like mine.
God’s got a particular vision for this decade of yours and the story He longs to write there for His own renown. David, Jeremiah, Timothy, Mary — the Bible is stuffed with examples of people whose youth meant nothing but possibility for a mighty God. God proclaims in the Psalms and Isaiah 40 that the strength of youth is a good thing, and something the other two-thirds or so of the world wishes it had.
There’s true power in the Apostle Paul’s words: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). That’s what Amy gave me: someone to walk with through a few turbulent years of high school, someone to say the same things my godly parents were saying but in her own cool way, someone to keep me pointed at True North — at my God. Maybe you had an Amy of your own, or wish you had.
And really, maybe that’s all it takes for you to step into someone’s life: some time, love, intentionality. Start by prayerfully considering what He’s given you to invest in the people around you. Lay out your desires before God — and let Him further craft them, even run with them. What areas of His heart and hands has He shared with you? Ask Him for the wisdom He generously gives (James 1:5-6) and for Him to make your paths straight in your desire to allow your time, resources and life to be all His.
One of the best ways to think about ways you could invest down involves what makes you most uniquely you.
- Consider your life experiences. Yes, including areas of pain in your past, if you’re dealing with them in healthy ways. What have you gone through and would be willing to walk alongside someone in a similar situation — maybe even help them feel understood? Is it an eating disorder? Abuse? Your parents’ divorce? Depression? Abortion? Just being a teenager?
- Think passions; skills; interests. What are the areas that get your blood pumping? Is it missions? Teen pregnancy? The forgotten or foreign in your community? What aptitudes can you share that someone else would love to have, providing the perfect milieu for conversation?
- Look for the need. If Jesus lived in your community (you know, because He does) what areas of hurt would He long to meet?
- Don’t feel the need to recreate the wheel. If there’s someone or some type of mentoring program already at work in your community, join them with your own uniqueness and support.
- But you can pioneer. Pray for godly innovation in ways to help.
If you’re still looking for ideas, here are a few to stoke your fire.
1. International students: Carry boxes as they get settled into their new digs. Have them over for a potluck dinner: something from your country, something from theirs. Drive them to doctor’s appointments. Help them practice their English. Invite them to cook, to movie nights, to church. Many students whose countries won’t allow missionaries have arrived in your own hometown.
2. Answer a Christian crisis hotline.
3. Teach English.
4. Get involved in a local youth group, or teach Sunday School.
5. Got single parents in your church? Ask about the possibility of regularly taking out one or more of their kids on an individual basis, just to chat about life. Or maybe that pastor’s kid or missionary kid on furlough would love for someone to take them out to Chick-fil-A. Maybe the missionary kid abroad would love some postcards or a care package with special snacks or small toys he can’t get where he lives.
6. Web-based mentoring, like FamilyLife’s e-Mentoring, can help you mentor people around the globe.
7. Connect with a local elementary, junior high or high school to see about after-school programs. You might be able to tutor or join with other churches or organizations, like Fellowship of Christian Athletes, already at work.
9. Contact local college groups like Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ), Stu Mo (Student Mobilization), Chi Alpha, InterVarsity, Reformed University Fellowship, Baptist Student Union — they’d love your intentional, enthusiastic involvement.
10. Seek out inner-city ministries that care for kids or other young people in trouble.
11. Volunteer at a pregnancy center.
12. Head up a service project at your church. Help lead a short-term missions trip; visit nursing homes; start a car clinic to serve single parents and widows once a month.
13. Encourage a new believer in Christ, taking them through a foundational discipleship study.
14. Can’t get enough of the great outdoors? Volunteer with a local troop of scouts. Or find a young friend who would love to backpack or hike. There’s a lot of superb conversation and quality time out in the (unplugged) wilderness.
15. If you’re married, have coffee regularly with an engaged or seriously dating couple.
16. If refugees live in your local community, many times they need transportation to medical and other appointments. As they get acclimated — meanwhile coping with what they’ve fled — they might need your translation, your understanding of your culture, and someone to sit around and play board games with.
17. Sponsor a child through an organization like Compassion International, and write some encouraging letters. Kids love to get mail!
18. Don’t forget family. Do you have a niece, nephew, cousin or young sibling who’d love to grab some ice cream on a semi-regular basis?
19. Use your skills. Encourage a budding young artist or musician; volunteer as a sponsor for student groups at local schools; help put on a theater or musical production.
20. Who’s hurting in your community? Is there someone whose home has been destroyed, or whose parents are sick? Can you volunteer in the children’s ward at a local hospital? Can you babysit for a family that’s under stress?
Mentoring is all about making the most of opportunities. Sure, you’re teaching a skill, throwing a ball, sipping an americano, or doing something even more menial, like hanging out in a waiting room. But in and around these, life happens. Conversations happen. Those few words that someone says compassionately or humorously — and even more, the ear they open — can make His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven … one life at a time. Whose Amy will you be?
Copyright 2012 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.