I met the Lord when I was fourteen and starting high school. My family didn’t attend church and I knew nothing about God, the Bible, or the Christian faith. I only knew that I was lonely and fearful, and I wanted to know that God was real. I began attending a Bible study taught by my friend’s mom, Virginia. As a new believer, I would have been lost without her. She saw my hunger to learn about God and she gave me my first Bible. We met weekly one-on-one; she taught me about Jesus, encouraging me to discover all that God had done for me out of His great love. I grew in faith, attended a lovely church, joined the youth group and sang in the choir. In the midst of the hardness of my adolescent experience, Virginia mentored me, giving me hope and courage to stand strong in Jesus and not give up.
Fast forward to college and the beginning of my sophomore year at University of California San Diego. Due to poor decisions my freshman year, I had lost my way, and was on academic probation. My Christian roommate, a seasoned Young Life leader, saw beyond my failures and thought I had leadership potential. Not believing her, but secretly hoping it was true, I agreed to attend a Young Life leader’s meeting. There I met Steve and Kathy, team leaders for a local high school, who became mentors to me for the next twenty years. Through them I learned what a loving marriage looked like, what healthy Christian parents looked like, how to discipline myself as a student, and what it meant to humbly and joyfully serve God.
In 2003, I was asked to develop a Young Life area called ‘YoungLives,’ which involved training Christian women to mentor pregnant and parenting teen moms living in poverty. I had worked in a medical setting with young moms for over ten years, but I had just experienced a devastating miscarriage, and I was hesitant to take on anything more. After a season of prayer and discernment, I felt the Lord asking me to step out in faith, trusting that He would bring healing to my heart and the hearts of young women in my city. Having experienced mentoring in my own life during times of great need, I knew the transformational power of mentoring relationships. And so, with God’s help, the ministry formed and I began to train women to mentor teen moms.
Kristina, the first teen mom to join our mentoring ministry was seventeen with two little boys. Gang involved, hardened by a life of trauma and living in the ‘hood, her vocabulary was filled with f-bombs and street lingo. Their father in prison for attempted murder, her sons had inherited Kristina’s genetic heart condition, and both needed open heart surgery to correct multiple defects in order to survive. I listened to her story, and my heart broke. This young girl needed a mentor of extraordinary faith and wisdom.
In her mid-50’s, Susie entered the mentoring ministry backwards. I knew her through church, and asked if she would host the first mentor ministry interest meeting. She agreed, but told me in no uncertain terms that she would not be a mentor. She was too busy with work and volunteering at church to take on one more thing. However, by the time the meeting was over, Susie had signed up to be a mentor. As she served coffee and cookies, she was listening with her ears and her heart; God called her, and she said, “Yes.”
Knowing that Susie was an RN who had been on an open-heart surgical team, I matched her with Kristina. I had no idea then what an amazing journey Susie and Kristina would travel as mentor and mentee. Through all the up’s and down’s of Kristina’s life, for the next eleven years, Susie remained a faithful mentor. She understood that the depth of loss in Kristina’s early life meant that trust would not come easily. Abandoned over and over again by her mother, used by men, left on her own to live on the streets at twelve, no one had ever stayed in Kristina’s life. Susie understood that if Kristina would ever come to know God and trust Him with her life, it would be through a relationship with someone who was consistent, truthful, and unconditionally loving. And so, Susie stayed.
“Having experienced mentoring in my own life during times of great need, I knew the transformational power of mentoring relationships. And so, with God’s help, the ministry formed and I began to train women to mentor teen moms.”
Kristina challenged Susie repeatedly, almost daring her to give up. But nothing swayed Susie. She made the decision to love Kristina no matter what she did, no matter what she said, no matter how many times she failed. Susie opened to door of her heart to Kristina, inviting her into her home, sharing meals, family celebrations, the boys’ birthdays, holidays, and more. Kristina began to trust Susie with her story, her children, with her hopes, her dreams, and her failures. Over time, Kristina was transformed.
Kristina graduated from high school and went on to college. She made the dean’s list and started her first job. Eventually, Kristina gave her life to Christ. She began dating an ex-gang member who had also come to Christ; they married, and added a daughter to their family. Through it all, Susie was there, mentoring Kristina through each new step: learning to be a parent, learning to be a wife, learning to lean into God when she was tempted to use drugs or drink again. Kristina and her husband joined a church and became mentors to teenagers in the ‘hood through Young Life’s urban leadership program. Their children became Susie’s grandchildren, and Susie formally adopted Kristina as her daughter.
As I watched Susie and Kristina interact for over a decade as mentor and mentee, I learned an incredible amount about what can make mentoring relationships life changing for both people. For Susie, mentoring was all about Jesus, and what He had done for her in bringing her out of a life of parties, poor choices, broken relationships, abortions, and alcoholism as a young woman. In giving her life to Christ, Susie had experienced redemption and a new story of hope that she was eager to pass on to Kristina. Susie knew that, without Jesus, she would have remained in her brokenness. Because she had experienced transformation, Susie believed without a doubt that Kristina could experience transformation as well. Susie had studied Christ’s relationship with those closest to Him; she knew that mentoring was a deep commitment, a life-on-life journey, challenging but incredibly worthwhile.
For Kristina, mentoring was all about unconditional love and consistent presence. Kristina knew she could count on Susie to be there, no matter what. Kristina knew that Susie accepted her, even when she was mad at the choices Kristina made to party or sleep around. Over time, Susie’s consistent, faithful, honest, and transparent love led Kristina to trust that God was also faithful, trustworthy, and safe. Kristina experienced an amazing transformation, and has passed that on to her children, who are growing up without violence, in a secure home, in a peaceful Christian family.
Two years ago, the greatest test of Susie and Kristina’s relationship began when Susie was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It was Kristina’s turn to care for Susie, to be there through chemo treatments, radiation, surgery and hospital stays – a faithful daughter and loving friend. Kristina had learned to lean hard into God through Susie’s mentoring, and now she was leaning hard into God for Susie’s life. This past Christmas was a glorious celebration with extended family of all the love and faith Kristina, Susie, and their extended family had in Christ, thankful for God sending His son so that they would know life in Him.
In early January, Susie began to slip away. Susie was at home on hospice, and Kristina spent her days by Susie’s side. All the love that Susie had given Kristina was now being poured back into her through Kristina’s prayers and tender physical care. Shortly before her 68th birthday, with Kristina nearby, Susie passed away.
“Over time, Susie’s consistent, faithful, honest, and transparent love led Kristina to trust that God was also faithful, trustworthy, and safe. Kristina experienced an amazing transformation, and has passed that on to her children, who are growing up without violence, in a secure home, in a peaceful Christian family.”
Later that day, I called Kristina. Having talked and texted through the days before Susie died, and I knew the panic Kristina was struggling with. Her “mom,” who had mentored her and loved her into faith in Christ, was now gone. And yet, in her grief, Kristina knew that she had been given an amazing gift. Had Susie not said yes to be a mentor, yes to loving Kristina without measure, yes to the call of God on her heart back in 2003, Kristina’s life would not be what it is today. Nor would Susie’s. Both experienced a richness in their life that surpassed all they had imagined mentoring would bring. Eternity together is ahead of them – Susie arrived there much faster than any of us wanted her to, but the legacy she left behind is of eternal significance, joyful and life changing.
God calls us to mentor and to be mentored. Accepting that call means to embark on a journey that will transform our lives. Is there someone God is calling you to mentor? Do you have a mentor? Lean into God, listen, ask God about mentoring – and jump in!