First Love-A Simple Reminder

I love The Princess Bride. It’s just a great movie where good prevails over evil and true love wins in the end! Wesley, the commoner, wins over the heart of the princess with his startling capacity to persevere every obstacle placed in front of him.

How about you? Are you also a believer in true love? God believes in true love. He is true love. He desires his mentors to be purveyors of the same.

This rises to the surface in His message to the Apostle John found in Revelation 2:1-4: “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first” (NIV, italics added).

God praises the church in Ephesus because they work hard for His kingdom. He recognizes how they persevere and praises them for their pure doctrine. They have no tolerance for wicked people in their midst, and they even stand up against false teachers. The Apostle Paul, who had warned them of the coming of false teachers many years before (cf. Acts 20:29), would have been proud of their diligent guard against error. This is a good church. They work hard for God. They persevere during trials. They fight for truth and correct doctrine. Certainly, this is a great church.

Yet, God finds something wrong with this congregation. In fact, He finds something so deeply wrong, that He warns them He is on His way to close them down – to remove their lampstand. Despite all of their correct behaviors and beliefs, they have lost sight of their first love. The problem is that God values love more than anything else. Without love, Paul teaches that our prophecies and speeches are all like clanging symbols to God (1 Corinthians 13). Christianity does not exist without love at its core – for God is love (1 John 4:8).

Mentors, what this means is that we can do all of the right things and study all of the right materials. We can quote the statistics, do the screening and recruiting perfectly. We can make the matches and grow our programs. We can do all of these things and believe all of the right information, but without love it is meaningless. Love precedes service. We know that inherently mentoring is an act of love. It starts with love, and it grows as love grows. Yet, in the midst of busy schedules and innumerous obstacles, we, like the Ephesians, can lose track of our first love. According to Thom Ranier in his book, Simple Life, love gets lost in the congestion and selfishness of an over-busy lifestyle (132-133, 2009).

Here are a couple of questions to consider today. How long has it been since your mentoring community gathered to share stories of love and compassion both given and received? Directors, when was the last time you gathered your team to speak with them, not about performance, but about appreciation, love, and the reason you personally became a mentor?

-Ken Merrifield

Continuing the Work of Mentoring

The pandemic has not stopped communities from preparing to start new mentoring programs. Since many of us are spending more time at home, it’s a great time to build a team so that they are ready to make mentoring matches either through virtual means now or in one-to-one settings when this current crisis subsides. Take a look at how three communities are moving forward:

Sullivan, Illinois: The Vineyard Church of Central Illinois had a vision to unify their town to reach the most vulnerable youth in the community. Although it would have been easy to keep the program within their church, they invited all the churches in Sullivan to join them in an effort to develop a safe, effective, and sustainable mentoring ministry. Five churches are now engaged in CAYM’s Gold Certification program to be trained to run a mentoring program in partnership with the school system in order to bring caring Christians into the lives of kids who are struggling to find a way to thrive. The schools are fully behind their effort as they see the need for their students to have intergenerational connections that will help them succeed.

Moultrie, Georgia: Like many small towns across the country, Moultrie is dealing with what used to be referred to as “city problems.” Drugs, poverty, and single parent households have affected every area of their community. Mission Moultrie and Titus Ranch have joined together to mobilize churches to make an impact on their school system. They are engaged in CAYM’s Silver Certification program and are now organizing their town by convening community stakeholders who want to strengthen Moultrie by connecting generations through mentoring. Although most of the organizing is through Zoom meetings, they are also interviewing kids, families, pastors, and community leaders to assess their strengths, needs, and aspirations. Through these efforts, they will work with CAYM to design the mentoring program and develop a strategic plan to start making mentoring matches in the spring.

Mississauga, Ontario: A group of African immigrants, all successful professionals, were concerned about negative influences on their youth. In this city bordering Toronto, they observed a culture that steered youth away from God and into unhealthy lifestyles where young adults were failing to realize all their potential. They formed Royal Youth for Christ to train young people in how to find God’s path in relationships, career, and marriage. What they lacked was the one-on-one connections where personal hopes and fears could be shared. They researched ways to make these connections and began to study mentoring. They determined that CAYM’s Bronze Certification program was the best path to train a volunteer team to make their mentoring efforts most effective. They are now engaged in our online training and will begin making their first mentoring matches this month. Their long-term goal is to help expand mentoring to other African diaspora communities in order to help their youth prosper as they connect to a new culture.

For more information on CAYM Certification programs, visit our website: CAYM.org.

-Peter Vanacore, Executive Director

A Place of Hope

We often tell a story during our CAYM Mentor Orientation about a mentor who showed up week after week to meet with his protégé. Each week he showed up and waited. Each week the protégé was a no-show. This went on for months until the mentor became so discouraged that his coach called a meeting to investigate the problem. To the mentor’s surprise, the protégé wanted to continue the relationship. In fact, the protégé had been showing up and watching from a distance every week to test the mentor. This young person needed to know that the mentor would be consistent. This story is true, and it encourages the rest of us to keep going – even when our mentoring relationship struggles. This story triggers an important Biblical question: How does the mentor remain hopeful when he/she experiences rejection in the relationship? Here are some thoughts to consider.

First: Stay Connected to Hope

Christians often postpone hope to an eternal fulfillment when God will return and set things right. They think, “It sure is rough now, but someday it will be better.” Truly Christ will return one day and set things right, but hope resides in the present as much as it does in the past and the future. The Christian has an eternal hope because he/she is connected to the past work of Christ (Romans 6:5). The cross won the victory. During times of hardship, it becomes important to remember that the victory won at the cross was purchased through hardship and pain. Through Christ’s pain, he won the victory. The resurrection only makes sense in light of the crucifixion itself. In other words, the victory was won presently as Christ remained faithful during the rejection experienced on that cross. When the mentor endures suffering and rejection, he/she actually wins the victory through the suffering and rejection. Relationship is risky and costly. This was true for Christ and remains true for the believer. Hope endures when the believer becomes confident of God’s current work through pain. This is what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote that “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). God wins the victory simultaneously with the pain. He uses the rejection both to change and grow the mentor and to reveal His unending love for the protégé (Romans 8:37-39).

Second: Remember that Christianity is a Shared Experience

The Christian faith depends on the shared experience described in Romans 6, Galatians 2, and John 16. These passages remind believers that Christ-followers are united with Christ in death, life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Christ promises that the Holy Spirit resides in the life of each believer in John 16. Shared experience with God remains one of the most fundamental doctrines of the New Testament. Romans 8:17 reminds us that we share in Christ’s suffering and glory. Philippians 1:7 teaches that we share in God’s grace. Colossians 1:12 mentions that we share in God’s inheritance. 2 Thessalonians 2:14 describes how we share in God’s glory. Take a look at the word “share” in the New Testament and discover many more passages where God promises his kids that life on this earth is always a shared experience with Him – both in times of ease and in times of struggle. God even promises to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with us as we pass through the final stage of our life (Psalm 23). He never leaves us nor forsakes us. This is Good News. As the mentor struggles, the confident assurance of God’s abiding within brings hope. God walks with the mentor through the rejection, heartache, disappointment, joy, laughter, and confusion of authentic relationship. Remember, mentor, every one of us remains a protégé of the Lord who always “shows-up” even as we faithfully do the same.

-Ken Merrifield

Seeing God at Work in Your Mentoring Ministry

Would you like a simple way that you and your mentoring team can see God at work in your mentoring program?  Just as we know what is close to a friend’s heart by spending time with him or her, we can know God’s heart and where He is moving by spending time with Him.

In his workbook Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby explains that “God has told us that He is already at work trying to bring a lost world to Himself.  If we will adjust our lives to Him in a love relationship, He will show us where He is at work. That revelation is His invitation to us to get involved in His work. Then, when we join Him, He completes His work through us” (p. 67).  John 5:17, 19-20 tells us, “17My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working. 19I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.”

This perspective has helped encourage me over the years to seek an intimate relationship with God daily so that I can be attune to God revealing to me where He is at work around me. In our present day, God uses the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church so that He can reveal to us where He is working around us. 

When I worked at Youth Horizons mentoring program in Wichita, Kansas, our mentoring team came up with a simple discipline that allowed us to see God at work in our mentoring program. Each of us endeavored to have intimate relationships with God, and we would meet together weekly for one hour to talk about any issues, needs, or challenges that were going on with our mentors, protégés, families, or the mentoring ministry in general.  We would then write the prayer requests on a whiteboard and pray for each of them as a team.  Then, throughout the week we would individually lift up prayer for the requests. As we connected with the mentors, protégés and families, we would let them know that we were praying for them.  The following week we would meet again as a team to add any new issues to the board and take off any that had been resolved. 

We were intentional about making the connection between praying and watching to see how God would answer our prayers.  We compiled an ongoing list of the issues God had resolved through prayer. It was very encouraging to see! At the end of each year we would meet as a team and review all the prayers that God had answered and take time to give thanks to Him.

This very simple and tangible method allowed our mentoring team to see God work in a mighty way.  It helped us stay connected to God, and it was a significant encouragement to our staff and all the people we served.  If your mentoring team does not already do something like this, I would encourage you to give it a try for a couple of months and see what God does. He is ready for you to join Him in His work.

-Donnovan Karber, National Training Director

Mentoring and Human Value

This post attempts to investigate the Biblical support for mentoring as it pertains to human value. The Bible teaches in the creation story that all humans are created by God both with intrinsic value as well as positional value. Genesis 1:26 teaches:

 “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” (NLT)

In Our Image (Intrinsic Value)

This passage reminds us that all humans have intrinsic value as “Image Bearers” of God. While the Fall certainly has marred this reflection in the human race, the intrinsic value of every human being remains. Because all humans have intrinsic value, all humans have worth and all merit the time and effort of others in their betterment. This remains true regardless of race, disposition, or spiritual belief. The Bible supports this in John 3:16 which states that “God so loved the world” – the cosmos which includes all human beings. Value is the starting point for respect and love in the heart of the believer. All people are deemed loveable, because all people are valued in the heart of God. All people are worthy of sacrifice, because all people are loved by God first and foremost. This is the starting point for ministry.

Mentoring is hard work and can be discouraging at times when mentees are slow to respond or seem to resist authentic, trusting relationship. When this happens, many are tempted to pull away from the relationship. Genesis reminds us that the mentor’s commitment resides not in the mentee’s response. The mentor’s commitment, biblically speaking, resides in God’s response and in God’s heart. Because God finds this young person to be valuable and sees Himself within them as “Image Bearers,” the believing mentor also finds value in this person and remains faithful to the mentee. In those gut-wrenching, hurtful, moments where the relationship seems stagnate and distant, it does the Christian mentor well to remember that God loved us while we were still his enemy (Romans 5:8). In other words, God loves humans regardless of human response. Love is who He is. Love is His choice and love compels us to be as He is. The Apostle John records this truth in 1 John 4:8, “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

They will Reign Over (Positional Value)

The creation account in Genesis 1:26 not only describes the intrinsic value of all human beings, it also depicts the positional value that all humans have as stewards of God’s creation. All human beings have value because they all have a role to play in the well-being of creation as a whole. The mentor finds great encouragement in knowing that his/her mentee is ordained by God for an important work in this world. God entrusts this young person with stewardship over all of his creation. God has a plan for this young person and a calling on this mentee’s life. Because we live in a fallen world, this calling may seem distant – or nonexistent – at times. Nevertheless, God’s word remains true and God’s plan remains steadfast. The mentor is God’s workman to call forth God’s creative purpose within that young person through steadfast love, extended social networks, and genuine friendship during difficult seasons.

Because the Genesis account pertains to the mentor as much as to the mentee, it provides the marching orders for each one of us. Genesis 1:30 teaches, “And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life” (NLT). This verse calls the mentor to pursue stewardship over “everything that has life.” Charles Cooley, a sociologist from the late 19 century, believes that every criminal indicates a failure on the part of the society to nurture a young person (cf. Social Organization). While Cooley was not a Christian and did not take into account any of the spiritual elements affecting humans and their ability to make good choices, his conclusion does echo the Genesis mandate to steward all living beings well. The heartbeat of the Christian mentor reflects this desire to nurture well all who find themselves within his or her relational circle.

-Ken Merrifield