As a professional Christian woman who started 4word to minister specifically to professional Christian women, the most likely audience of my mentorship is well defined. Yet, over the past few years, I've had the unique experience of being a mentor to someone whose life looks almost nothing like mine. Still, I felt God's call to be a part of this young man's life, and the experience has enriched mine (and his too I hope) beyond belief.
I'm talking about Lopez Lomong. Lopez is my male, South-Sudanese, professional athlete mentee.
We first met in February of 2011 when we were both asked to speak at a mentoring group for young professional men called the Mentor's Forum. As Lopez shared his shocking and captivating life story (involving war, kidnapping, escape, and immigration), I felt God moving me to learn more about him, so I took a cautious first step and invited him and a friend to lunch the next week.
During lunch, Lopez shared his vision of bringing hope to Southern Sudan. Lopez felt strongly that this was God's calling for him, but he didn't know how God would make it happen. For me it was a light-bulb moment. One of my closest friends from business school is Kevin Jenkins, CEO of World Vision International, a Christian relief organization involved in exactly the kind of work Lopez wanted to do.
It was then that I knew that God had brought me together with Lopez for a reason. I was able to connect Lopez with World Vision. It was great to see them work together developing 4 South Sudan, a World Vision-sponsored program to help provide clean water, health care, education, nutrition, and most importantly, hope, to the South Sudanese. Their partnership has flourished. In August of 2013, Team World Vision 4 South Sudan raised $500,000 to be used to build wells in South Sudan!
I will be the first to admit that Lopez and I are an unlikely pair. Experiencing God make that first connection despite our very different backgrounds gave me confidence to continue to open myself up to God's work in both of our lives.
For a short time, Lopez even lived with my family in Portland, Oregon, and my husband Chris and I had the honor of joining Lopez in celebrating the purchase of his own home.
When Lopez is asked about his death-defying escape from his captors all those years ago, he simply says, "I survived because God says I matter." For Lopez, everything comes back to that time in his life when, against all odds and by God's grace alone, he survived. No matter how much we do as individuals, no matter how much we plan, God does more, and his plans go beyond our wildest dreams, let alone our comfort zones.
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Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.