I was single. And it looked like the condition might be a permanent one. Most of my friends had married in their early 20s. Within a few years, each had a handful of children and were blissfully ensconced within the daily routine of family life. Without even a boyfriend, it seemed that my chances of ever sharing in their joy would be limited, at best. Yet it was during this time that I discovered a unique and often overlooked ministry: that of mentoring other people's children.
I admit that my first impulse was to run a mile from anything that might even vaguely be considered "mentoring." As a teenager, I had encountered more than a few adults interested in guiding me through life as I drank from the well of their vast experience. Most of them had overestimated their own knowledge and abilities and, more than once, I found myself struggling in relationships where the supposed mentor seemed to approach me more as a project than as a friend. I couldn't help sensing that these relationships had more to do with fulfilling the mentor's desire to be useful than with actually meeting my needs as a growing believer.
These experiences left a sour taste in my mouth, so while I was happy to take on the role of a youth worker, I hung back from pursuing the type of responsibility that true mentorship implied. Instead, I entered the ministry with an air of caution: determined to simply "be myself" and let God guide. I told stories, participated in the games, shared about my passions, and took time to inquire about theirs. While some of the dialogue was spiritual (it had to be, since I was teaching the lessons), a fair bit of it was just friendly conversation—people getting to know each other as they shared their hopes and dreams over fruit punch and a bag of potato chips.1