Melissa was the quietest girl in my group. She had dark hair and beautiful blue eyes. Once her grandma, who picked her up and brought her to our church each week, pulled me aside in the hallway and asked, “Could you keep a special eye on Melissa? Things are really rough at home right now.”
Melissa wasn’t one of the girls who would run up and give me a hug when I walked in the room. She wasn’t bouncing up and down, just dying to tell me about the prank they had just played on the boys. Melissa would just give me a shy smile. She hung back. She didn’t say much during our discussion and prayer time.
But in her eyes I saw a hunger for more. She was hurting. She was looking for hope.
By spring, the girls in my group had earned enough points (by memorizing verses, doing their quiet time sheets, and attending regularly) for a party at my house. We decided to have an Orange Party—which meant we would wear orange clothes, eat orange food, and do an orange scavenger hunt in my neighborhood.
After an orange-filled afternoon, I pulled the girls into a huddle on the floor in my basement, and told them the story of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again. It wasn’t the first time I had told it. It wasn’t the first time they had heard it. But for two girls, it was the first time the story overlapped with their stories.
Melissa was one of those girls. I remember the sweet intensity of her prayer, as she asked Jesus to save her from her sin and be her Lord. And I remember her smile afterward—those big blue eyes sparkling.
I moved away shortly after this, and I didn’t hear from Melissa for about fifteen years. Then, last summer, she sent me a message via facebook.
Melissa was a young mom now. Life hadn’t been easy. She was expecting her third baby, and she wasn’t married. And even though she hadn’t made the best choices, she wanted to come back to God. She was reaching out to me because she knew I could help. And it’s been my great delight to do so!
As we’ve reconnected, I’ve silently wondered why Melissa thought to reach out to me. We live in different states now. We probably wouldn’t have recognized each other on the street. And there probably are Christians whose paths cross with Melissa’s.
I’ve thought about several other girls, too, who have reconnected with me over the years. One girl was in my cabin at a summer camp. Eight years after I led her to Jesus at camp, she was struggling with suicidal thoughts. So she looked up my address and wrote me a letter, asking me to pray.
Another girl contacted me via facebook, just after she got married. She said that she had just packed the little book mark I gave her in middle school. The bookmark’s glow-in-the-dark cross didn’t glow anymore, but it had been on her nightstand for years, reminding her of the things I had taught her about God. She said, “If you hadn’t been there… I really think my life could have gone another way.” She just wanted to write and say thanks.
To each of these girls, I somehow represented a time that their eyes were opened to Jesus. I’m the one who got to put their hands in His.
This is what youth ministry is all about! Putting their hands in His. We only have a few moments to walk with them. Pretty soon, they’ll be walking away from our church, our youth ministry, our influence. Will they walk with Jesus?
lf we never ask that question, I doubt whether mentoring will truly happen. If we don’t dream about who are kids are becoming and where they are going in life, we’ll be content to eat orange food, wear orange clothes, and call it a day of youth ministry.
But on the other hand, true mentoring casts a long shadow. When we care enough to cross over into our kids’ lives, we can make a difference that extends into the coming decades and ultimately crosses into eternity. We can bring little blue eyed girls like Melissa with us to heaven.