I have seen needs, but hesitated because I felt I was over-stepping a boundary. I have heard God’s whisper to take a step of faith, but I didn’t think I had enough to offer. Opportunity knocked, but I didn’t open the door. But now, consider these words.
Mentoring is an amazing, transformative ministry. It transformed me.
Valerie Bantz describes her experience as the mentoring coordinator at Valley Free Evangelical Church in West Des Moines, Iowa. The women’s ministry uses an international program called morementoring.org, founded by Nancy Lindgren. Lindgren believes that mentoring is a vital ministry and an effective way to pass on faith and prayer to the younger generation. It’s a fulfillment of the Biblical mandate of Matthew 28: 19-20, “Go forth and and make disciples of all nations.”
Mentoring at Valley church was originally intended to serve younger moms, but it was soon made clear that women in any stage of life were longing for a mentor. “We’re trying to build a culture, at Valley, where mentoring is normal and natural. Where it’s not limited to something you sign up for, but happening naturally. Where someone comes along beside you and helps you through the hard things,” Bantz said.
Because, who wouldn’t want help and encouragement during a rough patch of life?
There is difference between a mentoring relationship and friendship. Friendships may happen easily, but mentoring is intentional and purposeful. There should be friendship within a mentoring relationship, but not all friendships are mentoring. Mentoring is about building relationships. In this particular case, mentors model prayer to mentees and their walk with Christ. That’s how we grow as believers – through community and through relationships. To be seen and to be known means everything.
I’ve lived a large part of my own life feeling completely unknown, unseen and ignored. I’m only just now learning how to break out of the illusion of feeling invisible.
Bantz says she spent three years with her first mentee. “I couldn’t believe all the benefits for me personally! I fully expected to be giving all this advice and sharing my experiences, but it became more of a mutual sharing and benefited both of us, and I did not see that coming” Bantz said.
Then, along came Marina McCollom. Originally from Bulgaria, she makes her life here in Des Moines now. Because her family is across oceans and continents, she didn’t have a support system until discovering Valley Church in January of 2019. “I was struggling before meeting Valerie. At first it was hard to meet people and I didn’t have anybody in my life. Then I heard about the mentoring program through someone involved in the women’s ministry and it sounded amazing!” McCollom said.
Both McCollom and Bantz attended a meet-and-greet for potential mentors/mentees at the church. And then they were matched. McCollom wasn’t looking for advice. Bantz wasn’t sure what to expect. McCollom made it simple. “We’re going to meet and pray,” she said. Bantz was good with that. McCollom was already involved in Bible studies and BSF, coaching tennis, and working two jobs.
There is no pressure to be good enough as a mentee. Leave competition and the need to impress at the door. With the Valley mentoring program, authenticity and vulnerability are warmly welcomed. For those who are used to being criticized and judged, this is a safe place.
McCollom is half-way through a program to become a counselor. She feels a strong calling to help others the way God has helped her. “I am not a planner. So when I hear from God to study for a master’s degree, I just act. I sense God using me in other’s lives. If it wasn’t for the encouragement from being with Val, I wouldn’t try to do anything.”
Bantz is so proud of McCollom. “This has also been about listening and cheerleading and truth-telling. We all tell ourselves lies about what we can or cannot do. What I love about mentoring now is that it’s like a front row seat to what God is doing in the life of my mentee, and it’s changing my life because I’m seeing what God is doing in Marina.”
Vulnerability and authenticity can be terrifying. Sometimes I think we put forth so much more effort trying to appear all put together and fine than summoning the courage to share our struggles. We give in to the lies of Satan sneering at us to worry that others will think less of us if they knew what we’re really going through. We don’t want to risk judgement and rejection. Our culture values independence. Keep troubles to yourself. Don’t be depressing.
But the Lord also commands us to bear one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” When it comes to mentoring, it means we listen, encourage, and pray together. Valley Evangelical Church sets a wonderful example.