Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
“What do I do with a rebellious kid?”
“What if there’s no connection?”
“What if they think I’m lame?”
These are the normal questions that run through most of our minds when we first dive into children’s ministry. When the children we minister to come from broken homes, we can add to these:
“How do I break through their defenses?”
“How do I deal with so many troubling influences in this child’s life when I’m only seeing him once a week?”
For one of our most experienced Life Coach mentors at Bethlehem, Howard Engnell, there was one more question:
“How do I build a relationship with a young man I can barely hear?”
Three years ago when he started meeting with a second grader named Jude, this was Howard’s assessment: “I could see he was troubled. His parents had divorced, and his dad had moved on with a new family. It was just Jude and his mom. He was angry and struggled with authority figures.” Jude’s dad had left a hole in his life.
“I would spend time with him, but we struggled to communicate. He was quiet, and talked quiet, and with my hearing impairment it was hard to hear him.” It’s what many of us would consider a hopeless situation. But Howard realized, “I just had to be his friend.” And Howard has been quite the friend.
For three years Howard has been committed to Jude. He faithfully brought Jude to Cub Scouts during their first year. Jude often wouldn’t cooperate with the leaders, and he wasn’t willing to put on his uniform for meetings. Howard never received a “thank you” from Jude during that time.
Still, by God’s grace, Howard didn’t give up. He met Jude in his world just like Christ meets us. Like a father or grandfather, he helped him learn how to hit a baseball. He taught him to ice skate backward. He took him on the free outings to sports games and performing arts that our ministry provides. And he taught Jude to say thank you. At the same time, Howard’s wife, Grace, befriended Jude’s mother, and they stayed connected.
Looking back three years later, Howard and Grace remember what it felt like to see Jude smile for the first time. It took over a year of waiting but now smiles are a regular sight. Howard brags about how Jude, now in 5th grade, survived a 19-mile bike ride to Fort Snelling with him. Grace talks with mother-like pride of how Jude graciously served them drinks and snacks at a recent visit. Their biggest joys are over the small but noticeable changes in Jude’s heart.
Jude is learning to thank the adults that serve him, from his sports coaches to his mentor. And he shows a growing sensitivity to the gospel. His mother reports that for the first time she has heard Jude pray for his dad to encounter the saving grace of Christ.
Howard and Jude are living proof that “love covers a multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8). Even though communication has been challenging at times, providing a steady love in Jude’s unsteady world has been used by God just as much as words.
In our ministry, we see over and over how hurting kids like Jude need the persistent grace of Christ in human form more than anything else. They need a mentor who believes God is sovereign in their lives even when they try to shut everyone out. They need someone who is faithful.
Besides mentoring Jude, Howard has served on our Life Coaches for Kids® leadership team for three years. He was inspired to get involved when he heard the tragic statistics: 70 percent of incarcerated youth, 63 percent of youth suicides, and 71 percent of high school drop-outs are father-absent.
God moved him to carry out the call of James 1:27 to minister to the “fatherless and widows” as one of our first life coaches three years ago. God has led another 17 adults to join him since then. Their stories could easily fill a book.
Today we have 30 father-absent kids waiting for faithful men and women from Bethlehem. Some of these kids attend church here with us, and many are students at Hope Academy, where a number of Bethlehem members teach and volunteer. They have stories like Jude.
Many have never met their fathers, and some are close to having to leave a school like Hope Academy because of the anger and soul pain of their broken family lives. We know the need is huge, but would you consider joining us to represent God’s pursuing grace in one of these lives? Would you believe God for great things with us? Pray for us? All this ministry requires is faithfulness. God takes care of the rest.
May the “Father of the fatherless and Protector of widows” be with you!
Director of Bethlehem Life Coaches for Kids ®
Note: If you are interested in learning more about this ministry or becoming a life coach for a child living near your campus, contact Tony Beach (612-869-1987).
Note (added 11/3/11): In June of this year, Life Coaches for Kids was renamed to Father's Light Mentors. Read more.