The greatest gift I can give to those women is to lay bricks as the foundation of a generation of girls coming up behind me. In whose life will you be a bricklayer?
If you were to put together a lineup of likely friends for a 17-year-old High School Senior, Mrs. Major Jeanette Tritton probably wouldn’t have made the list. Mrs. Tritton was in her late 80s; a spitfire who could remember, as a small child, getting Christmas presents from then-Commissioner Evangeline Booth, a fact I always found a little mind-boggling. She was a force to be reckoned with and I can only imagine what she was like as a young woman. Superficially speaking, there was no reason to suspect that she would become my champion but that’s exactly what she did. Mrs. Tritton took an interest in my life–encouraging me, caring about what was happening, putting me in my place when I needed it–all in love and with my best interest in mind. She became a mentor to me and I loved her dearly.
As a Divisional Youth Leader, one of the things I often hear from adults in the corps is that they don’t know how to relate to the young people. They feel like they don’t know enough about youth culture. The adults feel too old, too “out of touch”. Honestly, while being relevant might help you some, it’s nowhere near the top of the list of things that young people need.
We live in a time when girls have more opportunities than they ever have before, but there are still obstacles in their way. Representation is an issue they don’t see a lot of women in visible roles or positions of power and authority. In many places around the world, girls struggle with equal access to education. For young adults, it can be difficult to learn how to juggle a career with marriage and family. These are just a few challenges girls and women face in our world and they need strong godly examples to help them navigate this life. You don’t have to be the most “lit” adult in the room to mentor a young woman, but there are some things you can do to make mentoring effective.
- Be intentional in your own relationship with the Lord—You can’t give what you don’t have. Be diligent in your own discipleship so that you can disciple those you lead.
- Be transparent—Let them see where you are in your life. Talk to them about challenges you’ve faced. Let them hear that the Christian life isn’t always sunshine and roses, but that Jesus is constant and faithful, even in the struggle. Teach them what it looks like to hold on to faith in the storm. Demonstrate what a consistent walk with the Lord looks like, mistakes and all.
- Build a relationship founded on trust—If they can’t trust you, you’re doomed. Unless it’s something that will harm them, keep their confidences and keep your word.
- Don’t push—You can’t rush a relationship. These things take time, but it will happen if you’re intentional and show that you’re sticking around.
- Show up—Be there for them. Go to their games and take an obnoxiously large sign with you. Go see their marching band performances. Call them after a job interview. Watch their theater performance and take them flowers. Comment on their social media posts. Ask how their exams went. Just be there.
- Have fun—It doesn’t all have to be about teaching or giving advice. Have fun together.
- Help develop their skills—Find out if there are any gaps in their experience and help them figure those out. Another mentor of mine introduced me to a trauma counselor just before I went to work in an area that had recently been severely damaged by a hurricane. There was a gap in my experience, and she helped me fill the gap. Teach them how to write a resume, shake a hand, and hold a conversation with eye contact. Not all young people get these things from home or school and you can help them succeed by developing these skills.
- Listen—Really listen. Hear their fears, their excitement, their joys, their struggles. Listen for the “thing beneath the thing”, what is really on their heart. One of the greatest gifts you can give is to truly listen to what is happening in their minds and hearts.
- Speak the truth—Be honest with them. Don’t sugarcoat things or be afraid to challenge them. For this to be effective, you need to really have a relationship with them, but they don’t need someone to just hype them up or be a “yes man”. There are plenty of people in their lives who already do that. What they need is someone to help them figure out what’s best for them.
- Teach them to set goals and make decisions—This isn’t something that always gets taught in schools. Teach them to evaluate their options and not be afraid of decision-making. Help them learn to set reachable goals, put action steps in place and celebrate like crazy when they reach them.
Mrs. Tritton helped to lay a foundation in my life, placing bricks that other women, of various ages and experiences, would add to and build upon to help me develop into the woman and leader that I am today. The greatest gift I can give to those women is to lay bricks as the foundation for a generation of girls coming up behind me. In whose life will you be a bricklayer?