I climbed on a bright green trolley and instantly heard calls of "Suz!"
Twenty-seven freshman girls were perched in the seats, waving. The driver put the trolley in gear. And off we went.
We traveled to a refurbished theater from the 1950s and watched an independent film. Then we hopped back on the trolley and traveled to the Music Hall of Fame. The students went wild when they realized their entertainment was area musician Colton Swon, one of the Top 50 in this season's American Idol. Next we traveled to WISH, a safe home for battered woman where we ate lunch and discussed statistics and where to find help if you are a victim of dating abuse. Our last stop was at The Castle, a local Renaissance Fair building complete with history, knights, kings, and queens.
It was a special day as a community mentor with a local high school.
What does this have to do with ministry?
A couple of years ago I struggled. My passion in ministry (and in life) is to connect with seekers and unbelievers and to share a message of hope. And yet, as an author, I wrote for a Christian audience. I spoke at Christian events and conferences. My friends were believers. My family loved Christ.
I lived in a Christian vacuum of my own making.
I love being with believers and I love the church, but I longed to climb out of the pew, so I begin to pray for guidance.
Later that week, I received a phone call from a woman who was creating a community mentorship program for freshmen girls. It was comprised of women from the Rotary Club, leaders in business and volunteer organizations, and the mayor. But she also called me. I wasn't visible in our community; writers tend to live in caves (home offices) where they create books and battle deadlines.
"I understand you care about teenagers," the woman said. "Would you be interested in helping us?"
Two years later I look back and clearly see what a powerful invitation this was. Every month we meet with 450+ girls in four area high schools, including the alternative school for young mothers and troubled teens. Each woman brings their gift to the table. For some that is organization, or fundraising, or event planning. My contribution is speaking to a diverse group of girls. In the beginning it was a different crowd than the enthusiastic teens at youth conferences. But over time, relationships were developed and they now look forward to my visits. I contribute an average of eight hours a month, but the return is priceless. As a parenting and youth culture columnist, I know what issues girls are facing, whether churched or unchurched. I don't get to talk about God in the classroom, but the girls know that I am an author and in ministry. My books are now in each high school library, and they check them out and connect with me outside of school with questions about dating, family, life, or God. When I see a girl in the mall, she seeks me out and I'm free to pray with her if she wishes, or just to listen.
But I have also become good friends with this group of strong women. Some are believers, some are "spiritual," and some have negative or no views on faith and Christians, but over two years they have become friends. They trust me and know that my faith is genuine. It has led to some very private and treasured moments.
For me, service outside the pew has enriched my ministry. My volunteer work as a community mentor is not a faith-based venture, but sometimes it feels like the biggest God-thing that I do.