I Affirm Before I Instruct
Since all four of these girls were raised in our church and walked away, I knew they were wary of the Christian message. As a result, I was very careful in how I responded to each of them at first. I tried to affirm them and establish a relationship before I gave them any advice. That wasn't always easy to do. Much of what these girls posted shocked me and brought me sorrow. My inclination was to point out how wrong they were, but I refrained, working on the relationship first.
For example, when Robin posted anything that was morally neutral, I responded as positively as I could. When she said she was going to the zoo with her friend, I said, "What fun! It's a great day for it. Say hi to the monkeys for me." I did this a lot so that I earned some cred when she posted something I couldn't respond positively to. After a year of positive comments, I finally posted a warning when she said that she'd gotten engaged. I knew the guy was going to be a disaster from earlier posts, so while everyone else was saying, "Congrats," I said, "I wish I could be excited for you, but his Facebook persona scares me." She made no response to my comment, but later when she'd broken up with him because he was abusive, she seemed all the more eager to talk to me—and more willing to broach spiritual subjects.
I Try to Be Patient
I've been corresponding with these girls for almost four years now. Out of the four, only one has returned to church. And I know I'm not the only reason she has returned, but I have the joy of knowing that I at least helped make the church seem like a safe, attractive place when she was living in chaos.
I'm still waiting for the other three to return to faith. I see encouraging signs from two of them. Although they haven't returned to church, they are at least more positive toward Christian thoughts and comments. And they have even begun to "like" some of my more overt Christian statements on Facebook. So I continue to wait patiently for Christ to do in them what I cannot.
One of the best things about "adopting" these girls on Facebook has been the reminder of things I can pray for them. I know intimate details about their daily lives because of their posts and am able to pray for specific things that concern me. I even let them know I am praying. When Robin broke up with her abusive boyfriend, I wrote in a private message, "I'm sorry that you had to go through this. I know it's something you will carry for a long time. But I'm praying that God will mend your broken heart and heal the places deep inside that are hurting. Let him fold you in his loving arms and give you hope."