She was in 8th grade, and she liked Clay Aiken and Beyoncé and (strangely enough) Avalon. She also loved to “style” my hair, which usually resulted in my wearing a side ponytail and her giggling profusely. Her name was Erica, and she was my Little Sister. I met her through my roommate, who had worked with Erica through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. When the program closed due to lack of funding, my roommate kept seeing Erica, and when she was getting ready to graduate, she asked if I would be a mentor to Erica. Eager to “make a difference,” I said yes.
I had no idea what I was getting into.
Sometimes she’d talk about her family, but not often. What I did know saddened me. She lived with her mom and older brother in her grandmother’s two-bedroom house in the “rough” part of town. Her dad had disappeared years ago. Sometimes he sent birthday cards, but most of the time he forgot. Her mom was rarely around, her brother often out of the house, and her grandmother quiet and distant.I would pick her up once a week and take her to the mall (her favorite store was the music store), or to the park (she liked walking the trail), or to my dorm, where we’d watch Disney movies and make cookies. Often I’d help her with her homework. (“No, Erica, I’m not writing that paper for you, but I will help you get started.”) I wanted our time together to be fun and positive and encouraging.
Often it was just difficult.
Maybe it was because of her home life, or maybe because she missed her dad. Maybe she just enjoyed it, but for whatever reason, Erica liked lying. The first time we hung out, she told me that the night before her house had been raided by the cops, who were looking for a man who had murdered someone. Erica said they’d found his shirt in her room, and she was scared they thought she did something. After a panicked call to her mom, I found out the story was completely untrue. Not only that, but she’d told the same story to my roommate more than once. After a few meetings, I became a pro at deciphering which stories were true (“We had pizza in the cafeteria today.”) and which were false (“We went on a field trip to the bowling alley.”) What puzzled me is that most of her lies were not about serious things, like the cops raiding her house, but were about things like school field trips or parties or boys. At first I didn’t no how to respond to her, but after a while I began calling her on her lies, then asking her to tell me what really happened at school. Soon she began calling me every day, sometimes multiple times. If I wasn’t there, she’d leave a message, then call again 5 minutes later.
A few months into our relationship, I began crying out to God to help me with Erica. I was in over my head, and I was having a hard time loving her. How could I love someone who lied to me? How could I love someone who tried to shoplift in the mall when she was with me? How could I love someone so unlike me? The answer was easy:
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-39)
As I began praying for Erica, praying that God would help me to love her I was reminded of God’s love for me. How could Jesus love me, when I so often shunned Him? How could Jesus love me, when I often placed everything else in my life above Him? How could Jesus love me, when I was so completely unlovable? The answer is that Jesus is the Lover of the Unlovable. That includes me and Erica, and as I learned that, my love for Erica grew.
I wish I could say that at the end of our time together, Erica was a changed person. She wasn’t, not completely. She still lied, but a lot less frequently. She’d ask me questions about God ( more than she asked me about sex), and we prayed together.
The last time I dropped her off, the day before I graduated from college, I said, “I love you, Erica.” She smiled and said, “I know.”
There are lots of girls and boys just like Erica, children that come from homes very different than the ones I imagine a lot of you did. And they need people in their lives to love them, to show them hope, to listen to them. Big Brothers Big Sisters is one way to become personally involved in the life of a boy or girl. The commitment is small, only one or two hours a week, but the potential for impact is huge. According to the BBBS web site, children who are in the program are:
* More confident in their schoolwork performance.
* Able to get along better with their families.
*46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs.
*27% less likely to begin using alcohol.
*52% less likely to skip school.
You can look for a Big Brothers Big Sisters program in your city, and if there is not one, there are other ways to find children who need mentors, whether it’s through a church or a community organization. There are so many needs in the world, so many that often they seem overwhelming, but this is one need that you could meet, in your city, on your street, one child at a time.