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God is working through this blog to share testimonies of those who love Him. This blog will also chronicle the journey as my husband Elijah and I move across the country and adopt foster children as Christians.

Why I love my Christian mentor

Why I love my Christian mentor

She’s vibrant

“I just led a woman to Christ!” Vanessa exclaimed as she breezed into the room, smiling radiantly. “I noticed she looked lonely and began a conversation. She was receptive to the gospel, and I ended with the prayer of salvation.” That is classic Vanessa: Always looking out for those in need, and ready to provide hope in the name of Jesus.

Showing off our artistic skills while painting the church classroom!

Showing off our artistic skills while painting the church classroom!

A bag full of goodies to give to the homeless.

A bag full of goodies to give to the homeless.

From the first day I met Vanessa, I knew there was something different about her. She has a vibrant energy and happiness which comes straight from God. Since I was a new believer in 2016 when I met her, she was instrumental in shaping my journey with God in those early days. Vanessa spent over 20 years as a public school teacher before becoming the director of the PEACE Community Resource Center at Saddleback Church in South Irvine in Southern California. The PEACE Center oversees community programs such as a food pantry, resource coaching, career coaching workshops, and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Despite running all these programs, Vanessa always makes time to disciple and minister to those in need. Here are other reasons why I love my Christian mentor.

She makes me laugh

Fun in the frozen food aisle with Vanessa and my husband Elijah!

Fun in the frozen food aisle with Vanessa and my husband Elijah!

I first met Vanessa during the weekly food pantry nights, where volunteers “shop” with a family in need through a store of donated groceries for free. My Bible study from work, called Capital Group Christian Life Groups, volunteered to inventory supplies in the food pantry. Even though we spent several hours of literally doing nothing but counting cans, the time flew by with Vanessa alongside us. “I bet you’ll never look at baked beans the same way again,” she joked as we logged in over 200 cans of pinto beans. It’s wonderful that my Christian mentor can not only guide me in my walk with God, but have fun joking too!

She taught me to teach
As someone who was often excluded, it brings me joy to extend open arms to newcomers in the name of Jesus, so I was interested in teaching the weekly English as a Second Language (ESL) class. This class is for those who may be new to the U.S., or living here temporarily for work or school.

Giving our students an all-American Fourth of July celebration!

Giving our students an all-American Fourth of July celebration!

Even though I had no experience teaching ESL, Vanessa was confident in my abilities. “God has equipped you for this,” she stated. She shared handouts, techniques, and activities for my curriculum from her 20 years as a teacher.  Linda, a retired public school teacher, also guided me as I taught the lessons. “I pray for an open hearth to receive Jesus’s love,” Vanessa said at the start of the semester. With this ministry, she helps the international students and adults not only by modeling God’s kindness, but by teaching them practical English skills which will help them be self-sufficient.

She’s fun

Christmas gifts for foster children in need.

Christmas gifts for foster children in need.

Olive Crest, an organization which promotes healing through family, was putting on a gift-wrapping giveaway for foster relatives. All of the adults there were providing foster care for children in their family who couldn’t live with their biological parents. Vanessa oversaw the 12-hour event which included wrapping toys, ministering to the families, and transforming the multi-purpose room into a huge kids playroom complete with cookie decorating and hula dancers!

Vanessa introduced me to a grandma who was raising her little granddaughter because the biological mom was in jail. “I never thought I would be raising a kid at my age,” the grandma admitted. She looked around the festive room, filled with Christmas decorations and laughing kids. “It sure is fun!” That is how Vanessa is as a Christian mentor. She can take a situation and create a way to find rejoicing in God’s love.

She cares for “the least of these”

Assembling toiletry kits for the homeless with our friends from Tigre Con Propsoito (“Tiger with Purpose”) from Argentina.

Assembling toiletry kits for the homeless with our friends from Tigre Con Propsoito (“Tiger with Purpose”) from Argentina.

One of the meaningful verses Vanessa shared with me is:

"The King will reply, '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

Vanessa hosted our Argentinean “Tigre con proposito” visitors to guide them in how to set up their own PEACE Center.

Vanessa hosted our Argentinean “Tigre con proposito” visitors to guide them in how to set up their own PEACE Center.

This verse reminds me to always show compassion to the vulnerable. Through this verse, God told me that each individual is part of His family, no matter their difficult situation. Vanessa models caring to everyone, whether it is to families in poverty who come for groceries, new immigrants who are trying to become U.S. citizens, a dad looking for job so he can a provide for his family, or her own kids who need help with their homework. What makes Vanessa a great Christian mentor is that she never expects payment or anything in return from us. Her reward comes from knowing she is serving our Lord.

Families in need receive free groceries from the food pantry.

Families in need receive free groceries from the food pantry.

She renews me
One day when I was feeling tired, Vanessa lifted me up in a way I will always remember. “God will renew your spirit,” she promised me. I was immediately revived. To this day, when I feel tired, I hear her words to me and feel fresh again. This is just one example of her gift of bringing new life through sharing the love of Jesus in her role as a Christian mentor. I pray one day God will give me the chance to encourage another young Christian as Vanessa has encouraged me.

You’ll never look at baked beans the same way again!

She stepped in the pool with me
Though I had accepted Jesus in June of 2016, I hadn’t yet been baptized. “I understand that baptism is just an outward symbol,” I told Vanessa. “If I know I’ve accepted Jesus in my heart, what does it matter that I go through with the show?”

Vanessa inspired me to publicly declare my faith.

Vanessa inspired me to publicly declare my faith.

As my Christian mentor, Vanessa didn’t pressure me at all. She handed me a pamphlet with Scripture references as to the significance of baptism. “Baptism an act of faith and obedience to what Christ has commanded us,” she explained. “If you decide to be baptized, I will be in the pool beside you.” The verse she provided which was most meaningful to me is:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20.

I prayed about this decision. “I’m ready,” I told Vanessa confidently. Then I added, “you’ll still be in the pool with me right?”

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” she replied.

She baptized me

Elijah got wet too!

Elijah got wet too!

I stood in the pool with my Christian mentor, looked out into the congregation, and focused my gaze on Elijah. The proud look in his eyes told me that I had made the right decision. As Vanessa and the pastor dipped me back into the water, I recommitted my life. In the stillness, under the water’s surface, there was no sin, no condemnation, just God’s grace. When I came up out of the water, I lifted my hands in praise to my Father. My coworker Andrew, who is a member of our Bible study Capital Group Christian Life Groups, was so moved by what he witnessed that he decided to be baptized himself.

Elijah ran to the pool to give me a hug. My soaking hair left a huge wet mark on his shirt! When I remember Vanessa’s reassuring hands pulling me back up out of the water, I thank God for my Christian mentor.

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"I wanted to feel loved"

"I wanted to feel loved"

"Who is Jesus?"

"Who is Jesus?"