God gives each of us unique strengths and resources, and we are called to use those resources to serve Him. As I’ve gained experience in faith, relationships and business, one of the best ways I feel I can use my God-given gifts is to offer mentorship and guidance to others who might be younger or less experienced.
As a professional Christian woman who started a nonprofit to minister to professional Christian women, the most likely scope of my mentorship is pretty clear. I feel divinely called and prepared to mentor young professional women to reach their God-given potential. Over the past few years though, I’ve had the unique experience of mentoring someone whose life looks almost nothing like mine. In fact, his story is so different from mine that I initially had some doubts about whether I had anything to offer. But I felt God’s call to be a part of this young man’s life, and the experience has enriched mine beyond belief. Meet Lopez Lomong. My male, South-Sudanese, two time Olympian, athlete mentee.
In February of 2011, I was asked to be the warm-up act at a speaking opportunity for the Mentor’s Forum, a group started by Greg Sherwood to utilize young professional men and women in Portland, Oregon to mentor college students. I was happy to speak and interested to learn more about the Mentor’s 360 professional men’s group, since we wanted to build a similar program for women through 4word. I didn’t imagine that God had much more in store that night.
The speaker after me was a man named Lopez Lomong. Lopez was born in South Sudan in the midst of war. At the age of 6, he was kidnapped from his home and held captive in a prison camp. To escape, Lopez ran. And ran. He spent days running for his life, eventually making it to the relative safety of a United Nations refugee camp. Several years later, Lopez immigrated to the United States, where he began running for competition, instead of survival. He has since represented the United States twice at the Olympic Games (2008 & 2012), and currently holds the U.S. indoor track and field record in the 5,000 meters.
As I met Lopez and heard his story that first day, I felt God moving me to learn more about this remarkable individual. So I took a first step and invited him and a friend to lunch the next week.
During lunch, Lopez shared that he was passionate about following God’s calling and had a vision of bringing hope to Southern Sudan. Lopez felt strongly that this was God’s calling for him, but he didn’t know how God would make it happen. For me it was a light-bulb moment. One of my closest friends from business school is Kevin Jenkins, CEO of World Vision International, a Christian relief organization interested in exactly the kind of work Lopez wanted to do.
I knew that God had brought me together with Lopez for a reason. I was able to connect Lopez with World Vision and to see them work together to develop 4SouthSudan, a World Vision sponsored program to help provide clean water, health care, education, nutrition, and most importantly hope, to the South Sudanese and a broader Team World Vision. I also encouraged Lopez to write a book and start a foundation.
I’m the first to admit that Lopez and I are an unlikely pair. But experiencing God make that first connection despite our disparate backgrounds gave me confidence to continue to open myself up to God’s work in both of our lives.
Lopez even lived for a short time with my family in Portland, Oregon, and my husband Chris and I had the honor of joining Lopez in celebrating the purchase of his own home and praying with him over it.
This past March I again shared a stage with Lopez, this time as part of the Good Friday Prayer Breakfast in Portland. I played the role of interviewer, helping to guide Lopez in the sharing of his story. At one point, I asked Lopez about escaping his Sudanese captors. As he was recounting the truly horrific experience, he said simply, “I survived because God says I matter.” That phrase has stuck with me and inspired me ever since. For Lopez, everything comes back to that time in his life when, against all odds and by God’s grace alone¸ he survived.
In Ephesians 3:20, Paul writes that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. When I think about me mentoring Lopez, this verse always comes to mind. No matter how much we do as individuals, no matter how much we plan, God does more, and His plans go beyond our wildest dreams, let alone our comfort zones.
So offer mentorship or — even better — sponsorship where you can, even if the recipient seems unlikely.
"Yes, you may have special knowledge to offer those whose lives look the most like yours. But don’t underestimate God’s ability to work in the most unlikely circumstances."Diane Paddison
By: Diane Paddison
Diane Paddison is the author of Work, Love, Pray, and the founder of 4word, a ministry for professional Christian women (www.4wordwomen.org). She has served in the executive suite of three Fortune 500 companies. She is married to Chris and mother to four, and is passionate about leading, connecting, and supporting professional Christian women as they balance work, relationships, and faith.Read More Articles by Diane Paddison