How mentoring can change lives

The value of giving underprivileged children relational opportunity

February 6, 2020

My 5-month-old was pulling on my necklace, on the verge of snapping it, as I wrestled to open the email on my phone. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America had found a match for me. I devoured the letter, piled with details about a 9-year-old girl named C who lived just 10 minutes away. She loved reading, had two sisters, and someday hoped to be president.

She was described as “talkative, personable, warm, respectful, competitive and respectful.” She sounded like a dream. I was still nervous the day our first meeting arrived. I wondered if interactions with her mom would be awkward or if I could carry on a relevant conversation with a pre-teen. I had very little experience with children over the age of three at this point in life. We came from very different backgrounds, and I stressed out that maybe she’d think I was trying too hard to be cool (and I probably would be.)

The unforgettable data

There was a reason, after years of thinking about it, I was finally diving into mentorship. Once you discover the statistics about how mentoring changes lives, they are impossible to forget.  At-risk youth and low-income youth who have a mentor are 55% more likely to go to college, 52% less likely to skip school, 46% less likely than peers to use drugs, 81% more likely to participate in sports and extracurricular activities, and 33% less likely to exhibit violent behavior—to name a few choice numbers. 

Many people don’t realize how hard it is for certain demographics of children to find mentors. Do just a little digging, and you’ll find that kids from economically sound families have significantly more access to informal mentors through family, educational, and professional networks than their low-income counterparts. In his critically acclaimed book, Our Kids, sociologist Robert Putnam hones in on this aptly named “opportunity gap” that exists between the two groups—and the width of that gap is astounding, not to mention, growing. 

Putnam found that while social networks of the affluent are still viable, those of the impoverished are shrinking. In past decades, poor and rich kids were likely to attend the same schools and churches, play on the same sports teams, and find one another at community social events. This is no longer the case.  Poor kids, who once had access to those with social capital and friends with helpful connections, are now insulated in ladder-less communities that limit their potential. They lose access to referrals, recommendations, introductions, and contact with those who could help with resources and recognition. The cloistered suburbs expand in tandem with shrinking cross-class relationships. Hurt the most in this exchange are the low-income children of single parents. 

Running these stats through a biblical filter, it’s easy to see that Christians are called to mentor in some way. I discovered that the Bible had plenty to say about mentoring as well. 1 Corinthians 11:1 instructs us to “be imitators of Christ” to those around us, and it’s fairly well-known what Jesus had to say about children in Matthew 18:10: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. Furthermore, Proverbs 14:31 says “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker.” I felt that if I didn’t step up, it was—by default—a form of oppressing those children who could benefit from what God has entrusted to me. 

As I ingested one piece of data and verse after another, I quickly ran out of excuses. On top of that, I couldn’t stop thinking about my husband, who grew up with a mentally-ill mother in poverty and abuse. He couldn’t identify a single adult, outside of one of his many temporary stepfathers, that he could trust. He couldn’t even name a teacher that was helpful—and here, I had been under the impression that everyone had a teacher like that. 

Taking personal action 

Up until this point, my support for child welfare had been through donations and online advocacy, but taking action on a personal level was the next step. Philanthropy is great, but mentorship doesn’t work without warm bodies in restaurant booths, in bowling alleys, in kitchens making cookies, doing the slow, hard work of building trust one after-school conversation at a time. 

Mentoring can take sacrificing a little personal or family time, but as Christians, we don’t have the luxury of excuses.

I was pregnant with a full-time job and a toddler. Despite fears, and limited time and space in my life, I signed up to be a mentor. I got a background check, asked people to write me recommendations (the people I may not have had if I came from an underprivileged background), and went through a two-hour interview and a two-hour training. And then I waited. 

The day I met C, she wore a dress and shiny black shoes, her hair done in perfect braids and a pair of turquoise frames brightened that “warm” and “personable” presence they’d told me about in the original email. Her mom was amazing (and still is), and I could see what an incredible job she was doing with her three girls—wanting the very best for them by keeping them involved in activities and signing them up for things like BBBS when she didn’t have the capacity to do it all on her own. 

The awkwardness I feared melted as our BBBS counselor asked a series of questions, paired C and I up to brainstorm goals and activities for the coming year, and prepared us to schedule our first outing together. When I got up to leave, C walked me to my car and gave me a hug. The counselor said he had never seen a Little do that before on the first meeting. He was impressed. I was beaming. 

It’s been 17 months now, and C and I meet regularly. I’m well-versed in the details of sixth-grade girl drama, and I’m fairly certain she knows more than me about world history, geography, and a variety of other subjects. C has introduced me to her favorite singer, the latest pre-teen fantasy novels, and the unlimited joy that comes with dreaming big (she’s working on two books and wants to be a lawyer before becoming president.)

It’s not always easy to work out my schedule and ensure I get adequate time with C. Mentoring can take sacrificing a little personal or family time, but as Christians, we don’t have the luxury of excuses. Once you see the data and hear the call, ignorance no longer applies. God may not need us, but he wants to send us out to serve in his name. He sent me 10 minutes down the road to a girl named C. Who will he send you to? 

Ericka Andersen

Ericka Andersen is a freelance writer. Her first book, Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected From the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma and Mental Illness was released by Thomas Nelson in 2018. She lives in Indianapolis, Ind., with her husband and two children. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24