There are some people I know with certainty that we have a beneficial, mentor-ship relationship. They impacted me, and I believe that I impacted them, as well. My friend Laura* (not her real name) always joyfully reminds me of the role I played in her transformation. I love Laura's testimony, which she so beautifully describes as finally saying "Fuck it!" as her surrender to Jesus. It's vulgar, yep. But it's real. And I like reality better than politeness.
And others who I know based on discussions, letters, and trust that I can speak into their life and hopefully, our friendship has an influence on their life.
Now, there are many youth I volunteered with in Winnipeg who probably don't remember me, I was a counsellor at camp, or a mentor they met with weekly for a year in high school. Important for some part of their life, I hope, but not memorable four, five, six years later.
I don't think so highly of myself that someone would remember me years later, when we have not had regular contact or even any contact in about 5 years. I expect to be irrelevant to some people over time, and I am not offended or sad about that.
I expect that many of the young men receiving an illegal income whom I used to visit, talk to, or just stand near would fall into this category where I am irrelevant. We didn't form a strong relationship; whether friendship or mentoring role. Some I never even remember having a conversation with.
Yesterday I went to visit one of these young men, I'll call him Jorge.
I wasn't really planning on visiting him because I just didn't think it would matter, or he would remember me, or it would be an awkward visit.
But someone kept encouraging me to visit, so I booked a visit.
So yesterday, I got to see Jorge and talk to him for a half an hour; this young man I hadn't seen for about 5 years. He told me he was fifteen years old when I met him in Central Park; a laughing, dread-locked kid who always ran - didn't walk - through the back lanes and alleys.
At the beginning of the visit, he did most of the talking: asking me questions about my life, with detail and information that flabbergasted me that he would even know. Again and again I would ask "How do you know that!" in surprise.
People talk, rumours spread.
But then I was left to wonder, why would he even care? I mean, I wasn't really a person in his life, I didn't really matter to him that he should ask about me or care what happened.
And then he wanted me to visit someone else that was there in jail, someone who I didn't remember, and who I doubted would remember me.
"No. He remembers. Everyone remembers you." He stated.
"But why? I didn't really do anything that great." There were some guys I went to visit in jail and we would have Bible studies, others who called me privately and we would have serious discussions about life and faith. But for Jorge and many others, it never went past me merely waving 'hi' or a quick soccer game.
"Yeah, but you hung around. I guess we could just tell that you cared. Why did you come around?"
And then I smiled, because he had just opened up the opportunity for me to tell him, to explain!
"There are a lot of churches around Central Park. And there were a lot of pastors preaching. Remember that guy who used to come with his mega phone and scream 'you are all sinners and you are going to hell!'"
I want to add some line that contrasts the screaming "you are going to hell" with standing silently beside them, but I don't know that I can properly write it. I don't think its an either/or, nor do I think that silence is the best response. Sometimes people need to be clearly and directly told that what they are doing is wrong (maybe a megaphone and damnation to hell is not the best method...). And I surely hope it goes past standing in silence, at least with some of the people. But I don't have a snazzy line that sums it all up, or is clear cut. Maybe because it is no so clear cut as that - it is people after all.
He remembered. Who could forget that?
"I didn't come with a plan or a mission. I just didn't want to spread any more of that hate. You guys all knew what you were doing was wrong, you didn't need another person telling you that..."
I told him why I came to Winnipeg, why I wanted to help people, that my job had initially been to help Christian kids and teenagers volunteer in the city, but that I was passionate about people who didn't already have a relationship with Jesus. Through getting to know Jorge and his friends I was driven to pursue an education in criminal justice.
And then Jorge responded.
Whenever I feel insignificant, that something I do is too small to matter, or that my role for that day or week will not make a difference to someone's life, I want to remember that conversation with Jorge.
As we continued to talk, he reminded me that just standing on a street corner with a group of guys made a difference. That my presence, even when I felt that it was not influential, is etched forever in the memory of each and every boy and young man that they are cared for and that they are human.
Not because I need to feel special, not even because I need to feel that I matter. But I need to remember that what I do matters. Even simply standing with someone can influence their life.