Frank helps guide Nick to his chair, taking his bag for him and setting it down on the table between them. Nick takes a seat, folding up his white cane and holding it in his left hand. Nick is Frank’s mentor – a term he believes is insufficient concerning their relationship. After only a few minutes conversing with the pair, it was easy to see why.
They first met while helping to feed the homeless with a group from the church they both attend. They got along instantly. As a part of the New Life Fellowship recovery program Frank belongs to, each program resident is required to have a mentor. With no one specific in mind at the time, Frank put in his general request to be placed with a mentor. At the same time, Nick had just been informed that his scheduled mentee had withdrawn from the program.
“It’s crazy how God works,” Nick says. His pastor approached him with another opportunity. “He said, ‘I have another guy. Are you willing to mentor him even with an age difference?’” The person in question was Frank. “It was awesome because we already got along,” Nick says. Although the two politely, though perhaps adamantly, disagree on their first meeting as mentor and mentee – Nick assures Frank it was at the YMCA and Frank assures Nick it was on a walk through the park – they both agree that it didn’t take long to get to know each other. “We walked and talked for hours,” Frank says, “just asking real questions.”
Whether it was their first or third meeting, the walk lasted over three hours. By the end, they had covered 8 miles of ground and years’ worth of life stories. The age difference hardly mattered. “He knows the Bible better than I do,” Frank says, “and that’s what matters to me. His heart is bigger than I could ever imagine, and everything he’s been through is such an inspiration to me.”
Nick is blind. Two weeks after graduating from high school his sight began to deteriorate. Shortly after, he spent five years on dialysis, eventually leading to a full kidney transplant. “It wasn’t until my trials hit that He drew me to my knees,” Nick says. “I consider it a blessing to be able to wake up each morning, being able to do what I can do – mentoring Frank and connecting with all of the guys at UGM, because I didn’t learn everything overnight.”
“His story nailed me to the wall,” Frank says. “After hearing it, I knew why he could mentor me. I went through little things in comparison. He went through life change. Age difference is nothing to me in comparison to the difference of what we’ve gone through.”
Neither of them took a smooth path to where they are now. “Ten years ago, this was the last thing on my mind,” Nick says. “It wasn’t until I lost my sight that I found my way to encourage people. What I considered my biggest loss, helped me gain more than I could have ever imagined.”
“He’s a miracle just standing here,” Frank says. A comment Nick is quick to make sure I write down verbatim as the two share a laugh. “I didn’t know God ten years ago,” Frank continues. “I just found him here through UGM.”
Frank credits having Nick’s mentorship for much of his development and success in the NLF program, and he believes that his success comes from something deeper than a relationship of authority. “Mentorship is not just a teacher-student relationship,” he says. “I have plenty of those – they’re called tutors. This is a friendship.”
Nick and Frank truly are more than mentor and mentee. You see it in their eagerness to compliment each other, in the sincerity with which they pray together, even in how they joke about which of them cried after doing sit-ups at the YMCA – another detail on which they adamantly disagree.
They do agree that a mentoring relationship, like any deep friendship, takes empathy. “During my own trials, I just wanted someone to listen to me,” Nick says. He encourages others not to engage in mentorship with the expectation of authority and one-sided benefit. “Listen first, without expectation,” he says. “Because when you’re listening, and they are talking, God is going to reveal where you can draw from the Word to speak to their circumstances.”
“Nick is there for my highs and lows,” Frank says. “He listens when I need someone to talk to. And if I don’t need someone, that’s fine. We just laugh and have fun. He helps me grow.”
Nick is quick to point out that personal growth is not confined to Frank’s experience. “I may be Frank’s mentor, but it’s a mutual encouragement,” he says. “Instead of just looking at it as me helping him, if I take a step back, he is helping me as well. It used to be that I would mainly pray for him, but now he’s initiating. Seeing what God is doing in and through Frank is incredible. He doesn’t even know there are times when I’ve been down, and he just says something that picks me up.”
“A lot of the people at UGM are broken,” Frank says. “When you are this low, you lose your friends – you lose everything. You have no one. For me, having a mentor means having at least one friend that I can go to every week. That’s one friend that you can guarantee you’re not going to lose even if you say something wrong because they are there to help you.”
“Nick is not just someone here to judge or condemn me, Nick is my friend.” Frank says one last time as he grabs Nick’s bag from the table between them. Nick unfolds his white cane and Frank gently comes alongside. We shake hands and they head slowly for the door, keeping pace with each other. They’re going to get food – once again, adamantly disagreeing on where to go – but wherever they end up, they’re walking together.
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