On the International Day of Friendship, Nicodemus chats to International Director, Jonnie Welford (pictured right), on the importance of friendship – and mentoring – within Nicodemus…
Jonnie, did you have a best friend growing up?
I was part of a big group of friends at school. Two of my best friends were a couple of South Korean boys that moved over to England. We did all the usual stuff that boys do – hanging out at each other’s houses, playing football, Playstation… When I got to secondary school, I made friends with a boy from Hong Kong. I was always interested in where people had come from – I was always conscious that these people had come to a completely different country – having to learn a new language, learn new sports, coming in to British life not fully knowing the rules but getting involved anyway!
What friends mean a lot to you now?
I’ve moved around a lot and met some really special people along the way. Having lived and worked in Guatemala for quite a few years now, I’ve made lots of good, solid friends within the churches and projects that Nicodemus is a part of here. We’ve shared a lot of experiences together, learnt a lot together. Being able to count on people from different countries and different places means a lot.
How important is friendship in the work that Nicodemus does?
It’s very important. It’s what we strive for. We’re passionate about equipping churches to get marginalised youth together – to get to know one another, spend time together. A lot of young people come to our groups with the attitude that they can’t open up straight away – there’s a lot of mistrust as a result of the 36-year civil war in the country. But it has been great to see people starting off from that standpoint and then breaking in and getting to know each other – meeting up with other young people and coming to an activity together.
Lately, we’ve been speaking to young people in our YMP (Youth Mentoring Programmes) a lot about friendship – about what it means; encouraging them to share their emotions and explaining why we support mentoring.
I’m glad you mentioned mentoring: it’s a really important part of what Nicodemus does in the UK and in Guatemala. But what’s the difference between mentoring and friendship?
There’s a lot of crossover. But mentoring is about intentionally getting alongside people, putting an arm around them, and working through the big issues of their life with them. A lot of the young people we work with have come off the streets or out of childcare and they’re worried about what’s next – they’re facing a future without hope. Nicodemus bridges the gap from later teenage years into adulthood and, for our young people, having somebody to walk this path with them is something they didn’t expect but, when it does happen, it’s a gift for them: to be placed with an older person who’s willing to invest time and energy into their lives – a mature Christian, who can be calm in a crisis and offer guidance. It’s beyond friendship in that sense.
Mentoring can be a challenge to some young people at first as they’re not used to people being so forward, but what we see with our young people is that they thaw out and come alongside their mentors in a special way. They become so grateful for their mentors who have stuck with them when they’ve made mistakes, given them support and guidance and helped them through the big decisions of life: where to live, what to study, boyfriends and girlfriends… to have a mentor with you through all of that is invaluable.
When we train our mentors, we talk with them about how we are able to mentor because Jesus did it first – he put an arm around us when we didn’t want to know him. We can be mentors because we realise there is someone much greater than us who chose to mentor us first: to be friends with us, to save us and get alongside us. Recognising this enables us to extend that hand of friendship and mentoring to others.