Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
by Kristin Schaefer
Meet Bob Teela, a retired teacher and 45-year attender of Wheaton Bible Church. Bob proudly calls himself a “Big Buddy.” This terminology may seem juvenile for someone so seasoned in life, but for Bob, his involvement in the Big Buddies ministry is simply an extension of a role he has fondly assumed for years.
“All of my grandkids live out of state. So I thought I would just adopt a grandkid here at home,” he said, while describing his motivation behind the role. And he did just that; his “adoptive” grandchild is eleven-year-old Tyler*. The two were matched as buddies three years ago through the Big Buddies ministry coordinated by Outreach Community Center of Carol Stream. Bob and Tyler meet several times a month to share stories, set important life goals, and gain new experiences.
Another Big Buddy, Sharon Johnson, and her little buddy, Michaela, have seen God’s providential hand in their relationship. “I was a substitute in Michaela’s class before we were matched. That gave me insight into her life and needs.” Since they first began meeting, Sharon and Michaela have been able to meet together and share many “God sightings”—times when they have seen God at work in their everyday lives. Together the two have enjoyed developing their creativity, including activities like sewing a collection of decorative pillows, preparing meals together, and working on special school projects.
Most of the ministry takes place through these personal everyday kinds of interactions between Big and Little Buddies, but every couple of months, all the Big and Little Buddies get together for a large group activity, which might be a trip to pack meals for Feed My Starving Children, an apple-picking outing, or a bowling challenge.
According to Lisa Garmon, Mentoring and Family Services Coordinator at OCC, a Big Buddy is simply a natural encourager. “If you care about kids in need, you can qualify as a mentor,” she explains. Big Buddies do not need formal training; they simply serve by listening, guiding, and walking alongside their Little Buddies. The program hopes to foster positive one-on-one relationships, which encourage children to grow and broaden their horizons.
Buddies are matched along lines of gender and common interests. The program recruits “Little Buddies” through schools and word of mouth. Often, teachers may refer students who would flourish with extra support and attention. In addition to reaching the individual students involved, Big Buddies often have a positive impact on the families of the Little Buddies by providing additional support. Although the program is geared toward children ages seven to fourteen, many of the relationships established continue to thrive into the high school years.
For Karen Silva, being a Big Buddy involves her entire family. She and her husband, Francisco, have worked with Bryce, 11, and his sister, Shae, 12, for the past three years. For them, time with their Little Buddies closely resembles regular family time. The Silvas already have two sons, and as Karen explains, “Whatever we would do with our own kids, we can just bring them along. What God has given should be shared.”
A typical meeting for the Silva family might include playing backyard soccer, baking cupcakes to take to a school birthday party, or going out for ice cream. Through all these experiences, the relationships with their little buddies grow stronger and build trust that opens up opportunities for deeper sharing. Karen and Shae find one-on-one time to discuss their personal lives as well as pray together. Karen believes that the program benefits both parties involved and affirms this in saying, “What God has given should be shared.”
Chris McElwee, our Local Impact Pastor, agrees. “The amazing thing about Big Buddies is not the impact you will have on the kids,” he says, “but the impact they will have on you!” He adds, “There are hundreds of kids in our community who are asking for Christian adults to mentor them. How do we say no?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristin Schaefer has been attending Wheaton Bible Church for three years and is currently teaching French at West Chicago High School. She enjoys traveling and spending time getting to know new people and hearing about their personal spiritual journeys.