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Wise Friends--Praying Partners

Students stream through Calvin's coffee shop in early afternoon, heading to classes, to dorms, to busy tables loud with friends.

In one corner, sophomore Lisa Huisman and assistant director of admissions Jeanne Nienhuis sit in a booth, chatting over their low-fat snack bars and sodas.

You might not know it immediately from their conversation - Nienhuis is asking how Huisman enjoyed spring break, Huisman's talking about visiting her grandmother - but the two are doing more than making small talk.

Huisman and Nienhuis are two of roughly 30 Calvin students and staff members active in the Calvin Mentor Program. The two-year-old project aims to give students what program co-creator Chaplain Dale Cooper calls "wise friends."

"It's really trying to put into practice, in an intentional way, the idea of modeling," Cooper said. "To help (students) develop a focus in Christ, help them learn how to read the scriptures and to pray, but finally, to help them develop a place to stand."

The mentoring program, organized by Cooper and physical education professor Ralph Honderd, matches interested students with Calvin employees and alumni, men to men and women to women, and the pairs meet to talk, pray, study the Bible - and form bonds in the process.

"We've just said, 'Hey, look, if you've got a schedule which allows you meeting with some young people, if you've got a passion for it and you are trying to be a faithful disciple of Jesus,' we try to link them up," Cooper said.

Calvin introduces prospective students to the program with literature sent to them when they apply to the school. Students are matched with mentors who may have like interests and the pairs meet to get acquainted. If the relationship works, they meet regularly. Last year between 50 and 60 people started mentoring relationships; Cooper had only hoped for 10 to 15.

"Numbers aren't for us the big thing," he said. "We'd like it to be spread. We are really given to believing that to create deep relationships is the goal."

The program has provided "a great opportunity just to have another person care about you when you're away from home," she said. She described Nienhuis as approachable, a good listener, and, most important, someone who makes time to follow the headlines of Huisman's daily life - and pray about them.

"It's for me been the single most fulfilling thing I've ever done, certainly of my chaplaincy," Cooper said. "I've spoken to far larger crowds, ... but to have my friend like Ray DeLange write me a letter in which he says to me 'you have made an indelible mark on my life,' well....

**If you wish to find out more about becoming a mentor in this program, please contact Chaplain Dale Cooper, 616-957-6244.

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