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AYTI Mentor Reflection – Destyn Land

The Day I Learned to Walk the Two-Way Street

by Destyn Land, 2018 Augsburg Youth Theology Institute Mentor

As a small group leader, I always saw it as my obligation to set the tone with transparency for all of our discussions and time together. Before I entered the small group space, I attempted to make a mental script and plan every single thing that would happen from the beginning until the end. To make a long story short, my script absolutely never worked (and I mean never). But even in those moments I thought to myself that maybe this was God’s way of showing me that flexibility is truly a virtue.

Destyn Land with small group of students
Destyn and small group at the 2018 AYTI closing brunch.

After our very first small group meeting I left feeling content with how things went, however, in the back of my mind I still desired our group to become more open with each other. To debrief and process my thoughts I began to journal about what I wanted to do differently and things that I thought went well. After writing for just a few minutes, I came to this conclusion: It is completely arbitrary and irrational to expect my small group to open up to me, if I could not open up to them. During the the time of the theology institute I was facing some challenges in my life that were worth sharing, but the tempting desire within me to be perfect made me silence myself.

One day during the institute my heart was burdensome.  I was being confronted with a tough decision that had to be made sooner rather than later, and knew that my decision could affect an immense amount of people. I decided to open up about this challenge during our last small group session. While talking about my low for the day, without my permission, I heard my voice crack like an egg on a counter. I started to attempt to fight back a few warm tears that were haltingly slithering down my face and making their way to the ground. I did not want my mentees to feel uncomfortable, so I concluded my story, prayed no one noticed, and sighed, celebrating the fact that my turn to share was finally over.

I nodded my head to signal the next person to start sharing, but right before his mouth opened to speak, another student, raised her hand and said “can I say something really quick?” This was one of those students who did not talk much, and someone who you could say prefers to be alone. Before I could nod my head with approval, she began to speak in a soft, yet authoritative voice. She instantly started pouring into me, and offering wisdom to my situation. I was surprised, and silent, as I sat there listening to her genuine words. All week I felt like I was pouring into my small group. I spent the entire week encouraging them, praying for them, and speaking life into them, but during this last small group session, God said that it was my turn to receive. There were two big things that God was revealing to me in this moment in relation to the work that God has called me to do. One, it was in this moment that I realized that a mentorship is a two-way street; and two, you never know who God will use to speak to you.

As my mentees were learning a lot from me, I was also learning from them as well. Every now and then my mentees definitely would push back on doing certain activities, or ideas, and from this experience I had to learn how to ask questions in different ways, and go deeper in the way that I explain things. Mentorship is a two-way street that reminds us that we are lifelong learners, and that we will never know everything. 

In our society the voice of youth is sometimes seen as adorable, but not powerful. I think we sometimes forget the stories in the Bible when God used the youth to impact many. If God used a teenage David to slay a giant warrior, than I have no doubts that God is not still using young people to slay and combat social issues we are facing today. In the parable of the Good Samaritan it was the priest, the religious person who avoided the traveler that was stripped of their clothing, beaten, and left on the side of the road in grave condition. The one who we would generally expect to help did not. Instead, it was the Samaritan, the person who a Jew would least likely expect to help.

In my challenge, the words that I needed to hear did not come from my parents, or one of mentors. It came from one of my students. Not the one that was the most bold, the most talkative, but the one that was the opposite of all of those things. On a larger scale, I believe that sometimes God gives us a word through the people we least expect. He is using the people we disagree with, the neighbors that we haven’t been the most welcoming to, the people we have micro-aggressed, and the people we have silenced to impact us in ways we could never imagine.

This reflection on mentoring and leadership is from one of the 2018 Augsburg Youth Theology Institute Mentors. Learn more about the Augsburg Youth Theology Institute (AYTI).