“I wanted a friend, someone outside CBC who would understand my life inside CBC,” says Zlata Zolotarova, an international student from Ukraine at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C. “I didn’t know many people here. I wanted to meet someone a bit older who could give me advice.”
Through Columbia’s alumni mentorship program, she found what she was looking for.
Entering its fourth year, the program pairs interested students with Columbia Bible College graduates for encouragement, accountability and friendship. In the past three years, 35 students have taken part.
Zolotarova was paired with Carla Thiessen who graduated in 2012. Thiessen saw the call for mentors on Columbia’s Facebook page and “remembered how I would have loved that when I was in school.”
The two had coffee once or twice a month. “I was surprised how fast we found a similar language and things to talk about,” says Zolotarova. They share a connection to Ukraine – Thiessen’s uncle was a missionary there – and a love for youth ministry.
Minoring in youth work, Zolotarova helps lead Abbotsford Community Church’s youth group. Thiessen has four years of experience as youth leader at Bakerview Church, Abbotsford, and joined the staff as associate pastor of youth ministries in 2015.
“I can give her a perspective she might not get in her environment,” says Thiessen. “I am also not in her circles, so she can confide in me.”
Administrative assistant for development Julia McDougall says students told her that “the most effective times with their mentors were when they were doing practical things together.” As mentorship program coordinator, she plans to equip mentors with event listings, activity ideas, book suggestions, discussion questions and prayer guides.
Zolotarova’s favourite memory is Christmas shopping with Thiessen and her two children in Fort Langley. As they walked the mall, they talked about how God works in their lives.
“You can learn so much by watching someone,” Zolotarova says. “I grew this year by looking at how she acts with her kids and how she balances being a mom and a youth pastor.”
The benefits went both ways. “I feel like I have gained confidence in who I am and what I have to offer,” says Thiessen.
“After I graduate, I want to be a mentor,” says Zolotarova. “It’s a cool opportunity to share with someone else what God has done in your life and help them grow in leadership and in their relationship with him.”
The young women have no plans to stop meeting just because the mentorship term is up. “She is part of my family now,” says Thiessen. “My favourite thing to do with her is to share life.”