In January 2012, Champions of Hope sent out a message on Twitter that caught Nolan Ross’ attention.
“When I saw a tweet that they needed mentors, I was all in,” Nolan said.
Champions of Hope is a Christian organization in South Dallas that pairs at-risk children with mentors. The hope is to produce future godly leaders through deep relationships and discipleship. They often ask for men, in particular, to volunteer because so many of the young boys lack male presences in their lives.
Seeing this through his Twitter feed, Nolan felt moved to act. He understood the need for a strong male figure—it paralleled his own experience.
Nolan grew up in North Carolina with a seemingly perfect family. But when Nolan was 11, his parents divorced because his dad had been abusing drugs. The ideal family Nolan thought he had turned out to be an illusion.
Nolan avoided the pain of the divorce by playing sports, skateboarding and hanging out with friends. He didn’t lash out at his family, and at the time he didn’t even feel too sad.
Nolan understood the need for a strong male figure—it paralleled his own experience.
“It sounds silly, but the thing that made me upset the most was that I didn't have my dad around to shoot hoops with or play baseball with anymore,” Nolan said.
“I remember…coveting other peers' family situations where the parents were still together and appeared like they had it all together,” he said. “Of course, I know now no one truly has anything fully together.”
His family went to church twice a week, and Nolan attended a Christian school. He led worship at his youth group and at his school and immersed himself in activities. At the time, Nolan thought that meant he was a Christian.
“It wasn’t until I was 13 that I received the call from the Lord to be His own,” Nolan said. “I surrendered to Him at that moment and recognized it was His sacrifice that allowed me to be saved.”
In 10th grade, Nolan regained a father figure when his mom remarried, and the rest of his years in high school and then college were relatively happy and enjoyable. After graduating from Liberty University in Virginia, Nolan traveled with an international choir all across the United States, raising money for orphanages and charity, before he decided to move to Texas.
“I’d podcasted Matt Chandler before, and I had a close buddy that had moved here, so I figured, why not?” Nolan said. A few years after that, he learned about Champions of Hope and applied to be a mentor.
“I started mentoring Junior in January of 2012,” Nolan said, “It’s been hard at times, really fun at times, uncertain of what to do at times, but overall—I’m glad I’ve invested the time in him.”
Nolan admits that it can be tough because their backgrounds are so different, but for the most part, it’s not an issue.
“I live in the suburbs; he lives in South Dallas,” Nolan said. “Some days we’ll just get dinner, and I’ll check in with him about how school is going and how life is going. At times, it’s nice to pick him up and bring him over to my house where we’ll swim in the pool, watch a movie, play basketball.”
Although Junior’s father is relatively involved in his life, Nolan still sees the need for Junior to have a Christian male figure in his life, and he feels he can connect with Junior better because of his own experiences with his dad. One of the most memorable days for Nolan occurred when he and Junior went fishing together—an activity he and his dad often did.
“It was meaningful to me,” Nolan said, “I actually thought back to my dad…. I also didn't go fishing for a long time after he left. I wanted to, but we always did it as a bonding sort of thing when I was younger.”
“So when [Junior and I] got to White Rock and attempted to fish, it brought back fond memories. And although we didn't catch anything but some debris and a log, it was a great time.”
The biggest struggle Nolan has as a mentor isn’t relating to Junior or navigating their different cultures and backgrounds; it’s talking about his faith and modeling Christ in a faithful manner. Maneuvering intentional, spiritual conversations with Junior continues to challenge Nolan.
“I struggle with this at times because, yes, I want to be a good mentor who models Christ in any way possible,” Nolan said. “But not every time we hang out do conversations come up about the Lord, besides me asking him if I can pray for him about anything.”
“I know that's where I end up sometimes thinking, ‘I should be more this way or that way with him,’ the enemy feeding me lies that I'm not a good mentor or I'm not someone that should be mentoring because of my sin.”
But Nolan prays against those thoughts, reminding himself of the truth—Christ is greater and redeems all. He wants to enjoy his time with Junior, free of those worries, knowing the Lord can open Junior’s heart to the gospel regardless of anything Nolan fails to say or do.
“To be honest, I just try and be to him what I may have wanted in my life,” Nolan said. “A fishing buddy. A basketball partner. A trusted friend. Above all, a witness for Christ.”