On a Tuesday in March, dozens of mentors from across the country logged on to Zoom, unaware that the gathering would spark a meet-cute for a pair of mentors living a thousand miles apart.
Crossroads has hosted monthly mentor community gatherings for the past three years, bringing together mentors across the United States. The gatherings offer an opportunity for mentors to connect with Crossroads staff, share stories, offer encouragement, ask questions, and get tips on how to write letters to their students.
Don, a mentor since 2016 and a widower since 2022, joined the monthly meeting from his home in southwest Michigan, expecting only to learn with other mentors. Janet, a widow since 2010 and a mentor since 2018, joined from her home in South Dakota, expecting the same thing.
During the gathering, Don overheard Janet mention she lived in South Dakota. Don had plans to visit Rapid City, where his son lives, in April while on spring break from his part-time job as a substitute teacher. Intrigued, he sent her a private message about his upcoming trip.
“Much to her surprise and chagrin, she sent me her phone number and said, ‘Call me,’” Don said as he and Janet chatted with us. “She still can’t believe she did that.”
A month after the gathering, the day arrived for them to meet at Janet’s local Panera Bread. From Janet’s perspective, the meeting could only be described as surprising. She was caught off guard at meeting someone who was close to her in age, who was widowed, and who shared her interest in discipling new believers. It rattled the woman who had been content as a widow for nearly thirteen years.
The moment they met was a different experience for Don.
“The instant I saw her, my heavenly Father let me know that she is the woman that He has for me,” Don said.
Don and Janet come from different faith backgrounds. Janet, a pastor’s daughter, was raised in the Church, while Don grew up in a home that was hostile to the Christian faith. After spending his early years trying to disprove the Bible, Don had a change of heart and accepted Christ at the age of nineteen.
After attending Bible college and teaching English in China for a few years, Don spent more than twenty-five years volunteering with Reach the Forgotten Jail Ministry inside Michigan jails before he was introduced to Crossroads.
Janet learned about Crossroads through another mentor and has served as a Crossroads ambassador for the past few years, spreading the word about the ministry to churches in her area. Although prison ministry initially felt foreign to her, she has felt blessed to meet like-minded people through Crossroads’ monthly Zoom gatherings.
“Each mentor has their own background and way of communicating,” Janet said. “Don has such a different background from me, so we have different inputs into the students from our backgrounds.”
In the months after their first meeting, Don and Janet spent countless hours on the phone, getting to know each other better.
Despite their geographical distance, they felt united by their shared purpose and passion for helping others grow in their faith. The joy they found in encouraging incarcerated people was a central aspect of their budding relationship.
When the school year ended in June, Don made another trip to South Dakota to propose to Janet, and she said yes. In August, Don and Janet tied the knot, and Don moved from Michigan to South Dakota. The couple plans to continue attending the monthly gatherings on Zoom, but now they will attend together from the home they share.
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