God wants to work through you to change the life of a child.

He will provide the love, the encouragement, the joy, and the hope. All you have to contribute are arms for hugs, a voice to encourage or to discipline, and time for companionship.

You don’t have to look far to find the child. In fact, your paths will probably cross this week. And when you reach out, your reward will be immeasurable. Every child God touches through you will be changed, even if you don’t see the transformation with your own eyes. And you will be changed by every child God touches through you.

The fatherless around you

I was thirteen years old when God worked through Theo Abby, my Sunday school teacher, to change my life.

In a real sense, I had been “fatherless.”

My father was alive. In fact, he was home every night, and I never knew him to gamble or drink or cheat on my mother. But he never told me, “I love you.” And when I needed help, like the time when I was sick on a rainy Sunday morning and had to get my newspapers delivered, I knew not to even ask him. As I grew toward manhood, my father and I never discussed the difficult issues of life.

Then Theo Abby became my teacher and my friend. Occasionally he visited the federal housing project where I lived to see me and other boys in our class, and he invited us to go with him and his son Ted to his lakeside cabin. There he modeled with Ted a loving father-son relationship.

As an adult I remembered Mr. Abby’s example and decided to teach boys in Sunday school. Like Mr. Abby, I kept in touch with the boys through the week by inviting the entire class to be my guests at the Dwarf House, my first restaurant, one night a week. I soon began to see how children bursting with potential can wither on the vine without adequate guidance from adults.

Giving Harry special attention

Eleven-year-old Harry Brown, whose quiet demeanor reminded me of myself as a child, had a father like mine, distant and hard to please. When Mr. Brown abandoned the family altogether, Mrs. Brown was left alone to bring up five boys. She did a remarkable job, and I tried to give Harry special attention in class or during our weekly dinners. I set goals for my class in their Bible reading, and Harry met every one. His mother and I encouraged him at every step.

Then my wife, Jeannette, and I moved from the neighborhood, and I didn’t see Harry for more than twenty years. By the time we met again, he and his wife, Brenda, had become foster parents, providing the fatherly love and two-parent stability for others that Harry had missed as a teenager.

When Jeannette and I were led by God to build foster homes, Harry retired from Southern Bell so that he and Brenda could become houseparents. Twenty years into “retirement,” they are still raising children twelve at a time at our WinShape Homes.

God worked an incredible transformation in Harry’s life, and He blessed me with the opportunity to see Harry now blessing others.

Children all around us are growing up without strong positive guidance from their parents, who are busy, distracted, absent, or choose to be buddies instead of parents to their children. You see these boys and girls playing with your children or grandchildren, or in your church, or in your classroom or Scout troop. They’re a bit quieter or a bit more rambunctious or a bit different from the other children. You may know about trouble in their homes—divorce or the death of a parent or grandparent. Or, like my friend Kevin, they may be in a stable, two-parent home.

The child of a busy man

“My father was a busy person,” Kevin says. “He didn’t spend a lot of time with me.”

Today Kevin is in jail. In fact, he’s spent more than half of his adult life behind bars as society attempts to mend him.

Meanwhile, Kevin’s son has grown up spending even less time with a father than Kevin did. As a result, Kevin says, “He’s a chip off the old block. When he was eight years old he got off the school bus and went down the street taking mail out of mailboxes. He took the envelopes home and opened them up to see if there was anything of value there.”

Ten years later, when Kevin’s son was eighteen, he had already been in and out of jail just like his father. If Kevin’s son has a son, the odds are he will follow the pattern set by his father and grandfather before him. And if you think their situation is unusual, you’re not looking around.

The difference you can make

So why did Kevin, whose father was “a busy person,” and Harry, whose father abandoned him, turn out so vastly different? I haven’t found any simple answers, but I have seen one pattern. Every child I know who overcame long odds and grew into a responsible adult can point to an adult who stepped into his or her life as a friend, a mentor, and a guide.

The best thing you can do to help a child is follow your instinct and God’s leading. Reach out to children sincerely. Reach out in love. Love children into a sense of belonging. Let a child know you care and you’re available to talk—to be a friend. Encourage children honestly, reminding them of their strengths and their opportunities. There are no magic words. All you can do is share a bit of yourself, allow God to use you to plant a seed in a child, and pray that it takes root.

God wants to work through you to change the life of a child. Make yourself available to Him, and He may bless you with the opportunity to watch Him build and transform a life.

Let Him use you to change the life of a child, then experience the blessing of your own transformation.

Adapted excerpt from It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men by S. Truett Cathy. © 2004 STC Literary, LLC. Used by permission.

S. Truett Cathy was the founder of Chick-fil-A.