Intergenerational Pen Pals

Fuller Youth Institute

Today’s guest post is from Todd Rosspencer, Pastor for High Schoolers at Redlands Church, a Fuller grad, and part of the 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort.

Last Spring I became the new youth pastor at a church that boasts having a family feel, but struggles to connect the older and younger generations. Two weeks in, I was invited to a luncheon held for all the retirees in the congregation. Gladly accepting the invitation, I pondered how this could benefit both the old folks AND the youth. Then a divine coincidence occurred.

A few days before the luncheon I came across an article about a man who received 3-4 letters a week from his mother while he served in the Korean War. He was so deeply impacted by that loving support as a young man that later in life he decided to write letters to young people. He contacted a private university that empowers dozens of students a year as teaching missionaries. He acquired their contact info and wrote them all letters. Since then, he has written hundreds of letters to youth all over the globe.

Needless to say, I didn’t need to pray and fast before contacting the luncheon organizer. I asked permission to make an appeal to our retirees to become pen-pals to some teens in our ministry. He loved the idea and off we went to eat.

At the luncheon I spoke of the culture of abandonment in which today’s youth struggle to find adult support, modeling, and mentoring. We juxtaposed the teen life of 50 years ago against teen life today. Then I asked them to consider adopting a teenager and writing that young person one letter a month until Jesus comes. Seven adults signed up and began writing.

The parents responded first, expressing gratitude for the ways these older adults were loving and supporting their children. We heard about mixed responses from the kids. Some were disinterested or even miffed and discarded their letters. Some were intrigued. And some were deeply touched. Then we started hearing back from a few retirees who had received letters in return. Like a seed in April, it was beginning to sprout!

That was last year. Today I called Irwin, one of our older pen-pals, to update him on his 15-year old pen-pal Jay who has not responded to any of Irwin’s letters. 

Jay’s dad is dying of brain cancer, and Jay is struggling to cope. After updating Irwin, I got shivers as he gently spoke of losing his mother when he was 16. The tender story revealed how he knew what Jay was enduring. Then Irwin said he’d write another letter this week.  

Upon hanging up the phone, I prayed a prayer of gratitude. God put this relationship together, not me. And God is using this little pen-pal ministry to bring hope and healing in surprising ways. 


Published Mar 06, 2013
Fuller Youth Institute

The Fuller Youth Institute leverages research into resources that elevate leaders, kids, and families.

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