This piece was originally written five years ago.
My platter of General Tso’s chicken arrived, but it didn’t appeal to me at that moment. Across the table from me sat James. He hadn’t ordered anything. Instead, he gave me his own special platter of perspective, with a side of honesty.
James Mello is a theology major at Union College. He spends his extracurricular hours working, either at Cedar’s, working for children and youth on probation; Knighthouse, a youth development center run by a local high school that strives to offer a safe place for the youth community of Lincoln; or at home, as a foster parent.
“Isn’t it scary sometimes?”
“No, not scary. Stressful, yes. Rewarding? Absolutely. Here you get children who have been given up on, who need someone who cares. It is difficult because they are children that have been raised entirely different, and sometimes the hardest part is teaching them purity and respect, especially towards women. But when you see how far we get together, you can see God’s work.”
“Do you have foster children with you for a long time?”
“You never know. Some of them you have for a while, while others can be there for a couple of days or a couple of weeks. One teen we’ve had for eight months now. Any one of them may get you stressed and discouraged, but when you see the big picture you notice the difference.”
Busy man, yet loving every second of it. I know very few people who would willingly take on loads this heavy. Mello, however, believes in this with his whole heart.
A minister’s son, he spent the first 10 years of his life immersed in the church. “I had a pretty typical Adventist upbringing,” he reminisced. “At the age of 10, my parents split up. My mother took us five children and moved to Tennessee. There, she started over from scratch.”
For the next six years, Mello sought to forget all. He surrounded himself with the wrong people, made the wrong decisions, and wanted nothing to do with God. “I was an angry kid. The way I was living and thinking was very unhealthy.”
At the age of 16, he became a Christian again. “I realized that Christianity is something that is lived fully. You can’t be a so-so Christian. It’s all or nothing. I had empathy and sympathized with those around me who were as broken as I was. I became passionate about helping them, especially overseas and in the inner city.”
A year later, Mello decided to join a youth group headed to China along with 40 other youth. “It was life-changing,” he asserts. “I had never been in a group like this one. We were all there in one accord: unity in God and in love for other people, in this case children. It has been the best experience of church I have ever been in.”
“Why China? Why children?”
“Because I saw in them that they were as broken as I had been, and I want to help them.”
Life, at the top of your lungs
I had taken a total of three bites out of my rice and chicken. He went on with the story.
“I graduated High School and met Kyra, a wonderful person. We went back to China, got married, and worked at a boys’ home for six months. Living in a different language really put things into perspective. With their minimal English and my lack of Chinese, I noticed that everything I did and how I acted had a much bigger impact. This is where I got the concept of living intentionally, carefully calculating every word and every action. You’ve got to live as out loud as possible.”
I was curious. “What does living out loud mean? Living intentionally?”
“Every moment is an opportunity to speak truth by your actions and words. This can only happen if you let God take control of your life. How do you portray someone you don’t know?”
“And how does this translate into working every day with the foster kids at home and the kids you tutor at Cedar’s?”
“There is no regular day as a foster parent. Every day there is something new. The biggest goal is teaching children to trust when they have never had a reason to trust anyone. We all have scars, and I want the children to know that Kyra and I aren’t giving up on them–we’re sticking it out along with them.”
I looked at my chopsticks and decided to get one more bite, but my meal had gone cold. Somehow, though, I felt like I was being fed. “Is there anything that would make you stop? Say, you wanted to start a full family?”
He smiled at this last. “Kyra is pregnant. And we talked about it and we don’t see ourselves stopping anytime soon. Kyra is a nanny, so at any given point there are up to six children and teens running around the house. We can handle it, and they need us as much as we need them.”
I asked the waitress for a to-go box. “How do you handle it,” I asked, thinking of the amount of time and commitment and energy that having one child could mean.
He smiled again. “Matthew 11:28 says, ‘come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ I find that if I give time to God and do what he expects of me, set in Micah 6:8, I will never be overwhelmed. I have to allow God to speak through me, act through me, as out loud as possible, and He will grant me rest.”
James and Kyra Mello have since taken legal guardianship of one of their foster children. They also have been blessed with three of their own children. James is now working as a pastor of two churches in southwest Georgia. He continues pouring into young people every chance he gets. He is currently mentoring young men at Vashti Center for children and families in Thomasville, Georgia.
I wrote this piece for a class while at Union College. It wasn’t my first ever interview, nor did I think of publishing it and frankly I forgot it existed for a while, but I’ve always felt this strange connection to this piece—I always seem to unearth it at the right time.