To Give Yourself Away

As Greenville, South Carolina, has grown more diverse in recent years, a moderate need has continued to brew. Bridging the gap between Young Life leaders and Latino teens has posed considerable challenges, and Ana Montoya had no intention to ever cross that chasm. She just wanted to be a doctor.

The Lord, however, had other plans.

A native of Colombia, Ana moved to America with her family in 2001. After graduating high school, she enrolled at Clemson in 2013, the first in her family to go to college, her eyes fixed on medical school. “If you had told me in high school ... that I would be a Young Life leader,” Ana remembered, “I probably would have laughed in your face.”

“She demanded a lot from herself,” said Annie Wike, a Young Life alumna who mentors Greenville’s leaders. The more she saw Ana, the more Wike believed she could help bridge the gap separating Young Life from Latinos. “You’ve got the language,” Wike told her. “You know the culture.”

At Clemson, Ana found her way to Quest — Young Life’s student leadership program on campus. “I got introduced to Young Life,” she said, “and I was like, what is this? I was still just a new Christian, trying to figure it all out.”

In 2014, two weeks before learning where she would begin contact work with Clemson-area high school teens, she felt the Master’s call. “The Lord was like, ‘Ana, I just want you to trust Me, and I want you to follow Me and see what Young Life could do.’”

That was when Ana met Lulu.

Lulu was an intimidating young Latina — a freshman at Walhalla High School while Ana was still a freshman at Clemson. Ana sat across from her at the lunch table and said hello. “She wouldn’t really talk to me,” Ana said. “And then she started talking about me in Spanish.”

So Ana replied in Spanish, and an unlikely friendship began. “[Lulu] was the first friend that I became super close to,” Ana said.

By the next year, Ana was inviting Lulu to Young Life club and to church. She even met Lulu’s family, bridging the gap that Wike had always believed she would.

The trust Ana built those first years led her to walk with Lulu through a significant turning point. In the spring of 2016, Lulu revealed she was pregnant.

She was afraid to tell her parents; she didn’t even know where to go for medical care. “We’ll figure it out,” Ana told her.

Ana reached out to a local clinic to get her a free pregnancy test. “I was there for her first ultrasound,” Ana recalled. They took the photo of Lulu’s baby and told her parents together.

For the next eight months, Ana walked Lulu through her pregnancy — helping her confirm her Medicaid eligibility, taking her to appointments, speaking truth and encouragement when fear and doubt drew near.

“It was so out of my comfort zone,” Ana said. “I learned so much about health care and trusting the Lord.”

In December, Lulu gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Leilani. “She’s an incredible mother,” Ana said.

In May 2017, Ana will graduate Clemson. The journey has not been without struggle. “This year’s been hard,” Ana said. The young woman who demanded so much of herself ended up giving herself away. After earning a long line of A’s, Ana was hit last semester with a B — only her second in three years of college.

“But,” Ana was quick to say, “I was able to be there with Lulu.”

Annie Wike looks back on the story with awe. “To be a college student and do that?” she said. To her, Ana is a hero.

“The Lord just carried me through,” Ana reflected. “I am so thankful that I get to lead, and be her friend, and be family to her.”