"How old are you?" the waiter asked the silver-haired couple.
"81," Omar Sutherland stated with pride.
Without missing a beat, his wife, Rose, quickly responded, "29."
Laughing, Rose corrected herself, "No, I mean 39." More laughter.
She's actually 74, and really doesn't mind letting people know her age.
"I'm on my fourth pacemaker," Omar added, almost bragging.
"And I've had cancer and quadruple-bypass surgery," said Rose.
Clearly impressed, the waiter, Juan, was receptive when the couple later talked about their ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ and asked Juan about his beliefs. Omar also gave Juan an evangelistic booklet called Would You Like to Know God Personally?
For Omar and Rose, who have been in full-time ministry in the suburbs of Chicago for 34 years, evangelism is a way of life. Today, the couple focuses on what they consider the best way to spread the gospel: one-to-one mentoring. And it starts with what they fondly call the "Route 14 Shuffle."
The Route 14 Shuffle
The Route 14 highway runs past Omar and Rose's house, and Omar frequently travels it to his many appointments. At McDonald's he's well-known among the workers for always ordering 53-cent coffee (he's been getting the senior discount for 21 years), and the morning after he met Juan, Omar met with architect Joe Coath at a Caribou Coffee shop.
Their meeting might look like just two men having coffee, but they are intentionally focusing on growing in their Christian faith. The morning's curriculum is a small binder called Real Faith, by Priority Associates, the ministry of Campus Crusade Rose and Omar now work with.
Each week, Omar mentors 9 other men like Joe, usually meeting them early to accommodate the schedules of the businessmen and fathers. They respect and love Omar, a classic grandfather-figure.
Rose, likewise, is a spiritual grandmother to many, she mentors women of all ages. Her appointments are primarily in the morning at home; the couple has only one car.
Honesty and Life Lessons Key to Mentoring Success
While Omar met with Joe, Rose decided to prepare a peach tart for that evening and turned on the oven. But a few minutes later, the house started to smell funny.
Rose opened the oven to discover a melted mass of brownies and Tupperware that she had temporarily stowed in the oven two days earlier and forgotten about.
So when Bekah Todd, a 26-year-old new mother arrived for mentoring, Rose gushed about her foolish mistake.
"There I was, crying, cleaning the melted Tupperware and brownies off the oven rack, and thinking 'Lord, what are You trying to teach me from this?'" she said.
Honesty is essential to the mentoring relationship, and Rose and Omar have never tried to hide who they are. Whether its small mistakes of the day, or serious trials from the past, they are frequently using life's lessons to illustrate biblical principles.
And they have plenty of life lessons.
When she was 15, Rose married her high school boyfriend. She had a baby at 17 but was divorced by 19.
Omar was raised in a children's home because his mother could no longer care for him and his brother after their father died.
Omar and Rose met jitterbugging just before Rose's divorce was final.
When they married in 1953, Omar adopted Rose's daughter, Diana, and they had another child, Heidi.
But Omar had a drinking problem, and Rose used to throw beer bottles at him in anger.
When Omar and Rose Met Jesus
It wasn't until 1957, when Omar was 31 years old, that he watched a Billy Graham telecast and accepted Christ. 3 years later, Rose became a Christian as well, but initially refused to give up her cigarettes.
However, as they grew in their faith together, they experienced such a dramatic and consistent life change that it continues to motivate them 50 years later.
"Christ gave His whole life for me," says Omar, "so I can at least give part of my life to other people."
With Bekah's daughter Leila in tow, Rose and Bekah study Lesson 12 in the binder: "Bringing Others to Christ." In previous lessons they've talked about how to study the Bible and learned about the Holy Spirit's role in the life of a Christian.
Each lesson helps make the Bible practical and transferable. Bekah is now teaching the same material to a teenager at their church.
Each person mentored is expected to begin mentoring someone else once they complete the study, and many, like Bekah, begin immediately.
Making a Huge Difference at Church
Rose and Omar's influence has spread throughout their church, Crystal Lake Evangelical Free, and approximately 150 people in the church of 800 have been involved in the mentoring process.
Pastor Robert Page thinks of the couple as unpaid associates on his staff team and made one-to-one mentoring an essential component of the church.
"God doesn't want people to rust out," he says, "but sometimes has even the best plan for them in their later years. They are a tremendous model to many people."
Beyond their church, Rose and Omar have affected at least another 50 people within their community.
When the Mentoring Spreads to Other Mentors
Back on the Route 14 Shuffle, just a few tables away from Omar and Joe, Mike Bremneour sits with his 14-year-old son, Paul. Omar and Mike began meeting together two years earlier, and Mike has just started mentoring Paul.
"In a way, it's hard to pull away from Omar," says Mike, but he also sees the incredible significance of mentoring his son. "It's an hour each week that I never had, because I didn't have my dad growing up. I think in the years to come, it will become even more precious to him."
Paul, a high-school freshman, has already helped lead two of his friends to Christ.
Omar hopes that when Paul is his age, he'll still be walking in the faith, and he trusts that his father's mentoring will give him the foundation he needs to stay strong for a lifetime of faith.
He's seen it proven true before.
A History of Mentoring Others
Long before the Priority Associates curriculum existed, Omar worked for Western Electric and mentored Lee Gardner in both the tool and die trade and in the Christian faith.
"In both areas, he showed me what to do," says Lee. Whether it was troubleshooting the equipment or how to love others with Christ's love, Omar helped Lee understand the process.
"He was an example in life," says Lee.
Omar and Rose also delight in people new to the faith. Rose meets with Teresa Timmer, who has followed Christ for only 10 months.
"It's like building a foundation of faith," says Teresa, "but it wouldn't have been as smooth or as fast without Rose."
Rose knows that it is not her mentoring that's so great, it's just the Holy Spirit working in Teresa's life.
"She thinks I'm the best thing since peanut butter," Rose laughs, "but it could have been anybody that got matched up with her."
The pace sometimes tires them out. Omar often falls asleep in the basement playing computer solitaire, and they try to keep their afternoons free for doctors appointments.
They both know death is inevitable, but its nothing they run from or spend much time thinking about. And retirement is not even in their vocabulary.
"Why retire when I enjoy this so much?" says Omar. "Once you take a time element out of your life, you begin to go downhill."
And mentoring matters. The alarm clock wakes them up at 5:00 a.m. as usual, and while Rose often cleans house in the morning, Omar begins the Route 14 Shuffle. Today he drives to McDonalds to meet Randy at 6:00, Fred at 7:00. And of course, he orders his 53-cent-coffee.
Omar often begins these mornings chatting with employees about Jesus. Then he sits down and teaches someone to do the same.