The story of Forerunner Mentoring is the story of redemption, love, and intentionality. It is the story of the Gospel, how one man came to love those who did nothing to earn it. He came to enter into relationship with them and show them a new way that leads to life. Forerunner Mentoring is the story of its founder, Zach Garza.
Zach grew up in a middle class home with his mother and father. From his perspective, everything was going great until his father walked into his room one day and told him he was leaving. Although he couldn’t put his feelings into words as a 13 year old boy, he knew in his heart that his life would never be the same.
Zach’s life radically changed over the next few months. His father moved out of the house and his mother had a hard enough time taking care of herself, much less a fiery teenager whose world was turned upside down. It was from this moment on that Zach felt alone. Although his father still tried to be in his life, and his mother did the best she could, Zach felt, in his heart, that his father physically abandoned him, and his mother emotionally abandoned him.
The Lord created families in a very intentional way. Both mother and father contribute their certain gifts to create a happy and healthy child. They work together to share the load of raising a human being. All in all, the goal of most parents is to raise a child who feels secure, accepted, loved, and affirmed. Parents make sure a child feels this way by showering them with time and attention.
When Zach’s family broke, there was no longer a team of adults working together to raise him. Due to circumstances, Zach grew up without the feeling of security that a family provides. He missed out on feeling accepted for who he is and did not have anyone around to speak words of affirmation over him. Most of all, Zach did not receive love and grew up feeling that he was unlovable.
God created people to need certain things. Everyone has physical needs, such as food, shelter, and clothes to wear every day. People also have emotional needs, such as love, attention, and acceptance. When a child grows up in an environment where emotional needs are neglected, they will find a way to get those needs met. Zach found a way to feel secure by doing whatever it took to be in a specific friend group. He found a way to feel accepted by doing whatever other people wanted him to do in order to keep him around. He found a way to receive attention by turning to girls and partying. He found a way to get those needs met, but he was finding them in all the wrong places. This eventually left him feeling empty, angry, and unsatisfied. He felt like no one loved him. He felt alone without anyone to trust. He felt like no one knew him. Zach continued down this dark path until he was in his early 20s.
Little did Zach know that a job working at a summer camp would change his life. Zach was hired by an older gentlemen named Bob, a former college football coach, to work summer leadership camps for kids the spring of his freshman year at college. Bob would later tell Zach that he would make 50 hires each year. 48 of his hires would be because he knew that the Lord would use that person to help camp change the lives of his campers. Two of his hires would be because he knew that the Lord would use camp to help change the lives of those counselors.
At this point in Zach’s life, he was the epitome of a punk college kid. He did nothing but lift weights, put people down by making fun of them, and try his hardest to find every party he could. Being blessed with height from the Lord, he was also literally the biggest man on campus. Zach walked around trying to prove to everyone what a ‘man’s man’ he was. He put on this front that made it seem like everything was great. But when Bob saw Zach, he saw the opposite. He didn’t see a confident, strong, secure man. He saw a young man who was hurt, lost, and searching for something to fill him up in all the wrong places.
Bob began to build a relationship with Zach. It didn’t look like anything serious; a joke here and a conversation about sports there. Zach didn’t think anything of it, but looking back, he realizes that Bob was building a foundation of trust. He was earning the right to be heard every time he had an interaction with Zach.
Bob continued down this path for the next three years. He would always make time whenever Zach would stop by his office. He would discuss his life and his family with Zach when they were at Bob’s parents’ house for work-related dinners. He would laugh with Zach and make him feel special every time he saw him.
One day, Bob asked Zach to go to a Bible study that he was leading. Zach went because he looked up to Bob, although he wasn’t expecting much. Zach grew up in the church and surrounded by religion, but at this point in his life, he didn’t really want anything to do with God. Bob started talking about the father heart of God and how the Lord created fathers here on Earth to be an example of God the father. He said, “God is a good father. He is kind. He is present. He is for you. And for some of you this is easy to believe because you have fathers like this at home. But for some of you, this is hard to believe because your relationship with your father is the opposite of that.”
When Zach heard this, at first he became angry because he didn’t have that kind of relationship with his father. He felt that this was unfair and didn’t understand why God picked him to grow up this way, but then God started moving in his heart. Zach couldn’t explain what happened, but he felt the Lord’s goodness in a way that he had never felt it before. Before too long, he was crying uncontrollably in the middle of the Bible study. It was the first time that he had cried since he was 13 years old. Embarrassed, he ran out of the room. Bob chased Zach down and found him crying. Bob grabbed Zach, hugged him as he cried, and said something that Zach will never forget: “Zach, you have to forgive your father and let all this emotion out. If you don’t, you won’t make it.”
There is a saying that applies to Zach’s life, “More is caught than taught.” There is no better teacher than experience through relationship, and Zach ‘caught’ a lot of things over the next season of his life.
Once Zach graduated from college, Bob got him a job working for a church in San Antonio. Even though Zach was not spiritually mature enough to be ministering to people, he did have a gift of working with kids. It was at this job that the Lord began to place men in his life to teach him, by example, what a godly man looks like. He put a man named Dan in his life to teach him how to be a father and a husband. The Lord introduced Zach to a friend named Joel who taught him how to be a fun, interesting guy who still loved Jesus. He opened up a relationship with a man named Randy who showed Zach how to date a woman in a godly way and how to pursue her well.
After San Antonio, Zach moved back to Dallas and got a job as a teacher and a coach. It was here that the Lord continued to put men in his life to invest into him. First, it was through a man named Paul who showed Zach, by example, how to lead a family and how to create a safe environment where a family could flourish. Paul gave Zach the opportunity to sit down with his friend, Alex, who helped guide Zach through the negative effects of growing up without a father figure. Alex created a safe environment where he could ask probing questions like, “Why do you think you are so angry?”, “Why do you think you do not trust people?”, and “Why do you think you act the way that you act?” He introduced him to another Bob, an older teacher he met through district meetings. Bob became a confidant who gave Zach guidance on everything from dating to work to Jesus. The Lord also plugged Zach into a weekly men’s Bible study where he could, for the first time, a place to go to be discipled and learn what it meant to follow Jesus. In the fall of 2008, after years of being a lukewarm Christian, Zach gave everything to Jesus. He started to make the Lord the important relationship of his life and chose to follow him over everything else.
What happened next would be another cornerstone in Zach’s life. Through a connection from his best friend’s father, Zach got accepted in a summer discipleship training school in Nashville, Tennessee. It was at this program that Zach met two men who would change his life. The first man was an 80 year old former pastor named Don who carried the father heart of God. This man was able, as a father with a similar story to Zach’s, to enter into Zach’s story and walk him through what it meant to forgive his father and walk in healing. He did all of this while giving Zach everything that he longed for: love, attention, acceptance, and affirmation. The next man, Steve, helped Zach find the Lord's vision and purpose for his life. He encouraged Zach that all his experience could be redeemed and used to help young men who were experiencing the same issues. These two men helped Zach deal with his past while giving him a vision for his future. Zach believed that his calling on this Earth was to be a father figure to young men who did not have one.
Upon Zach’s return back to Dallas, he was on mission to ‘become what he didn’t have’ to some of the students he was teaching. One day after football practice, Zach asked his 8th grade football team a question. “Who on this team is living in a home with no father figure present?” Out of the 60 young men on his team, 40 of their hands shot up. It was at that moment that Zach felt the Lord call him to serve those students.
Not knowing where to start, Zach looked back on his own story and realized how the Lord had shaped his life. It was all through relationships. Bob. Joel. Alex. Don. Steve. The Lord used each of these men to teach Zach a specific aspect of godly manhood. He figured what those men did with him, he would do with his students. Zach entered into the cafeteria a few days later and started to look for someone to mentor. He prayed, “Lord, if you really want me to do this, you have to send someone.” A few moments later, a young man named Twquan walked up to Zach and stuck up a conversation with him. Zach, feeling like the Lord had just given him this opportunity, starting asking Twquan a series of questions:
“Who do you live with?”
“Where’s your dad?”
“I don’t know.”
“If I told you that I wanted to introduce you to a man to be in your corner no matter what, would you like that?”
“Can I call your mom and ask her?”
And that’s how Forerunner Mentoring Program started. We paired up Twquan with Jonathan, our first mentor, and watched the Lord move. Twquan is currently attending a 4-year college with an emphasis in business.
Over the next few years, we accepted more young men in our program and learned a lot of lessons the hard way. We have continued, and will continue, to find better ways to serve our young men and their families. Above all else, we believe that “relationships change lives.” First, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and next, positive relationships with other people who have your best interest in mind.
What the Lord began through Zach’s relationship with Bob, he continued through countless other men who made an investment in Zach’s life. The Lord continues to use the investment of those men through Zach and Forerunner Mentoring Program. The Lord changed Zach’s life by providing godly men to show Zach the true character of the Lord. At Forerunner, we hope to do the same for every young man and every family that builds a relationship with us.