By Warren Mayer
ForColumbia 2023 Exec Team
I distinctly remember walking into the Missouri Theater in downtown Columbia, Missouri, nine years ago. There was a lone figure standing behind a 4×8 table with a simple sign that read “ForColumbia” but I had not one clue what that was all about. On the surface, it looked like just another opportunity to participate in some sort of workday, like Habitat for Humanity or something.
At the time, I was on my way to attend another event, all the good seats in the auditorium were filling up, so I passed by without a second thought. Had I paused for just a few seconds to ask about it, I might not have missed out on that inaugural effort.
What a difference nine years make.
The thing I did not fully understand at the time was that ForColumbia was about far more than picking up litter or spreading mulch at our city’s public parks.
Underneath the surface, something far more meaningful is taking place. In short, the collected people of God in Columbia were beginning to mobilize, taking seriously the call of Scripture to love and care for our city.
Jeremiah 29:4-7 (ESV)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Jesus in John 13:35 (NIV)
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The core value upon which ForColumbia got its start was the crazy notion that all of God’s people would work together, side-by-side, for the common purpose of making the City of Columbia a better place to live.
We would do this despite our differences, setting aside the distinctions of our denominations, worship practices, and differing beliefs to selflessly serve others with no hidden agenda.
And therein lies another key distinctive of ForColumbia, namely “No hidden agenda.”
Christians throughout the centuries have often muddled the message of Jesus by seeking to strongarm others into accepting Christ as Lord and Savior.
God can do anything, of course, but using any kind of pressure to change someone’s mind about anything (especially their belief system) seldom works. Additionally, it can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, dishonoring God in the process.
ForColumbia isn’t about proselytizing. It’s not about gaining influence or political power. It’s definitely not about local churches “doing their own thing” within their own four walls and letting the rest of the world take care of itself.
So what does agenda-free service look like?
Jesus healed people who didn’t love Him. He miraculously fed people who turned on Him at the first opportunity. He washed the dirty, stinking feet of His disciples, even the feet of the man He knew was conspiring to have him tortured and killed.
While no one participating in ForColumbia’s annual day of service has any illusions about serving people perfectly, as Jesus did, we gather to do whatever we can, where we can, with the resources God has provided. We do it without regard to anyone’s belief system, color, nationality, or sexuality. We entrust any good we might accomplish to the Spirit and leave it at that.
By nature, I am a very skeptical person. When someone does anything kind for me, I immediately suspect that they want something in return. It took a few years for me to fully accept that ForColumbia is exactly what it appears to be. An opportunity for Christians of all stripes to gather together, join hands, and make our community a better place for everyone.
As you read this, months before the scheduled Day of Service, various work crews are already scattered around our city doing their level best to make someone else’s life a little easier and more livable.
They are seeking above all to bring hope to seemingly-hopeless situations. Several people who signed up for a single day of work were so inspired by what they witnessed on that day of service that they’ve volunteered to make ForColumbia more of a year-round lifestyle than an annual event.
If you’ve yet to show up for the ForColumbia annual Day of Service, I encourage you to give it a shot on April 29.
You can sign up for a four-hour shift (morning or afternoon) or commit to the full day. We’ll supply your and your team with everything you need. Your skill level can be anywhere from zero to awesome. Let us worry about finding a site that works well for you. We’ll even give you a cool T-shirt and lunch.
But consider yourself duly warned. From inauspicious beginnings (such as a 4×8 table in the Missouri Theater) God can bring forth amazing results.
Giving four or eight hours of your Saturday might seem like a small thing, and in some ways it is. But it often happens that cooperation and compassion not only change our community for the better, they often change us in ways we didn’t anticipate.