Paquin Tower

Tears and Fears: The First Ten Years

By Shelly Mayer
Director, ForColumbia 2024
[email protected]

As we enter into 2024, the ForColumbia exec team has heard from some of the folks who were involved in ForColumbia 2015. That was when this annual day of serving our city, side by side, all began. Let’s take a moment and read some of Shelly Mayer’s words as she talks about the day the torch was passed to her, and how one day, she’ll pass it on to another, faithful servant.

Shelly Mayer

Shelly Mayer

I vividly remember when I was asked in Fall 2015 if I would consider spearheading a citywide serving effort called ForColumbia. I was taken aback and unsure how to respond.

ForColumbia had been successfully held earlier that year. The woman who planned it that first time out was a remarkably organized individual. I had coordinated other big efforts over my lifetime, but nothing this big in terms of the number of people or projects involved.

Why ask me? Could I even do this?

I agreed to give it a shot, but my stomach was churning…and my head was full of questions.

The Trepidation of Beginning

The first thing I did was ask to talk with the original organizer. I wanted to pick her brain on how she was able to get those original 11 churches involved, how she identified projects, and probably 1,000 other questions.

ForColumbia 2015 Volunteers

ForColumbia 2015 Volunteers working at the Food Bank.

In that initial conversation, she told me she’d been asked to do it again shortly after the successful first serving day…and she declined. Recently retired, I recall her laughingly telling me, “It was a part-time job! I’m not interested in that!”

That really didn’t help my churning stomach.

The second thing I did was recruit — well, “plead and beg successfully” might be more apt — two good friends of mine to join me in this effort. Both of them are administratively minded. More importantly, they are living out lives of faithfulness to Jesus.

The three of us spent untold hours together. We brainstormed all aspects of how to get people serving side by side. We decided on who to recruit to lead sites, and how to get more and more churches involved. Our friendships deepened a lot, simply through the shared mission of serving Jesus side by side ourselves.

Over those next few months, even though this was not the first time ForColumbia had been organized, I found it was still very much an uphill battle to interest churches in yet another effort.

ForColumbia was a largely untested initiative.

Understandably, busy people are often reluctant to agree to do more. My little organizing team spent a lot of time talking to people about how much we would support them. We’d help them sign up volunteers, and make serving easy for all involved. (Easy for you, I’d think, but for sure not for me.)

Granny's House in Columbia, Mo.

Granny’s House in Columbia, Mo.

What Was God Up To?

During the first year of planning ForColumbia, I confess, I feared failing. A lot.

  • After a successful inaugural year, what if I tried to grow this effort and include more churches…and then it was a hot mess?
  • What if the people we served didn’t feel the love we hoped to share?
  • What if those who gave their time to serve didn’t feel their time was used well? I mean…this is a very public effort. I would fail very publicly.

If you’re thinking I made that first year’s effort all about me, you’d be right. Mostly.

I struggled to not make it all about me and what people thought. I’d signed on to spearhead an effort to love and serve our neighbors for the glory of Christ. But my goodness, it was hard not to make it all about my performance.

I’d say that’s where God did His deepest work in me that year. And in the year or two to follow.

He slowly revealed all the ways in which I sought the approval of others over His approval of me. God allowed me to see over and over how much I thought I was functioning out of my strength when it was His strength I would need. (Psalm 55:22) He steadfastly demonstrated how His will would supersede mine every time. Over those first few years, He slowly and gently pulled my hands off the steering wheel of control and encouraged me more and more to trust Him with the outcome.

How It Started…

2016, my first year of serving, was a perfectly sunny Spring day with a ton of successful projects. We tripled the number of participating churches to 33. The number of individual volunteers rose from 500-ish to over 1,800.

But 2017 and the record-breaking rainfall on our day of serving was a bullhorn in my ear — despite all my plans for a successful day of serving, it was not God’s plan for us to get all the work done on April 29.

Instead, it would happen over several weekends in May. Interestingly, through that extended timeline, more relationships developed that might not have otherwise.

  • Side Benefit: The ForColumbia team spent countless hours that year also developing a “Rain Plan” that we still use annually. Weather forecasts don’t stress us out quite so much these days.

Benton Elementary 2019

2018 was the year I realized I couldn’t walk away from this effort if I wanted to. God was doing something in my own life that I needed.

He was entangling me among His people in our city. He was giving me such a strong love for those who share the desire to serve Him year-round. I needed that. I still need it, now more than ever.

But were there tears? Oh yes.

A lot of them that first year or two. Enough that if anyone were to tell me that God never gives us more than we can handle, I might have been tempted to physical violence.

In my experience, He absolutely does overwhelm us sometimes — through crisis or trial or putting exceedingly large community-wide efforts on our plates — and the gift in that is a deeper understanding of our dependence upon Him. We have so much less control over our lives than we walk around believing.

How It’s Going…

The most rewarding aspect of the last ten years, apart from the work I’ve seen God doing in me, has probably been how my perspective has expanded on what the Church of God — collectively — is really about.

Work crew at Wilkes Blvd. in 2017.

Work crew at Wilkes Blvd. in 2017.

Of course, I have always understood God’s people to span time and denominations. I know the Church will include those from every tongue, tribe, and nation. (Revelation 7:9) However, the relationships I have developed here in my city with other faithful followers have caused me to wrestle with how to live out faithfulness and a love for others despite theological differences.

It has engendered humility and a trust that God knows Who his people are, and an understanding that He doesn’t call me to judge the rightness of a person’s theology so much as discern the Truth of Scripture and then to live that out.

Through ForColumbia, that “living out” is manifested simply — by loving our neighbors. (John 13:35) This includes people who don’t believe in their Creator. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) It includes those who do but have a wildly different understanding of what that looks like when lived out.

Living Out God’s Call to Be Salt and Light

We're kicking off ForColumbia 2023 with a Party in the Park on Friday, April 28th, 4:30-6:30 p.m. in Douglass Park. We want you to join us!Focusing on the differences in our beliefs causes division and highlights how Christians are no different than the rest of the world. Wrestling with those divisions and finding ways to understand each other, even if we don’t agree, is holy ground. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

I know that one day I will need to pass the baton of leadership over to someone else to lead ForColumbia, should God continue to empower this effort. But for now, I’ve gone from tears to passion; I struggle to imagine my life as full and enriched as it is right now without this beautiful, collective effort to bring the love of Jesus to others in practical ways.

I guess when that time comes, I’ll need to trust that God has better plans for my time. Hopefully next time without so many tears.

The most rewarding aspect of the last ten years, apart from the work I’ve seen God doing in me, has probably been how my perspective has expanded on what the Church of God — collectively — is really about.