Ephesians 4: 11-14
How do you summon hundreds of volunteers from a church community of more than 5,000 members to gather in one large facility and surrounding property, and keep all activities organized and running on schedule during the second week of June? What do you call this huge annual undertaking of volunteers offering their time and talents to the community at large?
You call it Love You Des Moines (DSM) days, and you ask Associate Director of Community Bridges Lisa Lewis how she pours her gifts and talents into making it happen. This is Valley Church’s response to the traditional Vacation Bible School paradigm that you can expect at most other churches, big and small around the West Des Moines and Des Moines suburbs.
Celebrating its 10th year, the goal of Love You DSM days is to mobilize Valley Church members and community partners to offer hundreds of free activities over a nine-day period for people of all ages, stages and backgrounds to participate in.
“We want to reach a diverse audience in our community to create goodwill, awareness, and brand recognition for Valley Church and the Valley Community Center. It’s a glimpse of how God can use our congregation’s gifts and passions 365 days a year. Most people don’t tackle a service project every week, but they go to work multiple times a week and they enjoy their hobbies every chance they get. If we can all get in the habit of using those ongoing activities to build relationships with others, we open up countless opportunities to share the Good News,” Lewis said.
The Valley Community Center is a welcoming place for all, and often the gateway through which Valley Church reaches those with the Gospel message.
Located directly across the street from the church on Fuller Road in West Des Moines, it is the heartbeat of activity for a stay-at-home-mom like me, and the hub of all the Love You DSM events. It is – quite literally – the center of my community, between the grocery store, library, church and schools. It’s a 10-minute drive from my house, and a space that offers multiple options for anyone, especially during Love You DSM days. It’s a gathering place where I have taken my preschool daughter countless times, without spending much money, when we’re both bored with our four-walls at home, and I am without any better ideas. A familiar, friendly face at the small café knows exactly what my daughter will ask for and has that package of soft mini chocolate chip cookies ready. My fourth-grade son has done Upward, a Christ centered basketball program in the gym, and flag football in the field behind the Center.
Activities at the Community center have given me all sorts of topics to write about, locations for interviews, meetings, fellowships for my Bible Study Fellowship small groups, and simply a place to write while my daughter is enjoying the indoor play space.
This week, Love You DSM days gave my daughter a chance to spend nearly an hour playing in the sand on the front lawn and giggling with the volunteers as they attempted to create sandcastles out of molds at the sand sensory station. Coarse, wet sand on her small fingers was a new sensation for her. She vigorously cleaned the sand off, then she dug in again, patted the sand down, then sprinkled a few grains on the bare arm of the patient, enthusiastic volunteer. (Thanks, ladies for having fun with her)
Then we wandered back inside the building where Brandon Early, one of the teaching pastors, was intent on making dolphins and lizard pet keychains out of beads and string. These kits come in boxes labelled for ages 9-12. Crafting is not my thing. I could only watch with awe and admiration at a child whose fingers and hand-eye coordination worked at lightning speed, finishing in under two minutes. Then she disappeared.
Meanwhile Brandon and another adult volunteer discussed the best strategy to put together these key chains. This process is apparently much harder than it looks for grown-ups, despite a YouTube demonstration on someone’s phone. Their determination and tenacity was impressive. If any adult could decipher the 37 steps of written directions, I knew they could, but my daughter was equally determined to yank me into the indoor play space just a few feet away. Roughly 20 minutes later, Brandon and several others were still there, so I asked him what he likes most about Love You DSM days:
“As an extrovert, I love being around people and watching people have fun. I love that so many people from outside our church come in to see what’s going on.”
I was also fortunate enough to attend three other delightful workshops that were helpful and fun. Award winning Joseph LeValley, a self-published author of crime and mystery novels, gave an excellent presentation on his writing process. He explained the differences between self-publishing, traditional publishing, and hybrid publishing. He started his career in journalism, then moved to corporate communications and finally discovered that writing and traveling in retirement is his new passion.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-14. In other words, are we all exercising the gifts God has given us? If you know what your gifts are, look for opportunities to use them. As you begin to recognize your special areas of service, use your gifts to strengthen and encourage the church.
That’s exactly what the four panelists were doing who were invited to participate in the Wiser Woman Lunch and Learn. Nancy Foster, Rachelle Long, Sandy Murphy and Kathy Turnball were all using their gifts to help encourage and edify us younger women. It was another hidden gem I almost didn’t attend. Organized by women’s ministry leader Debi Lydic, they took questions from us as we munched on salad, sandwiches and yummy cupcakes. They also shared tips, stories and advice on how to live more fully and intentionally.
The WordPress workshop on Saturday was also incredibly helpful as I met knowledgeable people who I knew could offer me future assistance. Professional networking, entertainment, hotdogs, fellowship all gave me and my daughter something to do this week. We love you too, Des Moines!
Love You DSM is one of several ways in which Valley Church lives out the Biblical commandment of using your gifts to love your neighbor, especially the neighbors that don’t yet know Jesus. This particular year, more than 12,000 walked through the Valley Community Center doors to attend Love You DSM.
What are the ways in which you love your neighbor? Both the couple across the street who seem to keep to themselves and that high school band member who has rung your doorbell several times during the last two years with fundraisers. Sometimes showing kindness and love to people whom you don’t know well is risky. What if they don’t respond favorably to you? A lot of people did not respond favorably to Jesus, but he loved them anyway, all the way to the cross. If Jesus was willing to die for me, maybe I can approach that grouchy neighbor around the corner down the street with a plate of cookies.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Sometimes loving others comes naturally, and sometimes it doesn’t. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Help us to recognize that we always need your help. Your love knows no bounds. You have poured your love down upon us so that we may in turn love others. Forgive us when we fail to do so. Give us opportunities to show your love to others. Help us look for those moments and obey. In Jesus’ Name we pray,