LINK TO ARTICLE: COLUMBIATRIBUNE.COM
To hear Maj. Kendall Mathews tell it, he and his wife, Maj. Katrina Mathews, are perfectly matched to minister together. He is an idea man; she is a doer. He is diplomatic and acts as a caring cheerleader for those in the community; she cares just as much but expresses that love and concern by telling it like it is.
The way any set of spouses complement one another is a bit mysterious, but it is clear that the Mathewses’ teamwork has yielded great benefits for the city of Columbia.
Over the past four years, they have led the local branch of the Salvation Army, helping to restore lives and bolster the organization’s reputation.
Next week, they will leave Mid-Missouri for St. Louis, taking on a new assignment. Over the past month, they reflected, in separate interviews, about how the city has become different — and how they’ve been changed — during their stay.
BECOMING ROOTED IN THE COMMUNITY
Moving from metropolitan Detroit, the pair knew they would have to think a bit differently. Katrina Mathews said the move changed her thinking about what ministry looks like in different cities and contexts; she learned that although life in Mid-Missouri differs in significant ways from the daily grind in Detroit, the struggles, burdens and hurts people have are universal. To engage familiar issues and unfamiliar faces, “we had to wrap our head, our heart and our hands around the opportunities here in Columbia,” Kendall Mathews said.
They did so by meeting early and often with other stakeholders in the city’s success — service providers, educators and other leaders. They sought to become the faces of the Salvation Army, becoming a visible presence in the community not only in official ways but by showing up to other civic events and getting involved in their children’s schools.
Kendall Mathews said that for their efforts here to be successful, he knew people had to see them outside the uniform and connect with them personally. He knew the community would see them as transplants, but his hope was that, over time, they would simply be seen as people who had been planted in Columbia’s soil.
“People have to feel and sense sincerity and authenticity,” he said. “People will respond to that — people have responded to that. People have to know that your intention is pure. Your intention is not for self-righteousness but for the righteousness of others.”
As the community sensed their integrity and intent, the Mathewses made friends and found success in meeting many of their goals. They raised both funds and awareness, increased the Salvation Army’s partnership with local college students and planted literal and figurative seeds of hope through community gardens.
TESTS OF FAITH
For all the victories, the Mathewses’ tenure in Columbia has not consisted only of happy days. They began their work at a challenging bend in the local Salvation Army’s path — the organization was resource-poor and couldn’t even make payroll when they arrived, Kendall Mathews said. He made an appeal to several local organizations, which, believing in the Salvation Army’s future, buoyed the organization with one-time grants.
Along the way, other challenges taxed the Mathewses spiritually. Responding like a loving, protective father, Kendall Mathews found himself most frustrated in moments where he felt the organization “was invaded” — in 2010, the Salvation Army faced an epidemic of unauthorized dumping at its facilities; in 2009, a man impersonating a Salvation Army volunteer went door to door, attempting to fleece residents in the name of charity. For Kendall Mathews, who has made credibility a cornerstone of his efforts, that incident was deeply discouraging. With his sense of service and personal experience of God so closely connected, Mathews has seen himself grow in important yet sometimes painful ways.
“My faith has been like a piece of taffy, … stretched and pulled, never snapping but certainly stretching,” he said.
These tests of faith were not only a function of especially challenging times. Katrina Mathews said a question of reliance comes when she wakes up every morning — she is compelled to ask whom she really trusts: herself or God? Who will ultimately move her feet across the floor, let alone give her the strength to serve others? The Mathewses have settled that question, though they note that the answer is sounded with varying degrees of strength.
“The Bible says it’s impossible to please God without faith,” Kendall Mathews said, referring to Hebrews 11:6. “I want to please God. I want him to be happy with the fruit of our labor and my service. But I have to have faith. And, sometimes, it doesn’t take a whole lot of faith. It just takes the faith that you have.”
Knowing he needed an “outlet” and “oasis” to help him deal with almost inextricable professional and personal challenges, Mathews made a “third home” at the Activity & Recreation Center, joking he’d become a “cardio guru” after taking his problems quite literally in stride, beating his feet against the facility’s indoor track. He also put the contents of his heart on paper, writing a regular column for the Columbia Missourian. Writing those articles was an essential part of building and keeping faith, he said, because each one he wrote reinforced the hopes he had for his own spiritual growth and the continued growth of Columbia. It was as if he was reminding himself of what was possible with God, even as he cast that vision for the wider city.
The Mathewses found encouragement in even the smallest gestures — Kendall Mathews said just being asked how he was doing by community members brought a sense of strength. And, of course, the couple encouraged one another, holding and lifting each other up constantly. Ultimately, it is their very calling to ministry that has brought the Mathewses spiritual nourishment and renewal needed to press forward. Both said having the chance to use their gifts and abilities would take them back to their original purpose and that doing ministry would replenish what doing ministry had taken away.
THINGS UNDONE AND THINGS TO DO
As the Mathewses pack and prepare to depart, they have noted things left undone. Kendall Mathews would still like to see a warehouse built for thrift-store merchandise and see the Salvation Army’s chapel renovated. The Mathewses will be succeeded by Majs. Richard and Beth Trimmell of Chicago, and Katrina Mathews said she has compiled a list of missed opportunities and potential collaborations for them to pursue. Although they identified things left undone, the Mathewses expressed no regrets and a sense of assurance that their time in Columbia was what it was supposed to be.
What will not go left undone or said is how the Mathewses have affected the community. The outpouring of appreciation they have received since residents learned of their impending departure has been deeply moving, Katrina Mathews said. It has been almost impossible to respond in kind, she said, struggling to find words to truly express her gratitude. She did say the people she has encountered in Columbia have made her a better Christian, pushing her to the realization that life is not about her. Kendall Mathews added that literally hundreds of faces will mark his memories of Columbia, including the people they’ve helped, other service providers and those who have helped their family.
Ultimately, any impact the Mathewses have had on the community has been something God allowed, Katrina Mathews said, and is not a measure of their own merit or power. They will take that recognition with them into a position of increased responsibility in St. Louis. The number of thrift stores they will manage will rise from three to seven; they will oversee almost three times the number of employees; and face new challenges in dealing largely with a population made up of men who have dealt with addiction and incarceration.
With a characteristic sense of optimism and faith, Kendall Mathews seemed ready to seize the new opportunities, viewing them as chances to further the same simple but profound through line that has led to such success in Columbia.
“Our vision is going to be to recycle goods, reclaim lives and rebuild families,” he said.
Reach Aarik Danielsen at 573-815-1731 or e-mail email@example.com.