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Barbie McCollister - She's on a Mission

Written by Cecilia LaFrance

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“This is not just a place that hands out food. Anyone can do that.” Barbie McCollister points her head toward the dining area of the Arkansas Valley Christian Mission in Buena Vista, CO. Neighborly exchanges and updates cross among the occupants at tables during one of the week’s free lunches. At the front office, a volunteer laughs with a familiar guest who delivers a customary joke at each visit. A pastor of a local church joins a table for the meal. To guess at which of the 20 guests today were in need versus those there to serve is to miss the respect and love Barbie intends for all who come through the Mission’s door.

“We have good news to share in terms of life,” Barbie’s soft voice invites calm and safety. Her petite 89-year-old frame sits in correct posture and she raises her hands from her lap in emphasis, “We love people where they’re at.”

Since 1997, Barbie has dedicated herself to helping people in “the hardest part of their journey.” Barbie lists some of the causes behind the hardships: illness, unemployment, substance abuse, failed relationships and family troubles. “You never know who could be in need.” She and other Mission volunteers evaluate every situation and connect people to the Mission’s resources as well as to local agencies for assistance. “We don’t have any dos or don’ts. It’s the person and their need.”

Barbie was once a single mother herself, and then met her husband Paul through a church in Omaha, NE in 1980. “We shared a similar experience in being so blessed by the Lord. We knew we wanted to be in ministry.” She and Paul became commissioned Stephen ministers and answered calls that eventually led them to Buena Vista to form a community ministry.

For 25 years, the Mission has operated purely through the work of volunteers and donations. Barbie adamantly refuses sole recognition for any of the Mission’s impact. “I didn’t do it. Jesus did,” she once told a single mom who credited Barbie with changing her life.

Barbie can’t quote how many people the Mission has served; instead she marvels on its ability to answer calls for help. “We trust that the Lord will take care of us and he does.”

When her husband passed in 2014, Barbie stepped down from the Mission’s leadership, but stayed as a volunteer. She’s down to one day per week now, “but I’m on call 24/7.”

Spanish translation coming soon.