By Kayla Rinker
BOLIVAR – Though she admittedly doesn’t bounce back as quickly from lack of sleep like she used to, Donna Shelenhamer, long-time Girls in Action (GA) leader at First Baptist Church, Bolivar, still loves a good sleepover party.
“I just hosted my 43rd sleepover a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “I think I got about three hours of sleep that night and, as I told my daughter, I’m still trying to recover. The girls and I had a lot of fun, though.”
Along with first and second grade GAs, Shelenhamer has also taught fifth-grade boys Sunday School for the last 43 years. Because of her dedication, First Bolivar recently honored her with a plaque and presentation showing the church’s appreciation for her service. She said the best part of the plaque was that it was given with the inscription, “from the best group you’ve ever had.”
“Last year I had 24 girls and this year I have 10, but always, every year, they are the best group I have ever had,” she said. “I have always said that and it’s the truth.”
The presentation included a video from a young missionary and her family serving in Africa.
“She was one of my GAs and has since gone on to become a missionary,” Shelenhamer said. “On the video she said she remembers a mission knowledge lesson I gave where we made African paper hearts. Our church commissioned the couple about two years ago.”
Jody Shelenhamer, Donna’s youngest son and a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board, said his mother’s dedication to her ministry had a great impact in his life.
“She has been committed even in sickness,” he said. “She was diagnosed with colon cancer five or six years ago and was powerfully healed by the Lord. Through it all she has never quit doing what God called her to do.”
And of all the things the Lord has called her to do in her life, one thing is for certain: Donna Shelenhamer was called to teach. She knows how important her lessons are to the girls and boys in her classes.
“You can tell them all the facts of every place where missionaries are working; but if you ask them what the people in those countries need more than anything, they will tell you they need Jesus,” she said. “My desire for every child to understand, that is what keeps me going.”
When asked what advice she would give fellow GA leaders and teachers, Shelenhamer was adamant about one thing.
“They need to be called to teach,” she said, “because it is a calling. I know that 43 years ago I was called to teach and I cannot imagine my life without teaching my GAs and my fifth-grade boys.”