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Archive for November, 2012

hands-with-plantBack in September I had coffee with Jeremy and Monica, church planters who are working here in Richmond. They had visited First Baptist several times and appreciated our emphasis on reaching the city with the love of Christ. That’s what they’re trying to do, too. They are a delightful young couple who don’t look at all like you might expect “church planters” to look. It’s just one of the things I appreciate about them.

When we had coffee I asked them if they would be willing to partner with us on our year-long, every-member mission trip. I said, “We’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and it sounds like you are, too. We can’t offer you money, but we can pray for you and encourage you.” They said that would be perfect, and when I left that meeting I had this wonderful feeling that in addition to all our members who were out there bringing heaven to earth we had Jeremy and Monica, too.

Here’s the latest update from them:

Some of you may have heard from us about an Egyptian Muslim family we came across last month. We were waiting to meet a friend at a festival, and this lady and her two sons sat next to us as a table. They started asking us about what we thought about Jesus, the Bible, the Koran, Mormons, Islam, culture, Egypt, American and global politics. This conversation went on for about an hour then they gave us their contact info and we invited them over for a meal.

Now, they were previously complaining that Americans never “hang out” for more than an hour, so we had them over for 4 hours and just enjoyed a wonderful meal while talking about many of the same issues at more length. Finally, the mother shared her frustration with “American Christians,” so we decided it was time to share the gospel with her and help her remove her focus from “American Christians” to the person of Jesus Christ. We unpacked many elements of what it means to be forgiven by the Lord through the work of Christ, we talked about the Trinity (as they had been asking about that!), and we talked about eternal life based on grace (not based on works).

At the end of the conversation one of the sons said, “In Egypt, we could never have these conversations without everyone getting angry and screaming at each other.” And they went on to say that they were very appreciative of being able to have those conversations here in our home with freedom, grace and charity. No one was yelling, no one was being rude, we were all just taking turns sharing and asking questions and LISTENING!

Please pray for Jeremy and Monica as they continue to build their friendship with this family, and consider their example of inviting your Muslim neighbors over for a meal, not so much to look for ways to convert them, but simply because this is what Jesus tells us to do—to love our neighbors. I believe that in the context of true friendship you will have plenty of opportunities to share your faith as well as to ask questions and listen, just as Jeremy and Monica did.

Interested? Look for tomorrow’s post: “How to have your Muslim neighbors over for dinner.”

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KOH2RVA: Day 82

What are you doing on December 22? Why not help us share Christmas with these Mixteca children?

I’m aware that there are still some people who haven’t found a way to get involved in our year-long, every-member mission trip.  That’s OK.  It’s only Day 82.  There are still 283 days to go.  But I do sometimes remind the church:

When our youth group goes on a mission trip they all get on a big bus and go somewhere like Boston, Nashville, New York, or (this year) Nickelsville, Virginia.  But when they get to the mission site everybody has to get off the bus and go to work.  Nobody is allowed to sit on the bus and read comic books.

That’s a gentle reminder to every member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church that if we’re going to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, then eventually everybody will have to get off the bus.

If you haven’t found a way to do that yet, don’t worry.  Steve Blanchard, Minister of Christian Compassion, has been out looking for new opportunities. And he’s found some.  Take a look at the list he’s compiled below and see if you can find a way to get started.  Because this really is “joyful work,” and in this season, especially, it would be a shame to miss out on it.

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The following is a report of KOH2RVA activity that I am aware of. I know there are other events and servings going on and I would love to hear about them. Please let me know and have a blessed day.

FYI: Coming Up in December

  • December 1: 9:30am Bake and Take Team will bake cookies and take to neighbors in the Fan.
  • December 3: 6:00pm Christmas Party celebrating and honoring Community Mission volunteers
  • December 5: 1-5  FBC children will be caroling at Glenburnie Rehab, Heartfields, and Windsor House.
  • December 5: 5:30pm Windshield Tour offered
  • December 8: 10:00am Windshield Tour offered
  • December 9: 4:30pm Christmas party for single mom’s of Fresh Start
  • December 11: 11:30am Staff will stuff stockings for children
  • December 13: 6:00 pm Christmas celebration for the guests of Grace Fellowship
  • December 17: 9:30am Christmas party for our homeless community
  • December 22: 1:00pm Christmas party for the Mixteca community
  • December 23: 3:00pm Christmas celebration at Essex Village
  • December 24: 9:00am Pass out gifts to homeless on the street

November Report

  • November 3-11: Costa Rica mission team served in Arbollitos and surrounding areas
  • November 5: Pizza, drinks and dessert provided to Glen Lea Elementary for teachers during Parent/Teacher Conferences
  • November 10: Volunteers helped during fall festival at Glen Lea Elementary.
  • November 11: Fourth grade Sunday School class separated and made toiletry bags during Sunday school.
  • November 13: Operation Homeless Connect was held at Richmond Convention Center
  • November 15: FBC staff served at Grace Fellowship
  • November 16 and other dates: Volunteers served at Glen Lea Elementary as classroom assistants, helpers, etc…
  • November 17-24: FBC served as CARITAS site for 58 men providing fellowship, shelter, meals, showers, clothing, etc… and Linda and Louis
  • Watts provided 52 loaves of homemade bread and personalized notes to teachers at Glen Lea Elementary
  • November 19: FBC provided transportation to Essex Village residents to attend Community Workshops at Glen Lea Elementary.
  • November 22: FBC provided Thanksgiving meal to CARITAS and other community guests
  • November 26: Three FBC staff served lunch at Richmond Friends of the Homeless

Steve Blanchard
Minister of Christian Compassion
Richmond’s First Baptist Church

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So…yesterday I was talking about the Richmond Jail, and at the bottom of the post, as a footnote, I put a link to some photographs by Eva Russo taken inside the jail. I warned my readers that the pictures were “graphic” and “disturbing,” and some of them were. This one is not: it’s a picture of a woman visiting her boyfriend at the jail. And when I look at her children, visiting with her, I think, “If they can do it, I can too.”

But let me be clear about this: jail ministry is not for everyone. When I say “there must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth” this is certainly one of the ways. But it may not be your way. Nonetheless, there are ways all of us can take part in this ministry.

I talked with Father Alonzo Pruitt recently, Chief of Chaplains and Director of Social Work at the jail, and asked him how Richmond’s First Baptist Church could help.

He said he could use all the help he could get.

He said there are 33,000 people who pass through the jail each year—“residents”—he called them, not “inmates.” He said they need a lot of things but some of those things are very simple. They need:

  • Soap! He said, “If people in your church who travel could bring home some of those little hotel soaps and shampoos, lotions and conditioners, that would be a great help.”
  • Underwear. Those “3-packs” of men’s briefs you can find in almost any department store would be much appreciated.
  • T-shirts. Medium and Large, but especially the Extra Large and even 2X sizes would be helpful.
  • Bras. Yes, bras, for the female residents, but please, Father Pruitt said, “No underwires.”
  • Books and magazines, but be sure to remove the address labels from any magazines you might donate.

It was that last thing that really got Father Pruitt talking. He said the biggest problem residents face is boredom. “They’re here for 168 hours each week,” he said, “often with nothing to do. If your members could donate books and magazines, that would be great,” he said. “If you had a choir that could come down here and sing, that would be even better.”

“What about storytelling?” I asked. “I’ve got this great story about the time my brothers and I accidentally burned down our house.”

“Accidentally?” he asked (I could almost see him raising his eyebrows).

“Yes,” I said. “Accidentally.”

“Then come tell it,” he said. “That would be great.”

So, one of these days soon I’m going to go down to the Richmond Jail and tell that story. I’d love to bring boxes full of soap, shampoo, underwear, T-shirts, bras, books, and magazines. If you’d like to contribute, just bring your things to my office. And if you’d like to go with me when I tell that story…

…let me know.

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I went to jail yesterday.

I wasn’t sent there, thankfully; I went of my own accord, to see what it’s like, and to see how Richmond’s First Baptist Church might get involved during this year-long, every-member mission trip we’re calling KOH2RVA.

I drove downtown on Broad Street, past City Hall, past VCU Medical Center, down the steep hill into the valley that divides “that” part of Richmond from the rest of the city, and then I turned left on 18th Street, went a few blocks more, and there it was: the Richmond City Jail.

I took this picture from across the street. You can see the razor wire around the perimeter fence, the old jail building, the new construction going up to relieve the severe overcrowding inside (I’ve heard that as many as seven or eight inmates are sleeping in cells built for four). I parked in the parking lot and went in the front door where I was greeted by a friendly security guard and an imposing metal detector.

“Do you have a cell phone?” he said.

“Yes sir.”

“You have to leave it in your car.”

I walked back out to the parking lot thinking, “Next time, leave cell phone in car. Check.” And then I walked back in again. The friendly security guard didn’t make me remove the contents of my pockets. He just waved me through the metal detector and then asked me to stand with my feet apart and my arms outstretched as he “wanded” me. Eventually I was buzzed inside where I waited my turn to talk to the receptionist, who was sitting behind a wall of bulletproof glass.

I looked around. There were heavy iron bars blocking the hallway to my right. To my left was a kind of waiting area, with chairs that looked like molded plastic cubes. Straight ahead was another hallway, more bars, and behind the bars a long line of inmates on their way to lunch. They wore bright yellow jumpsuits. Some wore jumpsuits with broad, horizontal stripes of orange and white like you might see on a highway safety barrel.  Both seemed designed to keep the inmates in their place, literally and figuratively.

When I got to the window I asked for Father Alonzo Pruitt, the Chaplain. He’s really the only person I know at the jail. The receptionist said that he wasn’t in and I didn’t know what else to say. I thanked her, turned, and walked away.

Was my trip to the jail a failure? I don’t think so. I think it was an “orientation tour.” I plan to go back again, maybe many times. You see, I’m haunted by that verse from Matthew 25, where Jesus says,

“I was in prison, and you didn’t visit me.”

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Click HERE to see Eva Russo’s pictures from inside the jail.  I need to warn you: the pictures are graphic and disturbing, but they also make it clear why some kind of jail or prison ministry is so important.  These people, too, are the children of God, and they might go days or weeks in such a place without being reminded of that.

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Last week I had lunch at the Richmond Academy of Medicine.

It’s not the kind of place that usually comes to mind when you think of lunch, but it turned out to be perfect for what was on the agenda—making Richmond the healthiest city in America.

Dr. Terry Whipple, who founded the Physician Within program at First Baptist Church, has bigger plans. He wants to see the program expand to other congregations in the city, to other neighborhoods, until everybody in Metropolitan Richmond “understands common health issues and adjusts their lifestyles for longer, safer, healthier existence.” He asked me to reach out to some of my fellow clergy and invite them to lunch, so he could tell them about the program first hand and invite them to participate.

If you’re not familiar with the Physician Within, take a moment to skim the video above, from a session called “Chest Pain: Is It My Heart?” You’ll see that it’s not a complicated concept: a respected cardiologist talking to lay people about heart health and how they can stay out of the emergency room. You can also see that a good many people were interested enough to come out on a Tuesday night and hear what he had to say. It didn’t hurt that the program was—and remains—absolutely free.

My colleagues were interested. They could see how welcome such a program would be in their own churches. But when Richard Szucs, president of the Academy and member of First Baptist Church, began to talk about the 1,700 medical professionals who are members of the Academy and how they might participate, we all began to see the potential. Hundreds of congregations, hundreds of medical professionals, coming together to make Richmond “the healthiest city in America.”

When Terry Whipple first said it I thought he was just being grandiose, but now I don’t think he was. I think he simply has Kingdom-sized dreams, and he’s waiting for the rest of us to catch up.  We took a small step forward last week.  Maybe, by the time this year-long, every-member mission trip is over, we will have taken giant strides toward that ambitious goal.

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Please see my posts about churches working with hospitals to keep people healthy from Day 45 and Day 46.  It feels like momentum is building.

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