Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, Indeed!

Old friends, two happy senior women talking in parkGuest blogger Becky Payne, church organist and friend of the elderly, shares a story about a recent event that truly brought heaven to earth.

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When our pastor, Jim Somerville, challenged our church to “bring the kingdom”, one of our members at Lakewood Manor, Bernice Rodgerson, was a bit puzzled about what she might do to participate in the challenge. At that time Bernice was not well and didn’t get out much. She and I talked about the possibilities and decided she could write notes and make phone calls to other senior adults who are homebound. I gave her several names of ladies in other retirement facilities and she began her “ministry” of encouragement.

Earlier in this year we were discussing one of her ladies and Bernice expressed a desire to visit her. I assured her I could make that happen. On a Wednesday afternoon mid-August Bernice and I went to visit Anne Poindexter. I watched with great joy as these friends greeted each other and talked non-stop for a lengthy time. Anne was happy to share refreshments with us as we talked about our church, our families and Anne’s upcoming 99th birthday. The excitement of these ladies and the sweetness of that visit is etched in my mind.

As we drove back to Lakewood Manor Bernice and I talked a bit about the other ladies she had been writing. You guessed it: this Friday Bernice and I will make the short trip to Gayton Terrace to visit with Betty Grubb!

Should Have Taken the Bus!

2013-11-08 17.27.15I saw Andrew Terry at the Hope in the Cities luncheon yesterday. Andrew is working to bring rapid transit to Richmond, and he recently asked a room full of people if any of us would ride the new “super bus” if it came to the city.

I raised my hand.

I may have had that in the back of my mind yesterday when I thought about how I was going to get to the Omni Hotel for the luncheon. I don’t mind driving downtown. It’s not far from First Baptist Church. But I do mind parking downtown—either searching for an available meter or paying way too much to park in a garage.

So, I asked my smart phone how to get downtown on the bus and it told me: “Walk over to Broad Street, get on the bus heading downtown, get off at 12th Street and walk over to the Omni on Cary Street” Total trip time? “About 27 minutes.” Total cost? “$1.25” (my phone is so smart!).

But I had a few more emails to check and when I finished I didn’t have 27 minutes. So I jumped in my car, whizzed downtown, found an available meter four blocks from the Omni, put in two dollars worth of quarters, and hurried to the luncheon.

One of the first people I saw was Andrew Terry, and I told him, “I almost took the bus!” He commended me for my good intentions but insisted, “We’ve got to get more people riding public transportation.” I said, “Maybe we could have a public transportation day. You pick the date, and I’ll challenge my church to ride the bus.” “Great idea!” he said (stay tuned).

The luncheon was inspiring. Dr. Gail Christopher of the Kellogg Foundation talked about what her organization is trying to do to lift children out of poverty, and noted, sadly, how closely their plight is linked to the idea of race. “Idea,” she said, because human beings are, genetically, 99.9% identical. And yet we have used that .01 percent difference to justify all manner of atrocities, including slavery.

I’ll have more to say about that at another time, but for now let me say that the luncheon ran a little longer than I expected, and when I got back to my car I found a bright green parking ticket stuck under the windshield wiper (sigh).

This is why I don’t like parking downtown.

I got in my car and headed back toward the office and at a stoplight on Broad Street I looked over and saw Andrew Terry in his car, motioning for me to roll down the window. He shouted, “Next time we’ll take the bus!” I reached for my parking ticket, held it up and shouted, “If I had taken the bus I wouldn’t have gotten this!” He laughed out loud and said, “I need a picture of that!”

So, here you go, Andrew: this picture is for you. If I had ridden the bus to my luncheon it would have taken 27 minutes and cost $1.25. I got there in 23 minutes in my car, but ended up paying $22.00.

Even I can do the math.

David and Ann Meet the Neighbors

Albert Hill Group

Here’s a post from Ann Carter, Youth I Associate at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, about the tentative first step she and her husband David took to bring heaven to earth with some of our neighbors at Albert Hill Middle School.  In the spirit of KOHx2, David and Ann were trying to “bring it together” with partners from other organizations.  Ann describes it as a “mustard seed” experience–something that started small–but she wonders what it might yet become. 

It’s been a while since I was on the front end of a burgeoning mission project. A little more than 7 years to be exact. Seems as though, recently, I have been privileged to plug into great ministries already in process. But this past Saturday, I found myself working once again on a fledgling project.

Albert Hill Middle School is an easy 6 block walk west on Park Avenue from church. Stephanie Perry, one of the 6th grade science and math teachers and an acquaintance from our neighborhood swim team, had gotten my name from Len Morrow and emailed me. She was looking for a group who might be willing to help with a grounds clean-up day. Would that be something First Baptist would like to do? She also wondered whether First Baptist was interested in a partnership with Albert Hill; we were neighbors after all! “Of course,” I replied; and told her about our every member mission trip to bring heaven to earth. I love when people move toward my church, seeking meaningful relationships and partnerships.

The kick-off for this new relationship with Albert Hill Middle School was going to be November 2. Emails and Facebook posts went out to youth and their parents inviting them to participate in this neighborly project. Our youth are busy, and their families are even busier. And with very short notice, not surprisingly, no one was available. Not because they didn’t want to be; but because they had other commitments.

Albert HillSo David and I woke up early on Saturday, filled our tanks with good strong coffee, donned our work clothes, packed up our wheelbarrow, shovels, rakes and pruning shears and set out to Albert Hill. I was hopeful that we would bump into some last minute First Baptist volunteers whose calendars had miraculously cleared on this November Saturday. Instead, we met the principal, the PTO president, parents and students. We met our neighbors; people who love their school, who love their neighborhood. They were all surprised that David and I were willing to come out on a Saturday to give their time investing in their school. I explained where we were from and why we were here. “Oh,” they said, “you are from that church right up the street. That big one on the corner?” Some very good connections were made; emails and phone numbers were exchanged; meetings were arranged; relationships were initiated and ground work was laid.

So, our church family can be a good neighbor to the middle school 6 blocks down the street – what will that look like? I don’t know, yet. Maybe some tutoring and mentoring? Sponsoring a kid on a field trip? Encouraging teachers? Clean up days? I will find out more as I meet with Mr. Davis, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Todd in the coming weeks. But I do know this: when First Baptist people are presented with opportunities, they rise to the occasion, they embrace the mission as their own, and they bring heaven wherever they go. So I have great hope that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So, that fledgling mission project I was a part of 7 years ago? The Together for Hope All Church Challenge in Helena, Arkansas. In 2006, we started with 5. Since then, God has multiplied that number 30 times! More than 150 volunteers from our faith community have given one week of their lives over the course of 7 years to love and minister in Helena. Lives in Helena have been changed. OUR lives have been changed.

icon-ann-carterStarting small can be a good thing. Kinda like the parable of the mustard seed – God takes something insignificant and turns it into something so powerful it can move mountains. Numbers and size don’t matter to God. He can start a good work in one or two hearts and multiply that into life changing ministry. So, won’t you join David and me in this promising partnership? Let’s see what God will do!

Breaking Bread, Making Friends

breaking-bread2On Tuesday night I sat down at a table with a few deacons from First Baptist Church and a few from First African Baptist Church. We were at the Golden Corral on Gaskins and Broad, squeezed into a small, private dining room after filling our plates to overflowing at the mind-boggling buffet. Someone said a blessing and we began to eat, and then we began to talk, and then we began to laugh.

Which was precisely the point of the evening.

Earlier this year Pastor Rodney Waller of First African challenged us to “show Richmond what true racial reconciliation looks like.” I was inspired by that challenge, and added that while Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors, we cannot love what we don’t know, and suggested that we spend some time getting to know each other, preferably over dinner.

We looked at that picture of the early church from the end of Acts 2, where it says that the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (vs. 42). A few verses later it says “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (vs. 46). Breaking bread was apparently a high priority in the early church, and so we decided to get together and break some bread.

Do you know how hard it is to get 14 people together for a meal? Bob Palmer does. Bob has been talking to me about First African since I came to Richmond five years ago. He has kept up a relationship with Deacon Booker Jones from that church for much longer than that. The two of them have been hoping and praying that our churches could be more closely connected, so Bob was a logical choice to make the arrangements, but it took six weeks and twice that many attempts to get us all together.

Still, I think we would all say it was worth it.

After dinner we divided into small groups where we were challenged to tell our life stories in five minutes or less. I was amazed, as always, by the way those stories make us human and help us discover how much we have in common. In twenty minutes’ time, at my table, strangers became friends, or at least became a lot more friendly. It turns out that each of us had suffered some hardship, had some disappointments, taken some chances, had some successes.

Life is like that, and it’s like that no matter what color you are.

It was good to be reminded of that on Tuesday night. As we were leaving the private dining room I asked Rodney Waller to let me know how I could pray for him and he said, “All right, and you do the same.” “Well,” I said, “You could pray for my dad. He’s in hospice, and he seems to be getting pretty close to the end.” “Let me do that right now,” Rodney said, and then he asked for everyone to join him and—right there at Golden Corral—he prayed for my dad.

See, those early believers didn’t only break bread together. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

May it be so here…and now.

Prayer Walking with the Police

2013-10-08 16.13.35Yesterday I went on a community walk with the Richmond Police Department in Whitcomb Court, one of the housing projects in the East End. This is part of an ongoing partnership between the police department and the city’s faith leaders.

I was accompanied by a police officer and the associate pastor of a sister church, Rev. Sharon, who had done this before. She knocked on the first door boldly, and when nobody answered the police officer knocked again. Someone inside said, “Who is it?” and he said, “Police!” By the time this woman got to the door, pulling on her clothes and adjusting her wig, she was terrified. She had been taking a nap and had no idea what was going on.

We tried to calm her down. We told her we were just there to ask people how they were doing and if they felt safe in their neighborhood. I said, “The police are smart enough to know they can’t do this job alone, and so they’ve recruited members of the faith community to help out. They provide the presence and we provide the prayers.”

That comforted her some, but you could tell her heart was still pounding, and that she might have been glad if the police and the faith leaders had simply left her alone. Rev. Sharon offered to pray for her and she nodded her head, and then Rev. Sharon said a prayer for her, her family, her home, and her future.

By the time we left I think she was feeling better.

We must have knocked on a dozen different doors yesterday, and behind almost every one was a mother who was concerned for her children. One woman told us she had a son, 27, who was “out there” day after day, doing who knows what. She was terrified that one day he would be shot and killed. We prayed for her as well, and specifically for her son.

Another woman had grown up in St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, but then moved to Miami and eventually to Richmond. A beautiful little girl peeked out shyly from behind her legs and another one, the baby, was upstairs taking a nap. We prayed for that mother and those children as well.

Nobody turned us away, and everyone allowed us to pray. It seems that everyone has something to pray about, and these people had more than most. I prayed that God’s love would fill up those apartments in Whitcomb Court and overflow onto the streets and sidewalks, that people would be able to feel it wherever they went, to breathe it in, to live it out.

As we were leaving a school bus turned into the neighborhood and began to drop children off. Some of them came running toward us, curious about who we were and what we were doing. We invited them to join us in our closing circle and just before we prayed one little boy looked up at me and said, “Do I close my eyes now?” “Yes,” I said.  And he did.

At least, I think he did.  I had my eyes closed, too.

We said one more heartfelt prayer for Whitcomb Court and then began to head to our cars to drive home, most of us to comfortable homes far away from the East End. Ray Tarasovic, the Police Chief, stopped to talk with some of the boys before he left and I asked if he would let me take a picture. That’s the one at the top of this post.

Take a good look at it before you move on, click on it so you can see the faces more clearly, and then say a prayer for those boys. Pray that they would grow up into strong, smart, handsome men who never have a reason be afraid of the police, and never miss an opportunity to pray for the peace of their neighborhood. And then say a prayer for Chief Tarasovic.

He’s got a big job.

There was another shooting in Whitcomb Court last week, and all over that neighborhood, mothers held their children a little tighter.

KOH2RVA: Day 108

This video has it all for Christmas: snow, joy, children, surprise, and a song of praise to Jesus, whose birthday it is. And in a time when so many of us have been grieving the deaths of 20 schoolchildren in Connecticut, it’s especially reassuring to see the life and joy in these schoolchildren from a tiny town in Alaska.

You may have seen it before, but it’s one of my favorite YouTube videos.  I could watch it over and over again (and probably will).  And on this year-long, every-member mission trip, it’s a great example of how a few people can bring heaven to earth, not only in their own small town, but all over the world.

May the joy of Christmas be yours today, as we celebrate the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Hallelujah!

KOH2RVA: Day 101

hugYesterday—Day 100 of KOH2RVA—we had at least 100 guests at the Ralph Anderson Memorial Christmas Breakfast for the Homeless in the dining hall at First Baptist Church, and that’s not counting Santa Claus.

I remember Ralph.  I used to see him in Community Missions on Wednesday mornings, taking down the names of our homeless guests and helping them check their bags so they could get a shower.  He loved that job.  He loved those people.  Shortly before he died he established a small endowment that would produce enough income to put on one big breakfast a year and yesterday that’s what we had—one big breakfast.

I watched as our guests filed into the room past a uniformed police officer and took their places at the tables.  They seemed eager, excited, their eyes shining in a way I rarely see on those other, ordinary days.

When it was time for the blessing I took the microphone and said, “Before I pray, let me say a personal word of welcome.  I’m really glad that you’re here.  And I want you to know that these volunteers who have come to serve you breakfast this morning have come because they love you.  They don’t refer to you as ‘clients’: they call you ‘neighbors,’ and ‘family,’ and ‘friends.’”

And then I prayed, saying something like, “Lord Jesus, you didn’t have a house.  You said so yourself.  You said, ‘Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’  But if you did have a house I believe you would want to throw open the doors to these, your brothers and sisters.  And on a day like today I believe you would want to serve them breakfast.  And so, we’re going to do that for you, and we ask you to bless it, and them, and us, in your name.  Amen.”

And then the breakfast began, and it was wonderful.

I sat at a table and talked and laughed with the men who were there.  But eventually the talk came around to what happened in Connecticut last Friday, that terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The shock and disgust registered on their faces.  One of them said, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”

It seemed ironic; I had just heard that a mother had decided not to bring her children to our weekday school that morning because “all those homeless people” were milling around outside the doors, waiting for breakfast.  She was nervous after what happened in Connecticut last week.  A lot of parents were.  And even though she is thankful we have a ministry to the homeless she just couldn’t bring herself to drop off her children while they were there.

I wish she could have seen the look on this man’s face as he said, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”

Someday, when heaven comes to earth, that man and her children will be best friends.  They will get out of the car at school and come running across the parking lot, giggling, and calling his name.  And he will scoop them up in his arms with a big smile, and carry them to their classrooms like a guardian angel, looking back only long enough to reassure their mother as she waves and blows kisses.

Until that day comes, we’ve got work to do.