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Posts Tagged ‘books’

Christy TutoringToday is my day off, and I’m going to the mountains to do some hiking. But not Christy, my wife. She’s going to Essex Village to work with some children who are struggling to read.

She is such a missionary.

She was working with Mubarak, Muhammad, and Than on Monday, reading a book about elephants, when Muhammad announced that he didn’t like elephants. That seemed a little random. I mean, who doesn’t like elephants? But Muhammad is from Africa. He’s had more experience with elephants than most people.

“An elephant killed my grandfather,” he explained.

There was a moment of shocked silence, but just a moment, and then Christy said, “Well, let’s read a book about butterflies then!”

Who would have guessed that in her efforts to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, Christy would end up working with children named Muhammad, Mubarak, and Than, or that one of them would not like elephants—with good reason? These days more than ever it seems you don’t have to go to faraway places to be a missionary.

You can be one right here at home.

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I hope you will take five minutes to turn up the volume on your computer, click on the image above, zoom to full screen, and sit back to watch this remarkable video about a partnership between First Baptist Church, the Children’s Museum of Richmond, and Glen Lea Elementary School.

If this were the only thing we accomplished on our year-long, every-member mission trip, it would be enough.  But this is only one of the things.  There are dozens more, hundreds more, because every member of the church has been looking for a way to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

David Powers and his team of volunteers in our communications ministry made it their goal to produce one KOH2RVA video each week.  That’s how they wanted to “bring it.”  David confessed to me recently that their goal was a little too ambitious.  Making a video is a lot of work.  But I hope that as you watch this one you will appreciate all that it took to record it, edit it, and present it in a way that tells the story and also gives you that good, warm feeling inside.

I’ve gotten that feeling each time I’ve watched this video–four times this morning.  Now I’m going to publish this post, make some oatmeal, sit down to breakfast, and probably, just probably,

Watch it one more time.

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Today’s guest blogger is Lynn Turner, Senior Associate at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, who was at Glen Lea Elementary School yesterday for an event that definitely brought the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.  Thanks, Lynn, for writing, and thanks Janet Chase, for the pictures!

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LOVE TO READ

SONY DSCIt began with a need….450 plus students at Glen Lea Elementary School who did not have books of their own so they could practice their reading at home. This need soon caught the heart and passion of Raylene Harton and Theresa Norton from Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and Schuyler Davis at the Children’s Museum of Richmond. Before you knew it another KOH2RVA initiative was born.

SONY DSCWe settled on a theme—“Love to Read”—and picked a date—Valentines Day—as a way of encouraging kids to read. Kimberly Lee, the principal of Glen Lea, loved the idea! Contests were announced to all the students that the top three classes that met their reading goals within a six-week period would earn a pizza party with “Seymour the Dinosaur” (the Children’s Museum mascot), sponsored by the museum and First Baptist Church.

Glean Lea 4The word went out to our congregation, “We need books! Lots of books!” and the books poured in. By the end of the drive we had enough to put a book in the hands of every student at the school, extra books to give to the teachers in each grade, and several bins of used books to start a library at Essex Village Apartments.

Wow!

SONY DSCOn Valentines Day, we headed to Glen Lea for our party with the top three classes. You should have heard the screams of delight as the principal announced over the intercom who the winning classes were! They came pouring out of their classrooms to the cafeteria to enjoy games, eat pizza, hug Seymour, and show off their brand new books! Thank you First Baptist Church for putting smiles on every child’s face at Glen Lea Elementary School today with books they could call their own and take home!

Best Valentine’s Day Ever!

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ChildrensBooksCollageA couple of weeks ago I bumped into Emma El-Khouri in the hallway at church. Emma is how old: Five? Six? Anyway, she’s an adorable first grader, and I squatted down to talk to her about the Bible I would be giving her during the Sunday morning service. This is something we do at First Baptist: we give first graders a Bible, and Emma was looking forward to getting hers. She assured me that she could already read.

“Well, then,” I said, “this is what I want you to do: take your new Bible home, read it, and then next Sunday you can come back and tell me how you liked it.” She nodded and smiled as if she had already planned to do that (and, honestly, she probably could; that girl is whip-smart).

“I have a whole shelf full of books at home,” she said.

And that made me think of something else.

I had read something just the day before about children who don’t have any books at home—not even one. Can you imagine how deprived you would be if you never got to enter the magical world of story through the pages of a book?  It’s a big part of the reason First Baptist is sponsoring a book drive. On Valentine’s Day we hope to present every child at Glen Lea Elementary School with a book of their own.

And so I asked Emma if she would like to help.

“There are some children in our city who don’t have any books,” I said. “Do you think you could go home and find one on your shelf that you could give away?” She nodded again. “And,” I added, “do you think you could pick one of your favorite books, one that somebody would really like and not just one you want to get rid of?” She nodded again, a little more slowly this time.

This was going to cost her something.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if Emma went home and did exactly that. I think lots of people did that, because last Wednesday night at church I was almost run over by two shopping carts full of books being pushed down the hall by some of our youth.

“Wow!” I said. “Are all those for the book drive?”

“Yes,” they said. “And this is just the first load!”

It seems like a little thing: to put a book in the hands of a child who has never owned one. But the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, Jesus said. It’s a small thing that grows and grows. Who knows how Emma’s small act of kindness may change a life, how the little girl who gets her beloved book may come to treasure words and language and the One in whose name the book was given, and grow up to be the poet laureate of Virginia, writing poems about mustard seeds that become trees where the birds of the air can build their nests?

Maybe this is exactly how the Kingdom comes.

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book buddies

Yesterday was a cold and windy day in Richmond, Virginia, but I had promised to drive a church bus to the East End and that’s what I did. There was a lot of play in the steering wheel, and when a gust of wind caught the side of the bus on an interstate bridge I had a hard time holding it in the road. But I did, and eventually made it to the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School where Melissa Brooks and I picked up a load of sixth graders and brought them back to First Baptist Church. The idea was that these sixth graders from a poor neighborhood would come and read books with preschoolers from a rich neighborhood.

And that’s what happened.

I can’t tell you how much I love this picture, not only because of the way the sunlight is coming through the window and falling on the floor, but because of the way this sixth-grade boy is reading to this preschool girl, and the way the book is helping them forget—for the moment at least—that they come from different worlds. They are in the world of the story, together, and it is a world of perfect equality.

When I asked our staff six months ago how we would measure the success of this year-long, every-member mission trip, David Powers said we would measure it with “pictures and stories.” Well, here’s a picture that spells success. And the story behind it is remarkable, too.

So often when I look at pictures of mission trips I see affluent, educated people helping people who are poor and uneducated. And that’s not a bad thing; to whom much is given, much is required. But I love the way Melissa Brooks and Mary Hiteman partnered to turn that around. Melissa lives on Church Hill and has been volunteering at the Anna Julia Cooper School, a school for students of limited resources primarily from Richmond’s East End neighborhood. Mary is the director of our preschool at First Baptist, which draws most of its students from the historic (and affluent) Fan District. “Why not get the two schools together?” they thought, and this was the result: a day of learning, laughing, reading, praying, dancing, storytelling, and baking enough gingerbread for everybody to take some home (it smelled so good on the bus back to the East End!)

Is KOH2RVA a success?

Well, yesterday it was. And I’ve got pictures and stories to prove it.

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Photo by Melissa Brooks

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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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Maybe it’s because I’m a lectionary preacher, but when I start to work on a sermon I start not with an idea or a theme, but with the Bible.  That’s what I did when I was getting ready to preach at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia recently.  The theme was “A time for extravagance” but the text was Luke 7:36-38, so instead of pulling from the files my sermon on John 12:1-8 (which was all about extravagance) I started fresh with the text from Luke 7.

I’m glad I did.  I learned things I would have never learned if I had simply preached that other sermon.  But one of the things I learned is that this story from Luke 7 is different from all the other stories in the Gospels about women anointing Jesus.  That story from John 12:1-8 for example is a story about Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointing Jesus’ feet with a pound of pure nard—a very precious perfume.  There’s a similar story in Mark 14:3-9 about a woman who comes to the home of Simon the leper, breaks open an alabaster jar of nard, and pours it on Jesus’ head (not his feet).  Matthew uses this same story in 26:6-13 with very little elaboration on Mark’s version.  Again it is an unnamed woman who pours “costly ointment” on Jesus’ head.

The stories in John, Mark, and Matthew are all stories about women anointing Jesus with costly perfume or ointment as a way of preparing his body for burial.  The story in Luke 7, however, is about a sinful woman who comes to Jesus while he is eating at the home of Simon the Pharisee (not the leper).  She bathes his feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, covers them with kisses, and massages them with ointment.  It is a scene of shocking intimacy.  There is no mention of expensive perfume, no reference to preparing Jesus’ body for burial.  This woman does what she does to express her gratitude for the forgiveness she has received from Jesus.  It is a completely different story, about a completely different woman.

But you wouldn’t have known that if you had been at the BGAV meeting.  Almost everyone who stepped to the pulpit to preach or offer an interpretation on the theme talked about this woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.  They tossed the details of these four stories together as if they were one, talking about how this woman named Mary, who was a sinner (probably a prostitute), poured out ointment or perfume or something expensive on Jesus’ feet (or maybe it was his head) and the fragrance filled the room. 

Did it?  And does it matter?

I think it does.  While the stories from Matthew, Mark, and John might be lumped together under a single heading—“A woman anoints Jesus with expensive perfume in preparation for his burial”—the story from Luke needs a different heading altogether, something like—“A sinful woman pours out her gratitude for the gift of forgiveness.”  The point of this story is different from the others.  The characters in the story are different.  The details don’t match up.  To treat it as if it were the same story as those others is to twist its meaning into a shape Luke would not recognize—it is to do violence to the text.

You can tell I feel strongly about this.  Maybe it’s because I’ve heard too much “biblical preaching” that isn’t biblical at all.  It doesn’t begin or end with the Bible.  It is simply some preacher cloaking his thoughts and opinions in bibical language or using one verse of the Bible as a springboard into a sermon that never touches on that verse again.  Maybe the next time you listen to a sermon you could ask yourself some questions: “Is it faithful to the text?” “Does it communicate what the biblical writer was trying to say?” “How much of it is simply the preacher’s own opinion?”  And if you’re writing a sermon, of course, take the responsibility seriously.  Take the Bible seriously.

Do your homework.

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