KOH2RVA: Day 360

calendarThis is when I begin to wonder if I’ve been counting correctly…

If today—Wednesday—is Day 360 of KOH2RVA, then Thursday will be Day 361, Friday will be Day 362, Saturday will be Day 363, and Sunday will be…Day 364.

That doesn’t seem right.

We’re planning to celebrate the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip on Sunday. We’ve already made all the plans. The RVA United band is going to be in the gym at 9:30 that morning. We’re going to hear testimonies from our friends at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, Glen Lea Elementary, and Essex Village Apartments. We’re going to watch some of the KOH2RVA videos and wind things up with a kaleidoscope of images from our mission trip set to a song about “heaven coming down to the earth.”

Do I need to reschedule all that for Monday, Day 365?

And then I remember: we started KOH2RVA on Sunday, September 9, 2012, and this Sunday—while it is the second Sunday in September—is September 8, 2013, a day short of the full 365 but close enough to call.

I’m calling it. And I’m calling it good.

In the past few days I’ve had a number of letters, calls, and emails from people wanting to reassure me that they had actually gotten “off the bus and onto the mission field” during the year. You read Chloe Buchanan’s moving testimony on Day 354. Pratt Stelly’s story (and funny video) was published on Day 355. On Monday I learned that someone who has been looking for a way to get off the bus all year went over to Glen Lea Elementary and participated in the “Sidewalk Chalk of Love” event. And then yesterday I got a letter from Elmer and Betsy West with an end-of-the-year report on their mission endeavors that moved me nearly to tears. Elmer and Betsy are having a hard time getting to church these days, but that’s not keeping them from being on mission right there at Imperial Plaza where they live.

I may get more cards, letters, and emails today. I may find that everybody comes to church on Sunday ready to celebrate KOH2RVA with their own stories of participation. While I believe that many more of our members than usual have been on mission this year, I may find—to my amazement—that every member has been involved in one way or another.

And I may find that the Kingdom of heaven has come closer to Richmond, Virginia, than any of us could have imagined.

KOH2RVA: Day 354

ChloeAfter worship on Sunday Chloe Buchanan approached me shyly and asked if she could be one of my guest bloggers. Chloe is in the youth group at First Baptist Church. She said she was writing something about what KOH2RVA had meant to her and wondered if I would be interested in publishing it on my blog. “Absolutely!” I said, and encouraged her to send it to me as soon as possible.

She sent it the next day, but because of the backlog in my email inbox I didn’t find it until yesterday. But it’s all for the best. Today is my day off and I’m driving to West Virginia to see my parents. I didn’t really have time to blog. So, a huge thank you to Chloe for wanting to put into words what this year-long, every-member mission trip has meant to her, and for doing it so beautifully.

Here are her thoughts:

Before our church’s year long mission trip, KOH2RVA, started I just went on doing my daily routine without any thought about what God’s purpose was for me. For kids, well young adults my age we’re mostly focused on school, friends, and for some their first job. We go to church on Sundays, Wednesday nights, and might even volunteer on Saturday, but that’s where church stops. At my age there are so many distractions we face on a daily basis. I faced the struggle to make my time with The Lord everyday, and honestly it wasn’t on the top of my to-do list.

Since KOH2RVA started I have taken the extra effort to search for what God is trying to show me everyday. Whether it be how the sun shines through the clouds or that the checkout lady needs her day brightened up. I have also taken more time to just be still, reflect, and to know that The Lord is almighty. I have found that if you can make that extra few seconds to either reflect or pray for someone it can change not just your day but others as well.

One of my biggest focuses this year has been my walk with The Lord and how I can help others. My youth group has brought both of those together throughout the year. One of those moments happened while on a mission trip in Nickelsville Virginia. During the week we helped children, elders, and the less fortunate. I had already felt blessed for all that God had shown me through out the week but I was not expecting this. We were at a function called Nickelsville Days, there I met a women who proceeded in thanking me and blessing our youth group for what we have done and asked to pray with me. There, it hit me, just because we are a group of teenagers we have the power to make an impact on an entire town.

Now, there isn’t a day that goes by that God’s love and power isn’t present in some way. Even if you don’t have the gift of traveling elsewhere to do God’s work, you can do it here at home in Richmond. You can be any age, 1 or 101, if you take that extra few seconds, you’ll have the power to change not just your life but someone else’s life too.

Chloe Buchanan is a student at Atlee High School, a member of First Baptist Church, and the great granddaughter of legendary pastor Theodore F. Adams.  Her mother, Julie Adams-Buchanan, recently contributed to this blog.

KOH2RVA: Day 155

KalenaYesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

I left my house at 8:00 to walk the four-and-a-half blocks to “Mission Central” (that’s what Billy Burford, our administrator, calls the church campus at the corner of Monument and the Boulevard. I like it). I got there in time to meet with our worship leaders and clip on my wireless microphone before the service began at 8:30. It was Commitment Sunday, and at the end of the service people streamed forward to lay their pledge cards, tithes, and offerings on the altar. And Cari DuVal told me that yes, she thought she would like to become a full member of First Baptist.

That’s another story altogether, but a good one. Cari grew up in another denomination. She’s been one of our most committed Watchcare members for years now. The recent change in our membership policy allows her to join without being re-baptized but she told me yesterday she would like to be immersed in the swimming pool in Helena, Arkansas, where she has been participating in an annual mission trip for the last several years. The catch? I have to come do it.

I’m checking my calendar.

Between our two morning worship services Dot Smith brought me coffee and a plate full of treats to keep me going. She does it every Sunday, but yesterday it was especially appreciated. The day was just getting started.

The third-grade Sunday school class knocked on my door around 10:15. They were on a prayer walk, and wanted to pray for me. How sweet!

The 11:00 service followed the same order as the 8:30, but the two services are never the same. At the end of the second service people streamed forward again with pledge cards, tithes, and offerings, but this time Rob and Katie Courain told me they were ready to join the church.

Rob and Katie are the young couple who head up the powerful city-wide worship celebration called RVA United, and it felt like a great compliment to First Baptist that they would choose to join a church that doesn’t worship with drums and guitars (usually), but instead sings hymns out of a book (gasp!). There must be something good going on at First Baptist. Rob and Katie say it’s our mission, that they, too, are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

After worship I went to a three-hour meeting of the Ministry Planning Team, where we worked on a mission, vision, and values statement for First Baptist Church. It’s hard work, but good work. We spent a lot of time talking about who we are, what we’re trying to do, and the challenges we face as we do it. We didn’t finish our statement, but we came a lot closer.

My next meeting was with the Communication Team, thirty minutes later. They wanted to hear my thoughts as we anticipate David Powers’ retirement in September. David has been doing this job nearly twenty years. He is the driving force behind our television broadcast, our webcast, our website, our in-house publications, and our printed pieces. It’s hard to imagine the post-Powers era, but we did. We spent a full hour talking about the ways technology is changing and how it impacts communication. Jim Norvelle told us how he tuned into our webcast from the west coast last week (at 5:30 Pacific Time), watching the service on his iPhone even before he got out of bed. What will it be like five years from now, ten, fifteen?

From there I went to the Prayers for Healing service in the chapel, and spent a little more than an hour in that candlelit room praying, singing, listening to Bev Carroll talk about the work of spiritual rehabilitation, lighting a candle for my dad, praying with those who requested it, serving communion, and offering the benediction. It was a solemn, holy experience, followed almost immediately by…

Crazy dancing in the youth suite!

I had been invited to drop by for Kalena Porter’s surprise birthday party and when I got up to the third floor I found the youth line dancing. I watched as long as I could stand it and then just jumped in, much to their delight (there is nothing quite so funny, apparently, as seeing the senior pastor dance). Just before Kalena arrived we turned out the lights and waited to yell, “Surprise!” I think Kalena was surprised. The picture above was taken seconds afterward, as she was being rolled down the pink carpet created by Chloe Buchanan (at left in the photo).

Kalena has a terminal illness. She’s not going to be in our youth group much longer. But last night the youth poured out all the love they could on her and she was able to receive it gratefully. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Yesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I didn’t get home until 7:00. But this morning I find myself savoring almost every detail of a day that was filled with worship, work, and witness.

A day when heaven came to earth.