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Posts Tagged ‘mission’

Partners

Inez Cocke was already at church when I arrived yesterday morning (Inez is one of our most faithful volunteers.  She had probably been there for hours.  I often suspect she actually lives at church and has a cot somewhere in the basement).  But I walked in and said hello and after some friendly banter she asked, “What are you going to do now that your mission trip is over?”

Wow.

I hadn’t really thought about it like that.  I knew that we had come to the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip called KOH2RVA, but in my mind the mission was still going on, only in a different way.  Instead of trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, by ourselves we were going to start working with other churches, individuals, agencies, and organizations in a mission called “Kingdom of Heaven Times Two,” or, as I like to say it, “KOHX2: Bringing It Together.”

I gave Inez an example: I told her that some of our deacons have been working to renew our friendship with First African Baptist Church in the hope that we might work together to do something remarkable in Richmond, to show this city what true reconciliation looks like.

She seemed pleased by that.

“There’s always something going on around here,” she said, smiling, as if she knew that she would still have work to do when she showed up the next morning, as if she knew that our mission—God’s mission, really—won’t be over until his kingdom comes, and his will is done in Richmond as it is in heaven.

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Richmond SunriseWe celebrated KOH2RVA yesterday at Richmond’s First Baptist Church—the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip—and we did it in style. The RVA United band started things off in our gym as people gathered, I offered a welcome, and then they played a few songs in a gentle, acoustic style that was perfect for that time of day. We showed videos of how the church had worked to bring the kingdom of heaven to Richmond, Virginia, this year, and heard testimonies of gratitude from Mike Maruca (head of the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School) and Kimberly Lee (Principal of Glen Lea Elementary, a Richmond public school). Steve Blanchard talked about the work that’s been done at Essex Village, one of the largest housing projects in our city, and we wrapped things up with a slide show of images accompanied by a song about how heaven is coming down to this world.

In the worship service I shared my vision of how this mission can go forward through partnerships with other people, churches, agencies, and institutions. I suggested the name KOHX2 (that is, “Kingdom of Heaven Times Two”), and had some of our youth spell it out with giant cardboard letters so everybody could see it and remember it. And then I said this:

KOH times 2. Think about that with me for a minute.

In the past year I’ve been trying to post something on my blog almost every day as a way of sharing the stories of our members who have been busy bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and inspiring the ones who hadn’t yet found their way. But can I tell you something? Blogging every day is harder than it looks! You have to think of something to write, you have to write it, you have to edit it, you have to find a picture to go with it, you have to publish it, and then you have to promote it on Facebook (at least I do). It often takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half just to get something up there, even something that’s not very good. And so I’ve decided to start a new blog called KOH2RVA and invite other people to contribute to it. I’m hoping that anyone who is bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, would be inspired to write up a few paragraphs, attach a picture, and send it to me so I can post it on the new blog. And then, sometime in the spring and perhaps again in the fall I’m going to invite all those people to a city-wide conference called KOH2RVA right here at First Baptist, and we’re going to see what we can do to start a missions collaborative that will make a visible impact on our city.

And then I said, “That’s what I’m going to do to go forward with this mission. What about you?” Before the day was over I’d heard from Melissa Ansley Brooks, who shared with me her own vision of how to go forward. Grateful for her partnership in this mission, I posted her email on the new blog. You can find it by clicking HERE.

Every ending is a beginning, friends. Our year-long, every-member mission trip has come to an end, but our year-long, find-a-partner mission trip is just beginning. I hope you will find a partner and join us on KOHX2.

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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.

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breathing2A few years ago I told someone that if I were writing a manual for new members at Richmond’s First Baptist Church I would want to stamp one word on the cover: SENT! Because now, more than ever, I believe that’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What is the first word of the Great Commission? (Matthew 28:19-20): “Go.” What does Jesus tell his disciples in that upper room in John’s Gospel? (20:21): “As the father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” What does he say to his followers just before his ascension in the Book of Acts? (1:8): “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” I call these the “Three Great Commissions,” and in each of them Jesus makes it clear that disciples are not supposed to sit around singing Kum-ba-yah: they’re supposed to go.

But I also believe they are supposed to come.

I was reminded of that again in worship yesterday. Kaky Minter and Rob Reinstein shared testimonies of how the church had ministered to them in times of illness and grief. Later in the afternoon someone told me how much the fellowship of the church means to her, and how it’s just not the same to watch the webcast on her iPad. Last week Clint Smith, the vice-chair of the deacons, acknowledged that while people don’t seem to come to church like they used to in America, they will always be attracted to other people, and “love is the most powerful force in the universe.”

So, here’s Jesus, telling us to go out into the world, and here we are, coming back to the church. I’ve been trying to think of it not so much as a tension between going and coming, but rather a rhythm of going and coming, like breathing. You can’t live very long if you only breathe in, but you can’t live very long if you only breathe out.

It takes both to keep the body healthy.

In the same way, keeping the body of Christ healthy seems to depend on coming together for worship, study, nurture, fellowship, encouragement, healing, and then going out again to do the things Jesus told his disciples to do. Yesterday we came to church. For the rest of the week we will be on the mission field. If we do it right we will need to come back to church at the end of the week, for all those things listed above. And if we do church right, it will send us back onto the mission field, re-energized and ready to serve.

It’s not so hard, is it? Just breathe in.

And then breathe out.

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Alma SnowaI love Alma Snowa.

Alma was one of the first women to be elected as a deacon at First Baptist Church back in 1976, along with Ginny Sanders and Betty Allen (pictured at right). I hope you will read the whole story when you get a chance, because it’s fascinating, but it’s not what I want to talk about this morning.

I want to talk about Alma.

Alma lives at Lakewood Manor, a Baptist retirement community in Richmond’s west end. When I came to First Baptist five years ago, I heard that we had sixty-two members who lived at Lakewood Manor. Alma was one of those, and one I have come to know well since then. It’s Alma who makes arrangements for the annual “Lakewood Luncheon,” when the church staff is invited to come out and have lunch with our members who live there. That gives her a good reason to be in touch with me: to ask about available dates early on and later to firm up the details. But one of the things I love about Alma is that she doesn’t need a good reason to be in touch with me. Sometimes she just writes to tell me what’s on her mind or in her heart.

She did that last week.

She wanted to talk to me about KOH2RVA and her participation in it. Before I share her email with you I probably need to tell you that Alma’s physical ability has become increasingly limited in the time that I’ve known her. If anybody had an excuse not to “get off the bus and onto the mission field” Alma had one. She might have written to tell me that, but she didn’t. She wrote to tell me this:

Dear Jim:

It is hard to realize that the year long bus trip is almost over, however, the things accomplished will be lasting. Sometime I wonder if I ever got off the bus or if I have spent the entire year sitting on the back seat praying. My physical participation is limited, but it has been a very meaningful experience. I have spent so much more time in prayer for others, I have prayer walked our halls and one of my efforts has been to seek out persons who just needed someone to talk with.

Thanks for letting us all share the experience.

Love and prayers to my pastor,

Alma

The thought of Alma sitting on the back of the mission bus, praying, moved me almost to tears. It reminded me that you don’t have to be physically active to help bring in the Kingdom: you can be spiritually active. In my devotional reading for this morning were these words from Harry Emerson Fosdick: “Some things never without thinking; some things never without working; some things never without praying! Prayer is one of the three forms of man’s cooperation with God.” What Harry was saying in his wonderful old-fashioned way is that you don’t bring in the Kingdom only by thinking about it and working for it, you also have to pray for it.

Maybe that’s what Alma and a host of other saints are teaching us: that when your hands can no longer hold a hammer they can still be folded in prayer.

Thanks, Alma.

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xy axisI came home from Preacher Camp a day early, just so I could participate in yesterday’s five-hour attempt to bring some healing to the fractured Richmond Baptist Association. I did it because I care about the Association. I want it to succeed.

At one point Bill Wilson, President of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, asked us to create an X/Y axis of identity and mission and come up with some clever nicknames for the resulting quadrants (I know; I had a hard time picturing it, too). But eventually someone at our table drew a bold, vertical line down the center of a sheet of newsprint and wrote “Clear understanding of mission” at the top and “No understanding of mission” at the bottom. And then she drew a bold, horizontal line and wrote “No sense of identity” on the left and “Clear sense of identity” on the right.

And then we came up with clever nicknames.

We decided those in the bottom left quadrant were those who didn’t know who they were or what they were doing. We called them “The Clueless.” In the upper left quadrant were those who didn’t know who they were, but knew what they were doing. We called them “The Busy.” In the upper right quadrant were those who knew who they were and what they were doing. We called them “The Focused.” And in the bottom right quadrant were those who knew who they were but didn’t know what they were doing. We called them “The Feel-Good.”

The more we talked about those four quadrants the more obvious it became that the upper right quadrant was the place to be: that a clear sense of identity and a clear understanding of mission were essential to organizational health.

I couldn’t help but think of Richmond’s First Baptist Church in that moment. Who are we? Followers of Jesus. What are we doing? Working with him to bring heaven to earth. Currently, we are working with him on this year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. It couldn’t be much more clear than that, or more compelling.

One of the people at my table said, “That’s what we need: a mission so clear, so compelling, that it moves us from one quadrant to the other.” I think that’s true for every organization. We don’t want to be people who don’t know who they are or what they are doing. We want to be those who know exactly who they are, and exactly what they’re doing. That’s when things get done.

That’s when the Kingdom comes.

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soccer campI didn’t blog yesterday, but it’s not because I didn’t want to: it’s because I forgot.

I got up at five o’ clock for a day that didn’t end until ten, with less than an hour in the afternoon to come home and change clothes. I’m not complaining. It was a wonderful day. But I am explaining how Richmond’s premiere KOH2RVA blogger might have forgotten to bring you up to date on the mission.

So, where were we?

Yesterday we were at Day 329. Today we are at Day 330. Which means that in just over a month this year-long, every-member mission trip will have come to its end. What I learned at church yesterday is that there are things going on I didn’t even know about and there are members who are still looking for a way to get off the bus.

For example: I didn’t know that Buddy Burgess, who heads up the ministry of recreation at First Baptist, had conducted a week-long soccer camp at Essex Village in which 25 children had participated. I must have been on vacation that week. But I heard Ralph Starling mention it during worship yesterday and when I closed my eyes I could almost see those children laughing and learning as Buddy worked with them patiently and came back to do it again every day that week. If he had done it in Sri Lanka it might have been on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but he did it at Essex Village—one of the most neglected neighborhoods in our city—and because he did not many people knew about it. Even his pastor found out after the fact. But those 25 children will never forget it and for them, I’m sure, heaven came a little closer to earth.

I also overheard someone whispering about a church member who hasn’t found her way to “get off the bus” yet, by which I mean she hasn’t found a way to participate in this year-long, every-member mission trip (emphasis on every). That didn’t surprise me; what surprised me was the expectation that she would, as if it were simply understood that that’s what you do at Richmond’s First Baptist Church—you get off the bus! The person who was whispering to her friend wasn’t doing it in a gossipy way; they were putting their heads together, wondering what they could do to help this woman before it’s too late, before this mission trip comes to an end and everybody else gets back on the bus—tired and happy—only to find their friend hiding in the back.

To learn that good things have been going on while you were away, and that a culture has been created in which everyone is expected to be on mission, well…that makes a pastor’s heart sing, even at the end of a very long day.

Today is a new day.  It’s day 330.

What will you do to bring heaven to earth?

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