Posted in Church, KOH2RVA, The Missional Church, tagged affluent, Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, book buddies, books, bus, David Powerd, educated, First Baptist Church, love, Mary Hiteman, Melissa Brooks, mission, pictures, poor, preschool, reading, rich, Richmond, school, sixth-graders, stories, The East End, the Fan, uneducated, Weekday Early Education on February 2, 2013 |
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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.
Photo by Melissa Brooks
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Posted in Church, Community, The Missional Church, tagged First Baptist Church, Fox Elementary School, Great Commission, Love your neighbor, Nepal, refugees, Richmond, the Fan on August 15, 2009 |
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The staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church has been on an in-town mission trip this week, doing our part to see that God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done “in Richmond as it is in Heaven.” One of the ways we have approached that mission is by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:39), and that’s why on Thursday most of the staff spent most of the day scrubbing down the walls and floors of Fox Elementary School right here in the Fan. I had a previous commitment that day and wasn’t able to participate, but the staff let me know (over and over again) that I had missed the hardest work day of the week. It didn’t go without notice, however. The two custodians at Fox Elementary were extremely grateful, and acknowledged that there was no way they would have been ready for opening day without the help of First Baptist Church. I hope that story will get around, and secure our reputation as “a good neighbor in a great neighborhood.”
I was back on Friday. That’s when we went out to Colonial Apartments to visit with the refugees. Jenny Minor (financial secretary) and I went together to visit a refugee from Nepal named Som and his sister Tulasa. Som was an English teacher in Nepal and carried the conversation effortlessly, telling us about his adjustment to the American way of life. It hasn’t been easy. He spends nearly two hours each day riding the bus to his job at a fast food restaurant where he works five hours and then turns around to come home. His sister Tulasa has not been able to find a job (even though she’s really good with children), and so the few dollars he earns are all they have in a household that also includes his mother. She came in near the end of our visit and sat silently in a chair in the corner. Tulasa sat on the daybed in the living room throughout our visit, smiling shyly and getting up only once to offer us sliced apples and glasses of soda. Som is worried that if she doesn’t find a job soon they will lose their apartment. Still, he is hopeful. “I have big dreams,” he said, smiling as if he were letting us in on a secret. “I want to be a filmmaker some day.”
Before leaving I asked for permission to say a prayer. I explained that Jenny and I were Christians, that we believed in God and believed that God had power to do things we couldn’t do. “Do you mind,” I said, “if we ask God to help you and your family?” No, Som said. He didn’t mind at all. And so I said a prayer that included every member of the family, asking God to bless them with life and health and work, and when I finished they all seemed grateful.
Jesus told his followers to go into all the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). It’s one of the ways we are trying to bring heaven to earth at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. But how wonderful it is when the world comes to us, when we can sit in an apartment less than five miles from Monument and the Boulevard and make friends with people from Nepal, when we can offer prayers for them and ask God to bless them in every way.
I missed the work day on Thursday and I’m sorry about that. I would have loved to help out at Fox Elementary School. But on Friday at Colonial Apartments I was doing some Great Commission work, and that’s why, for me,
It was the best day of the trip.
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(Excerpted from a recent sermon with the same title)
Jesus once told his disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me” (Matt. 10:40), as if it might actually happen, as if those disciples who go out to spread the good news of a coming kingdom might actually be welcomed by some.
It happened to me not long ago.
I walked over to “my” block here in the neighborhood, the one I’ve been trying to get to know and love. I walked around the corner and saw a woman reclining on a wicker sofa on her front porch, reading a novel. I started to walk by but then I stopped and said “Hey!” in a friendly way and scared her half to death. She sat bolt upright, dropped her book, fumbled with her glasses. When she recovered we began to talk and eventually she invited me to come up and sit on the porch for a while. We talked for half an hour and by the time I stood up to leave we were old friends.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus says, and I thought about this woman. I was walking around her block only because I thought it was the kind of thing he would want me to do, and I said hello to her because I thought he probably would, if he were walking by. So although it was just me and not Jesus, when she invited me up on her porch it was as if she were inviting Jesus to come up and sit for a while. She didn’t have to do it. She could have told me to go away. In fact, I was fully prepared for that. In Luke chapter 10 Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever rejects you rejects me.” In other words, “Don’t take it personally.” So I was ready. If she had told me to go away I would have moved on down the sidewalk muttering, “Fine, then! Be that way! But it’s not me you’re rejecting: it’s Jesus.” Instead she welcomed me, and I had to resist the temptation to take it personally. It would be easy to think she invited me up on the porch just because I’m so friendly and affable.
“Nope,” Jesus says. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” If Jesus is right (and I have a feeling he is), it wasn’t me this woman welcomed on her porch. It wasn’t even Jesus. It was God himself she welcomed. And if I’m right about this (and let’s hope that I am), she welcomed him because God knows how difficult every human life is, and how much sin and death and sorrow each one of us has to face. That’s why the Bible deals with those difficult problems and shows us the solution. That’s why God sent his only son into a world desperate for salvation. And that’s why his only son sends us to startle people on their front porches and strike up conversations. Because he loves those people, and he wants them to know it. So, if this woman should show up in church someday because I stopped by her house, and if she should hear the Bible speak to the very situation in which she finds herself, and if she should end up worshiping God with tears of joy streaming down her cheeks, I won’t be able to take it personally. Because it won’t be me she’s welcoming into her life:
It will be Him.
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