Every Ending is a Beginning

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.

KOH2RVA: Day 359

2013-09-02 10.59.19It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, and for many the first day of school. Parents all over the region are rousing their sleepy children, feeding them a healthy breakfast, helping them into stiff, brand-new, back-to-school clothes, and then getting them onto the bus or dropping them off at the front door of the school with a lump in their throats. Say a prayer for those parents and children (and for teachers and administrators) today.

Education isn’t easy.

But yesterday I saw a different kind of education going on. It didn’t look easy, but it did look like fun.

I was at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, participating in the “Sidewalk Chalk of Love” event (the concept is simple yet brilliant: show up at school on the day before it starts and write messages of encouragement on the sidewalk with chalk; it’s especially brilliant at those schools where children need a little extra encouragement, like the Cooper School or Glen Lea Elementary; some of our members showed up at both). There I was, trying to think of something encouraging to write, when Claudia Harris and her daughters, Morella and Isabella, showed up.

Claudia went to work immediately, sketching the outline of a gigantic unicorn, and then her girls went to work making it beautiful. Morella made a rainbow-colored horn and a rainbow-colored tail. Isabella thought it would be fun to chalk the bottoms of her feet and then fill in the outline with her purple footprints.

Apparently it was.

But I imagined the conversation that took place before all the fun began:

“Girls, we’re going over to the Anna Julia Cooper school to write encouraging messages on the sidewalk.”

Why?

“Because not every child is as lucky as you are. They don’t all have two loving parents who encourage them every day. They need a little extra boost.”

Oh. OK.

But think of the education those girls were getting yesterday. Even before the start of school they were learning that we (followers of Jesus) think of others and not only ourselves; that we try to help and encourage others, especially those who don’t usually get much help or encouragement; and that we are willing to make some sacrifices toward that end, even if it means taking an hour out of our own activities on the last day of summer vacation.

I said to Claudia, privately, “I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing for your girls,” and she said, “Oh, we love our church. There are so many great opportunities!”

That’s music to a pastor’s ears.

Claudia meant that there are great opportunities through First Baptist to educate her children, to teach them how to be generous, selfless, faithful followers of Jesus. But Claudia and her husband Noel are taking responsibility for much of that education. After all, we didn’t send a bus to her house yesterday; she brought the girls herself. She and Noel want them to learn how to do the work of the kingdom. They are grateful for all the good opportunities the church provides.  And me?  I’m grateful for them.

May their tribe increase.

KOH2RVA: Day 350

hotspot-one-sundayIt’s going to be a drop-dead gorgeous day in Richmond, Virginia, friends: a perfect day to throw back the covers, get out of bed, and come to church. Kaky Minter is going to share the story of her own miraculous healing today as a prelude to the Gospel lesson about a woman who was miraculously healed (Luke 13:10-17), and then Mary Eldredge, Ruth Szucs, and Margaret Wilson are going to sing “His Strength is Perfect.”

Heaven will come to earth.

Speaking of that, you may have noticed that we are on Day 350 of this year-long, every-member mission trip, which means that two weeks from now we will gather to celebrate all the ways the Kingdom of Heaven has come to Richmond, Virginia, in the past year.

We’re going to begin in the gym at 9:30, with music from the RVA United praise band, followed by a word of appreciation from the principal of Glen Lea Elementary School, a representative from Essex Village, and the head of the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. We’ll see some of the KOH2RVA videos that were produced by our communication ministry and finish off with a slide show of images accompanied by a song that says, “I don’t know but I’ve been told heaven is coming down to this world.”

At 11:00 we’ll gather in the sanctuary for one combined worship service followed by dinner on the grounds. In my sermon on that day I want to talk about what we’re going to do for an encore. I don’t want to give it away here, now, but I’m excited about sharing it with you then.

I hope you will make every effort to come.

KOH2RVA: Day 349

AJCES Melissa BrooksSomehow I got myself on the Mustard Seed mailing list, which means I get the e-mailed prayer requests of the Mustard Seed Sunday school class. It’s been a good way for me to keep up with the concerns of this large, vibrant class, and to pray along with them for the needs of their classmates, family, and friends. But on Monday I got this announcement from class member Mark Roane:

Good afternoon ‘Seeds,

As many of you know, our church has been helping out at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, located at 2124 N 29th Street in Richmond’s Church Hill Area. This coming Friday, August 23, 2013 a group will be doing some interior painting at the school from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. If anyone is interested in participating, please contact Chuck Dean.

Thanks

When I got that email I put it on my calendar to drop by the Cooper School on Friday to see how the work was going, but when I got to the office yesterday things were even more piled up than usual. I wasn’t able to get away. And then at 3:57 p.m. I got this email from Mike Maruca, Head of School.

Jim:

I’m going to recommend that Our Lord put your congregation in charge of housekeeping and hospitality in heaven.

A small group was over here today and what they did was really something else. A lot of seemingly small stuff that makes all the difference and makes us look good—in the best sense. My debt to [First Baptist Church] only grows.

Blessings,

Mike

I don’t know that any of the members of that “small group” were members of the Mustard Seed Sunday school class, but I wouldn’t be surprised, because this is how it often happens:

1. One person becomes aware of a need and lets others know about it.
2. One of more of those others is moved to do something about that need.
3. The need is met in a way that makes a difference in the lives of still others.

There are kids from the housing projects in the East End who will come to the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School on the first day of school not knowing that Mark Roane sent out an email to the Mustard Seed Class, not knowing that some of those “Seeds” responded, not knowing how much time they spent at the school or exactly what they did—knowing only that when they walk into that building they feel special, as if someone cares about them and their future, a feeling they may not have anywhere else.

Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Mustard Seeds. Thank you for the ways you allow yourselves to be used to make things on earth a little more like they are in heaven. We cannot know how far these simple acts of kindness will reach, but Jesus said the Kingdom is like a mustard seed:

It starts small and grows.

KOH2RVA: Day 300

tired_runnerThere’s something about a nice round number…

But what I think of when I see this number—300—is that there are only 65 days left in our year-long, every-member mission trip.

For some people that may inspire a surge of fresh commitment to the mission: “We don’t have much time left! Let’s do something great!” For others it may inspire a heavy sigh: “We’ve been on this mission trip for nearly 10 months. We’re exhausted!”

For me, it’s a little of both.

I think about some of those things I was hoping to do on this mission trip, like putting up a mailbox at church where our neighbors in the Fan could drop their prayer requests so we could pray for them on Wednesday nights. Like taking portraits of some of our homeless neighbors and turning them into big posters that could be plastered on walls downtown with the caption: “I’m not homeless: Richmond is my home.” Like working more closely with county and city governments, so that our efforts would be multiplied. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to all of those things.

On the other hand, I’m surprised and pleased by what we have been able to do. I didn’t know, for example, that we were going to form a partnership with the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. I didn’t know that our youth were going to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Nickelsville, Virginia. I didn’t know our fifth graders were going to go Christmas caroling at nursing homes. I didn’t know the second graders were going to raise money to buy a new pair of shoes for Cheryl.

There have been dozens of other things that have surprised and pleased me as I’ve watched this mission trip unfold, and those are the things that inspire me to keep going. I want to get to September 8th like the Apostle Paul, who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

I hope you will be able to say it with me.

KOH2RVA: Day 273

ajces-montage

After worship today I’ll be heading out for a week’s vacation. I’ll be back in time for church next Sunday, but between now and then I’m hoping to get some good, soul-restoring rest. So, I won’t be blogging this week, and I’ll have to depend on others to bring the KOH2RVA while I’m away. Joyce Clemmons, for example, who wrote up her experience of the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School Spring Bash for First Things First, our online magazine. Click the link below for her story, and when I get back from vacation I’ll tell you mine.

http://richmondsftf.wordpress.com/

See you soon.

KOH2RVA: Day 265

Maruca and ClemmonsOne of the surprises of our year-long, every-member mission trip has been a friendship and partnership with the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond’s East End. It started when Melissa Ansley Brooks, who lives in the neighborhood, chose the Cooper School as her KOH2RVA “project.” She began to volunteer at the school, and as she did she began to see the potential for a Kingdom-bringing partnership between the school and First Baptist Church. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and “infected” a number of people at First Baptist including Mary Hiteman, Director of Weekday Early Education, and Joyce Clemmons, leader of the church’s Generosity Team. It was Joyce’s idea to provide gifts and prizes for the school’s “Spring Bash” a few weeks ago, and to spoil the teachers with extravagant gift baskets during Teacher Appreciation Week. Here’s her report:

TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK AT AJCES

The Cooper School enjoyed a marvelous lunchtime experience on May 8th as ten teachers were presented with mementos of that special week set aside for teachers everywhere.

The lunchroom was a beehive of eating, talking, and speeches. Head of School Mike Maruca introduced visitors from First Baptist Church who presented lavish baskets overflowing with gifts for each of the ten teachers. Joyce Clemmons, Generosity Team leader, asked the students to join her in rousing applause for the role each teacher plays in their everyday lives. She encouraged the students to continue to pursue an education and set goals for the future. Those two things will assist each student in having a high school diploma, an opportunity to attend college, and a bright future ahead of them.

Teacher AppreciationRichie Hilbert’s Bible Study group was represented by Nell Coffman. A majority of that group generously donated items to fill the bright yellow, red, lime-green, and blue baskets. Generosity Team members Joyce Clemmons and Chuck Dean added their gifts. A colored picture of each teacher was attached to the gift.
Items included Flying Squirrels tickets, Car Pool car washes, McBucks from McDonalds, and gender specific items for the school desk and at home.

Thank you teachers at AJCES for all you do. Thank you Bible Study group for your generosity. Thank you Nell Coffman for the delightful framed plaque—”A Teacher’s ABCs”—which can be displayed on the teacher’s desk.

It was a fun lunch time and George, Sr. fed us well. Thank you, George!!

I don’t think the teachers at the Cooper School are always so generously appreciated. I think it was Joyce’s intention to overwhelm them with appreciation. I think she succeeded.

I’m grateful for the way heaven has come to earth through this partnership, and I want to thank Melissa, Mary, and Joyce, for the way they keep it coming.  Who would have guessed that a big Baptist church on Monument Avenue and a little Episcopal school in the East End would form such a beautiful friendship?

It sounds like something Jesus himself might have dreamed up.