Come Celebrate a Miracle

BrailleIn the post below, guest blogger Phil Mitchell, Associate Pastor of Christian Worship at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, tells the story of a real-life miracle, and invites us to come and celebrate it with him on April 27.  Read the story, save the date, and then come…celebrate a miracle.

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This year, we have been challenged by our pastor to partner with others in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, VA. The initiative is called “Kingdom of Heaven Times Two” (KOHx2), and it’s all about bringing heaven to earth through partnerships. Here is one way we are seeking to do just that:

Two years ago, our church procured the new Celebrating Grace Hymnal. It has turned out to be a wonderful worship resource for us, full of the old and the new, brimming with countless ways to express our faith. Our pew racks are full of them. They are within an arm’s length of everyone who has gathered for worship. All you have to do is open the book to see the rich possibilities for singing a “new song unto the Lord.”

Unless, of course, you are blind.

Lewis Myers asked me if we were going to provide Braille copies of the new hymnal for our blind members. Honestly, I had never thought about it. None of us had thought about it until Lewis wanted to know how members like Mark and Melody Roane were going to sing the hymns from the new hymnal. I spoke to the editor at Celebrating Grace who said he was sorry, but there were no plans to produce a Braille version.  “Well, then,” I thought.  “If no one will do it for us we will do it ourselves!”

But how do you do-it-yourself when it comes to a Braille hymnal?

Robbie Hott, a computer genius in our church designed a template to input all the texts into a database. Anyone, could go to the site and enter texts (using some basic guidelines) so we could build an electronic resource that would eventually become Braille.

We contacted Brian Barton at the Braille Circulating Library, just down the street from the church, and they volunteered to produce the Braille version for us, at no cost. We are almost to the final product. Two years of really hard work and scores of volunteer hours later, we are about to have the Braille edition of our new hymnal in our hands.

You can learn more about the fascinating process by viewing the video below.

So, here is a partner in our neighborhood who is seeking to do the very thing we have been called to do: to make our neighborhood a little more like God would want it to be—accessible, hospitable, and full of praise. Together, we are doing that.

I tried to imagine a way to bless the Braille Circulating Library in the manner that they have so generously blessed us. It came to me that the perfect person to facilitate this blessing would be Ken Medema. Ken is a long-time friend, a blind singer-composer whose concerts are full of prepared and spontaneous stories set to music—much of which is composed on the spot! He has been to our church before and is always a smashing hit.

So I have invited Ken to present a benefit concert at Richmond’s First Baptist Church on Sunday, April 27 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 each and all proceeds go directly to our neighbors, the Braille Circulating Library. It is a win/win. We get to experience an incredible concert and we can bless the Braille Lending Library with a generous gift to support their ongoing ministry in Richmond.

You can buy tickets at the church during the week or on Wednesdays and Sundays. You can also buy them online simply by clicking HERE.

Join me in supporting this concert and watching the Kingdom come ever closer as both the blind and the sighted sing praise to God.

–Phil Mitchell

KOH2RVA: Day 328

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“Thirty-four volunteer typists entered all the text in one week.”

This is an amazing story of love and labor that was recently published on the First Baptist Church website.  I had seen it but hadn’t read it until yesterday.  It blew me away.  Thanks to Susan Marshall for writing it, and to all those people who are part of this story–Mark and Melody Roane, Robbie Hott, the staff at the Braille Circulating Library, and those thirty-four volunteer typists.

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“There’s an app for that” seems to be the answer for anything you need. But as First Baptist Church prepared to introduce its new hymnal, Celebrating Grace, during Advent 2011, there wasn’t a Braille application for the new hymnal or plans to produce one.

FBC members Mark & Melody Roane, who are blind, depend upon the Braille version to participate in hymn singing. They had translated about 50 hymns from our previous hymnal into an electronic format for use in worship. And we had a three-volume Braille edition in the library. We wanted to continue to provide an option for sight impaired members. So how did we create a Braille hymnal?

First we needed an electronic format for all the hymns. But that was unavailable through the publisher. So we started from scratch.

Robbie Hott, an FBC member, designed a web-based program for entering the texts of all 707 hymns and readings. Mark suggested formatting guidelines for the Braille translation. Thirty-four FBC volunteer typists completed entering all the texts in one week.

The next step was proofing all those hymns, word by word and verse by verse. A smaller volunteer task force took on this focused and arduous process, making sure everything was spelled, numbered, punctuated, and formatted correctly. On July 1, 2012, we received the final, proofed, electronic master hymnal document.

But as the infomercials say, “Wait…there’s more!” And indeed, there is. Since that time, Mark has been formatting the electronic document for translation into Braille. This has been a challenge and a learning experience for him. Braille, like American Sign Language, uses shorthand. Rather than spelling out an entire word, there may be a symbol or single letter to represent a word. Additionally, moving from verse to verse, repeating refrains between verses, entering page breaks and numbers, require specific formatting. Mark received guidance from the staff of Richmond’s Braille Circulating Library, and expects the process toward embossing the Braille edition of Celebrating Grace to be completed soon.

While this has been a long journey, God has provided the resources for each step. Without the volunteers from our congregation, the Braille edition of Celebrating Grace would not have been economically feasible. The Braille Circulating Library is printing it for the cost of materials, which is being contributed by the Roanes.

The hymnal will be available in two versions. The electronic version is available now in its entirety by contacting Mark. The hard copy Braille embossed version is in production and will be available in the library when it is completed.

–Susan Marshall