KOH2RVA: Day 102

apple3Let me tell you about Karen:

Karen is not only a faithful member of First Baptist Church, she actually pays attention to what I say from the pulpit. For months now she’s been listening to me talk about KOH2RVA, this year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. She’s heard me say that when the youth go on a mission trip nobody gets to stay on the bus and read comic books, and she’s understood the implication—that she can’t stay on the bus either.

So, she’s been wondering how to “get off the bus,” trying to figure out what her way of bringing heaven to earth will be. Yesterday I got this email from Karen:

Hi Jim:

I am sitting in the parking lot at Glen Lea Elementary School after visiting with Ms. Lee, the principal. I came without an appointment but she fit me in.

I’ve been discerning how I can “get off the bus” and get involved with our year-long, every-member mission trip. After Friday’s tragedy it became clear. I brought Ms. Lee a small gift bag which included Shenandoah Valley apples (of course), some candy, and a card. Each month I will plan a visit. In addition I will pray for her and Glen Lea daily.

Regards, Karen

I sent this message back:


This is wonderful news. But be careful (smile). These things have a way of getting into your heart and then you know what happens…

All my best, always,


Steve Blanchard, our minister of Christian Compassion, says that compassion happens when you see something, and then feel something, and then do something. I have a hunch that Karen will see some things at Glen Lea that will cause her to feel something, and that the feelings will lead her to do something, and before you know it she’ll be elbow deep in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia,

Because that’s what happens when these things get into your heart.


If you are still looking for a way to get off the bus, here’s an offer from Steve Blanchard:

For anyone who would like to help out for a couple of hours at our Christmas Celebration at Essex Village on Sunday afternoon, here are the details:

Festivities will begin at 3pm at Building 117 with refreshments, the 25 cent Christmas Yard Sale, and One Accord singing. The afternoon will be very informal but help is needed to set up items, monitor and collect during yard sale, help set out food, mingle with guests, pack and clean up, etc… If you can be there, it would be appreciated. I think this could be a very important outreach event but so far I only have 2-3 volunteers that I know of. I know it is a busy time and most of you volunteer a hundred other places but if you can, or know of someone else who can, volunteer, I look forward to seeing you there.

Essex Village is located on Pilots Road, just off Laburnum Avenue, close to the Richmond International Raceway.

KOH2RVA: Day 96

2012-12-11 11.46.55On Tuesday of this week the staff of First Baptist Church got together to stuff stockings for kids who might not otherwise have any. It’s part of a program Steve Blanchard calls “Operation J.O.Y.” Steve explains it like this:


Every day, thousands in the Richmond area find themselves without basic necessities. However, during the Christmas season that need seems to magnify. With the emphasis on giving and having, many people’s needs become more poignant. We want to offer you some practical ways to help those less fortunate. As you are blessed, bless others and may everyone, rich and poor, have a very Merry Christmas.


Buy a new gift for a child or teenager and bring it to Steve Blanchard’s office or place it around the shopping carts in the main hallway (you may also wish to give cash or gift cards to Target or Wal-Mart and someone else will do the shopping).

a. For a donation of $50.00, you can sponsor a child in residence at the Rosey Grier Youth Pavilion.

b. For a donation of $25.00, you can provide a welcoming bag of supplies for a homeless individual. (Please direct all donations to Steve Blanchard and earmark them “Operation J.O.Y.” Checks made payable to First Baptist Church)

c. You can also donate the following items: Men’s underwear (any size), Men’s white crew socks, Children’s shoe’s (any size), Men’s boots (any size), Backpacks, $5.00 Gift Cards to Kroger, McDonalds, Subway, CVS, or Hardees, or $20.00 Gift Cards to Wal-Mart.

Place all donations (except gift cards) either in carts located in main hallway or in Steve Blanchard’s office. Gift cards can be put in Steve’s staff mailbox.

Attend one of the Christmas parties we are giving in honor of those we are privileged to serve. During these parties, we will provide not only good fellowship but also a Christmas store, where parents may shop with dignity. We need help serving, childcare, transportation, shopping assistance, and hospitality.

a. Fresh Start for Single Moms. Sunday, December 9 at 4:30pm

b. Anderson Memorial Breakfast for the Homeless. Monday, December 17 at 9:30am

c. Mixteca Christmas Party. Saturday, December 22 at 1:00pm

Donate to local charities and FBC partners like Richmond Friends of the Homeless, Peter Paul Development Center, Area Congregations Together in Service (ACTS), or International Justice Mission. Make checks payable directly to your chosen organization and either mail directly or give to Steve Blanchard.

For more information, contact Steve at blanchard@fbcrichmond.org.

Steve told us on Tuesday that First Baptist is helping 600 families through this program this year. What a wonderful way to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia!

After stuffing stockings, we stuffed ourselves with some Famous Dave’s BBQ, and then got a little silly, as the video below demonstrates (just so you’ll know, the challenge was to blow up eight balloons, stuff them into the legs of a pair of pantyhose, put it on someone’s head, and sing “Jingle Bells.” No alcohol was involved. Still not sure which team actually won).

Ah, the staff of First Baptist Church. There’s nothing they won’t do to bring a little Christmas joy to others.

KOH2RVA: Day 68

Roanoke is a lovely city, and those Virginia Baptists are lovely people, but it’s great to be back home in Richmond this morning, sipping some delicious Bolivian coffee as the sun comes up and wondering:

How will I bring the KOH2RVA today?

Thursday is usually my day off, and I want to honor that. I’ll take some time off today to rest and relax. But at 5:00 this evening the church staff is volunteering at Grace Fellowship and I’m going to be there.

What is Grace Fellowship? I’m glad you asked. Here’s what it says on the website:

History and Purpose:

Grace Fellowship began in 1992 in the living room of a local resident. It was named Grace Fellowship because we seek to extend God’s grace and the first meeting place was located on Grace Street. It’s purpose was, and is, to provide Christian fellowship, Bible study, prayer, and a hot meal to those less fortunate in our community.

Meeting Times and Places:

We meet at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday evening at First Baptist Church. The service and meal lasts approximately two hours, ending around 8:30 p.m.

Why is Grace Fellowship important?

For our guests, it may be the only chance they have to hear the Word of God and to grow in His grace. For the members and volunteers of First Baptist, it is important because it provides an avenue of witness and service to those who may otherwise be excluded. It also provides a hot meal and other services and necessities such as access to the clothes closet, sleeping bags and blankets, toiletries, and information on other services in the area. We also acknowledge our guest’s birthdays and special accomplishments.

As I said, Roanoke is a lovely city and those Virginia Baptists are lovely people, but I have a feeling that tonight I’m going to have a chance to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia–this place where I live, this place that I love. What encourages me most is that this is not a new thing for First Baptist. We’ve been involved with Grace Fellowship for 20 years. Long before KOH2RVA the church understood that whenever we do it for the least of these, Jesus’ brothers and sisters,

We do it for him.

KOH2RVA: Day 27

On Monday of this week Steve Blanchard, our Minister of Christian Compassion, took the staff on a “windshield tour” of Richmond, to show us some of the places where heaven seems farthest away from our city. Steve’s conviction is that there are some things you just have to see before you can begin to feel compassion, and a lot of us don’t see these things.

Honestly, we get in our nice cars and drive from our nice neighborhoods to our nice church and drive home again. And then the preacher starts talking about bringing heaven to earth and we think, “Why bother? It’s already here!”

But it’s not in the places we went on Monday.

We started with Essex Village, an apartment complex on Laburnum Avenue, where there are 544 children, many of them living in single parent homes. The crime rate in Essex Village is twice the national average. How do you think those children sleep at night?

And then we went to Glen Lea Elementary School, which has 549 students, most of them enrolled in the free lunch program and most of those also taking advantage of the free breakfast. For many of them, these two meals are the best they get all day. And what do they eat on the weekends?

We drove around the housing projects in the East End of the city and the numbers are just staggering—the size of the projects, the number of people living there, the pitifully low income of those people—hearing all of it at once breaks your heart. Right in the center of it all is the Peter Paul Development Center, dedicated to loving and helping the children of those projects.

From there we stopped by the city jail and the intake center for the homeless. The numbers we heard there were, again, heartbreaking: six or seven inmates stuffed into a jail cell meant for four, suffering through a Richmond summer without air conditioning or fans, and for the homeless, an estimate three times higher than the “official” estimate of 800, with rumors that there may be as many as a thousand homeless children in Richmond.

Finally, we drove to the South Side for a look at Rudd’s Trailer Park on the Jefferson Davis Highway. This is where many of the Mixtecas live, the poorest of the poor from Mexico, an indigenous people group who speak Spanish as a second language and English—if they speak it at all—as a third. We’ve delivered Christmas baskets out there before, and stood inside trailers where you could see the ground beneath through holes in the floor.

As we were driving back to the church Steve asked what we were feeling and Ruth Szucs summed it up: “Overwhelmed,” she said, and we all nodded our heads. Steve’s conviction is that you have to see in order to feel, but also that you have to feel in order to act. Our next question was, “What can we do? How can we even begin to make a dent in such huge problems?” “We can,” Steve assured us. “We’re already doing a lot.” And that’s true, but I added that if we’re going to keep people from being overwhelmed we’ll probably need to break some of these problems down into bite-size pieces.

Starting with Essex Village and Glen Lea Elementary may be a good solution for us. Tutoring one child at Glen Lea, or helping with a community service day at Essex Village, may get us out from behind the windshield, off the bus, and onto the mission field.

What, finally, shall we say?

homeless-streetsA great poem, shared with me by my friend Roberta Damon:

What, finally, shall we say
In the last moment
When we will be confronted
By the Unimaginable,
The One
Who could not be measured
or contained
In space or time
Who was Love

What shall we answer
When the question is asked
About our undeeds
In his name—
In the name of him
For whose sake we promised
To have courage
To abandon everything?

Shall we say
That we didn’t know—
That we couldn’t hear the clatter
Of hearts breaking—
Millions of them—
In lonely rooms, in alleys
     and prisons
And in bars?

Shall we explain
That we thought it mattered
That buildings were constructed
And maintained
In his honor—
That we were occupied
With the arrangements
Of hymns and prayers
And the proper, responsible way
Of doing things?

Shall we tell him
That we had to take care
Of the orderly definition
     of dogmas
So that there was no time
To listen to the
Of the little ones
Huddled in corners
Or the silent despair
Of those already beyond

Or, shall we say this, too:
That we were afraid—
That we were keeping busy
     with all this
To avoid confrontation
Wih the reality of his
Which would lead us to
That it was fear that
     kept us
Hiding in church pews
And in important boards
     and committees
When he went by?

                     —Ursula Solek


Bonus:  Take a look at these pictures and the accompanying story by Ryan Phillips, grandson of Irma Lee Hardie, one of our regular volunteers in Community Missions.