KOH2RVA: Day 346

SONY DSCI love this email from Mark Larson, which describes the experience of one young woman’s encounter with Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I sometimes tell the church, “There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth.” There must be a dozen ways in this story alone:

Jim:

Yesterday, a young lady from Munich, Germany had a KOH2RVA experience that I wanted to share with you. When this young lady and others told me about what she had experienced that day, I clearly saw the Holy Spirit at work through a team of FBC friends.

Nina arrived in Richmond as part of a six-week journey to see the east coast of the US—alone. She is “sofa-surfing” from New York to Miami. This is a new way to travel cheap—a time-share for sofas. You agree to let people who sign up stay on your sofa for free in return for your ability to stay on the sofas of others in the network. The system depends on self-policing much like is done at EBay. Unfortunately, on the first day of her sofa-stay in Richmond, Nina encountered an environment of alcohol, drugs, and large dogs. She left this unwelcoming place and opted to stay at a nearby hotel.

Though of a different Christian denomination, one of her desired experiences was to visit a Baptist church. After an Internet search, she located First Baptist and walked 2 ½ miles for the 8:30 AM service this past Sunday morning. This is where the First Baptist folks took over:

• Nina was met at the sidewalk by our front door greeters (including Sharon Brittle and Alena Glembova).
• They took her inside where she sat with Sandra Saunders during the service. Sandra took Ralph’s “Radical Hospitality” class this spring; she, Ralph, Alena, and many others host events to make the VCU International students feel at home in Richmond and at our church. It was this group who served ice cream to RVA United on a recent Tuesday night.
• Nina described the service and sermon as “energetic” and “uplifting” – unlike what she experiences at home.
• During the service, Sandra introduced Nina to Heath and Theresa Coryell who welcomed her into their Bible study class.
• Sandra took Nina to lunch with some of her friends, and let her know of the “International Pot Luck” dinner that Carrie and I were hosting at our house that evening.
• Four of our FBC members shuttled many of the international students who had no means of transportation.
• At the International Pot Luck, Nina met about 25 people from eight countries, tasted food they brought that reminded them of their home country, traded contact information with several, and invited them to stay at her house in Munich (but not on the sofa) if ever traveling to Munich.
• When everyone began leaving, she was offered a ride back to her hotel (or) a visit to Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt with Sandra. No contest.

She is now on her way to Charlotte, but what a contrast in hospitality this young lady experienced in 24 hours!

I think this is one way that KOH2RVA can work: a series of small, friendly gestures by a group of friends come together and bring heaven to our city—for one young lady on an adventure, for college students who are a long way from home, and for those of us who are privileged to be part of their lives.

Mark

“I was a stranger,” Jesus said, “and you welcomed me.”

That’s (at least) one way to bring heaven to earth.

KOH2RVA: Day 83

hands-with-plantBack in September I had coffee with Jeremy and Monica, church planters who are working here in Richmond. They had visited First Baptist several times and appreciated our emphasis on reaching the city with the love of Christ. That’s what they’re trying to do, too. They are a delightful young couple who don’t look at all like you might expect “church planters” to look. It’s just one of the things I appreciate about them.

When we had coffee I asked them if they would be willing to partner with us on our year-long, every-member mission trip. I said, “We’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and it sounds like you are, too. We can’t offer you money, but we can pray for you and encourage you.” They said that would be perfect, and when I left that meeting I had this wonderful feeling that in addition to all our members who were out there bringing heaven to earth we had Jeremy and Monica, too.

Here’s the latest update from them:

Some of you may have heard from us about an Egyptian Muslim family we came across last month. We were waiting to meet a friend at a festival, and this lady and her two sons sat next to us as a table. They started asking us about what we thought about Jesus, the Bible, the Koran, Mormons, Islam, culture, Egypt, American and global politics. This conversation went on for about an hour then they gave us their contact info and we invited them over for a meal.

Now, they were previously complaining that Americans never “hang out” for more than an hour, so we had them over for 4 hours and just enjoyed a wonderful meal while talking about many of the same issues at more length. Finally, the mother shared her frustration with “American Christians,” so we decided it was time to share the gospel with her and help her remove her focus from “American Christians” to the person of Jesus Christ. We unpacked many elements of what it means to be forgiven by the Lord through the work of Christ, we talked about the Trinity (as they had been asking about that!), and we talked about eternal life based on grace (not based on works).

At the end of the conversation one of the sons said, “In Egypt, we could never have these conversations without everyone getting angry and screaming at each other.” And they went on to say that they were very appreciative of being able to have those conversations here in our home with freedom, grace and charity. No one was yelling, no one was being rude, we were all just taking turns sharing and asking questions and LISTENING!

Please pray for Jeremy and Monica as they continue to build their friendship with this family, and consider their example of inviting your Muslim neighbors over for a meal, not so much to look for ways to convert them, but simply because this is what Jesus tells us to do—to love our neighbors. I believe that in the context of true friendship you will have plenty of opportunities to share your faith as well as to ask questions and listen, just as Jeremy and Monica did.

Interested? Look for tomorrow’s post: “How to have your Muslim neighbors over for dinner.”