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 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 347

Hero2I’m on my way to Washington, DC, today, to participate in the retirement ceremony of Lorna Lagarde, Chief Pharmacist for the Pentagon, who became a true hero on 9/11 by dispensing needed supplies and medication for 36 hours straight after a jet airplane crashed into the building.  As her pastor, I called her home more than once during those hours trying to make sure she had survived the attack but all I got was her answering machine.

I didn’t know she was busy saving lives.

So, I’m going to DC to honor Lorna. I won’t be around to help bring the KOH2RVA today. But I am increasingly thankful for the heroes who carry on that work even when I’m away.

For example: as I was working through the hundreds of emails that collected in my inbox while I was away at Preacher Camp last week I found this one from Minister of Christian Compassion Steve Blanchard, who was writing to report on some of the projects he’s been working with. It was written on Tuesday, August 13 (which must have been a scorcher). Here’s what Steve said:

Even in the midst of a hot summer day, the people of First Baptist Church are bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond. Let me share a couple of endeavors I can speak to, though I am sure there are more I am unaware of.

The Seeds of Promise tutoring program being held at Essex Village, ended its summer session August 1. We had about 10 volunteers who gave their time at least one day a week to participate in this ministry. On July 23 after a successful field trip to the VA Museum of Fine Arts the week before, we decided to take the kids on another educational endeavor. At 9:00 am, Lee Byerly and I, along with Seeds of Promise founders, Walter and Ernestine Roy, saddled up 10 excited children and went on a historical tour of Richmond. We began on Monument Ave. learning about all the monuments, saw the Maggie Walker House, John Marshall House, St. John’s church, the Capitol building and grounds, Richmond battlefield, old City Hall, and even went atop the observation deck where most kids experienced their first time on an elevator. We concluded the day by treating the kids to lunch at McDonalds. Along the way, they took pages of notes so they could remember what they saw.

The following week, the same group, along with Nicole Zingaro, returned to take the kids on a nature adventure at Three Lakes Park where they physically experienced many of the things they had been learning about in the classroom. We concluded that day with an ice cream trip to Chick-Fil-A as a reward for completing their reading program. We look forward to participating in the Seeds of Promise fall program which begins in October.

Finally, we celebrated National Night Out with the Essex community on August 6. First Baptist Church provided a moonwalk for the kids, games, and several volunteers. Thanks to Candi Brown, Phil Mitchell, Erin Thomas, Millie Barnes, and Debbie Boykin for helping minister to the residents of Essex. We partnered not only with Essex Village but with the Henrico Co. Police and Fire Departments to provide a fun-filled night to around 150 children and adults. We saw a lot of laughter, helped settle some disputes, received a lot of hugs, and brought the Kingdom of Heaven a little closer to Essex Village.

And finally, today, several of the staff gathered to fill approximately 125 backpacks with supplies for children connected to Fresh Start for Single Women, Essex Village, Glen Lea Elementary, and our refugees.

All this to say, praise God for the opportunity to serve and thank all of you for your ongoing support.

Steve

Steve’s email was sent to more than a hundred people who have been either interested or involved in the initiatives described above.  These people may not be heroes of the 9/11 attack on America, but they are some of the true heroes of KOH2RVA.  And today…

I salute them.

KOH2RVA: Day 330

soccer campI didn’t blog yesterday, but it’s not because I didn’t want to: it’s because I forgot.

I got up at five o’ clock for a day that didn’t end until ten, with less than an hour in the afternoon to come home and change clothes. I’m not complaining. It was a wonderful day. But I am explaining how Richmond’s premiere KOH2RVA blogger might have forgotten to bring you up to date on the mission.

So, where were we?

Yesterday we were at Day 329. Today we are at Day 330. Which means that in just over a month this year-long, every-member mission trip will have come to its end. What I learned at church yesterday is that there are things going on I didn’t even know about and there are members who are still looking for a way to get off the bus.

For example: I didn’t know that Buddy Burgess, who heads up the ministry of recreation at First Baptist, had conducted a week-long soccer camp at Essex Village in which 25 children had participated. I must have been on vacation that week. But I heard Ralph Starling mention it during worship yesterday and when I closed my eyes I could almost see those children laughing and learning as Buddy worked with them patiently and came back to do it again every day that week. If he had done it in Sri Lanka it might have been on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but he did it at Essex Village—one of the most neglected neighborhoods in our city—and because he did not many people knew about it. Even his pastor found out after the fact. But those 25 children will never forget it and for them, I’m sure, heaven came a little closer to earth.

I also overheard someone whispering about a church member who hasn’t found her way to “get off the bus” yet, by which I mean she hasn’t found a way to participate in this year-long, every-member mission trip (emphasis on every). That didn’t surprise me; what surprised me was the expectation that she would, as if it were simply understood that that’s what you do at Richmond’s First Baptist Church—you get off the bus! The person who was whispering to her friend wasn’t doing it in a gossipy way; they were putting their heads together, wondering what they could do to help this woman before it’s too late, before this mission trip comes to an end and everybody else gets back on the bus—tired and happy—only to find their friend hiding in the back.

To learn that good things have been going on while you were away, and that a culture has been created in which everyone is expected to be on mission, well…that makes a pastor’s heart sing, even at the end of a very long day.

Today is a new day.  It’s day 330.

What will you do to bring heaven to earth?

KOH2RVA: Day 327

Bookshelf BuildersOK, so this is probably not the most artistic picture I’ve ever posted, but it may be the best picture I’ve ever posted. Let me tell you why:

I told you that my wife, Christy, was going to Essex Village yesterday to work with some children who are having trouble learning to read. I didn’t tell you that she was taking nearly 300 children’s books with her, part of the bounty she gleaned from the library book sale at St. Michael’s Episcopal School (where she teaches kindergarten).

She realized she was going to need some help getting the books into the building at Essex Village and putting together the bookcases she had bought at Target, but she didn’t know that there were some willing and able volunteers just waiting for something to do.

That’s where the picture comes in.

I recognize Glen Scott as one of those willing and able volunteers, and it doesn’t surprise me. Glen is one of our most faithful members at First Baptist, and seems to be willing and able to do almost anything that will help. I didn’t know he was going to be at Essex Village yesterday and neither did Christy, but he was one of the first to volunteer. The other two Christy identified as Mr. Roy, a teacher who was helping his wife with the program at Essex Village, and a young man named Eric.

But look at what’s happening here: these three men are working together to build a bookshelf. They’re doing it simply because it needed to be done and they were willing and able. But look at what else is happening: they are so focused on their mission that they probably haven’t taken time to ask if they all believe the same things; it seems obvious that they haven’t set up any racial boundaries; they may not be aware that they’re doing this because Ms. Somerville is trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, by helping little children learn to read. They’re just building a bookshelf.

They’re focused on the mission.

It’s when we’re not focused on the mission that we begin to divide ourselves along social and racial and doctrinal lines. That’s when we start insisting that everyone look the same way and think the same way and believe the same way. But when the mission is clear and the cause is just we can simply put our shoulders to the wheel and push. And when we achieve our mission—even if it’s only getting a bookshelf built—we can celebrate. Or, as one of Christy’s children’s books might sum it up:

The more we work together the happier we’ll be.

KOH2RVA: Day 326

Christy TutoringToday is my day off, and I’m going to the mountains to do some hiking. But not Christy, my wife. She’s going to Essex Village to work with some children who are struggling to read.

She is such a missionary.

She was working with Mubarak, Muhammad, and Than on Monday, reading a book about elephants, when Muhammad announced that he didn’t like elephants. That seemed a little random. I mean, who doesn’t like elephants? But Muhammad is from Africa. He’s had more experience with elephants than most people.

“An elephant killed my grandfather,” he explained.

There was a moment of shocked silence, but just a moment, and then Christy said, “Well, let’s read a book about butterflies then!”

Who would have guessed that in her efforts to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, Christy would end up working with children named Muhammad, Mubarak, and Than, or that one of them would not like elephants—with good reason? These days more than ever it seems you don’t have to go to faraway places to be a missionary.

You can be one right here at home.

KOH2RVA: Day 320

2013-07-22 13.51.16I’ve had this fear that First Baptist Church’s year-long, every-member mission trip called KOH2RVA might not make it all the way through to the end, that it might get off to a good start but then, halfway through the year, sputter to a stop.

That fear was unfounded.

If anything, it seems that our mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, has been picking up speed lately, making a final sprint to the finish line on September 8.  On Wednesday night I was sitting at the supper table with a half dozen of our members when Emily Johnston came over to say hello.  I had been wanting to see her, to tell her that I had received the message below:

Hi, Jim!

Hope to see you tonight, but if not, wanted you to know that Bill and I went over to Essex Village yesterday and had a grand time! It gave us a chance to work with children again, and that in itself, was great…the children, as you know, I’m sure, are very well behaved and most of them really want to learn. I can tell you more about our enthusiasm when we see you; it would be nice if more folks would give a little time to these people… the little ones still talk about Pakistan, where they were born.

Talk to you soon.

Emily

We talked for a while and as we did I looked around the table and realized that every person there had gotten “off the bus” and onto the mission field this year; in other words, there was 100% participation in KOH2RVA.  And this was not the elite missionary corps I was sitting with; these were “regular” church members who have begun to think of themselves as missionaries.

I know that what was true for my table on Wednesday night is not necessarily true for the entire church, but I was encouraged by what I saw—greatly encouraged.

I could almost hear the Kingdom coming closer.