KOH2RVA: Day 344

Alma SnowaI love Alma Snowa.

Alma was one of the first women to be elected as a deacon at First Baptist Church back in 1976, along with Ginny Sanders and Betty Allen (pictured at right). I hope you will read the whole story when you get a chance, because it’s fascinating, but it’s not what I want to talk about this morning.

I want to talk about Alma.

Alma lives at Lakewood Manor, a Baptist retirement community in Richmond’s west end. When I came to First Baptist five years ago, I heard that we had sixty-two members who lived at Lakewood Manor. Alma was one of those, and one I have come to know well since then. It’s Alma who makes arrangements for the annual “Lakewood Luncheon,” when the church staff is invited to come out and have lunch with our members who live there. That gives her a good reason to be in touch with me: to ask about available dates early on and later to firm up the details. But one of the things I love about Alma is that she doesn’t need a good reason to be in touch with me. Sometimes she just writes to tell me what’s on her mind or in her heart.

She did that last week.

She wanted to talk to me about KOH2RVA and her participation in it. Before I share her email with you I probably need to tell you that Alma’s physical ability has become increasingly limited in the time that I’ve known her. If anybody had an excuse not to “get off the bus and onto the mission field” Alma had one. She might have written to tell me that, but she didn’t. She wrote to tell me this:

Dear Jim:

It is hard to realize that the year long bus trip is almost over, however, the things accomplished will be lasting. Sometime I wonder if I ever got off the bus or if I have spent the entire year sitting on the back seat praying. My physical participation is limited, but it has been a very meaningful experience. I have spent so much more time in prayer for others, I have prayer walked our halls and one of my efforts has been to seek out persons who just needed someone to talk with.

Thanks for letting us all share the experience.

Love and prayers to my pastor,

Alma

The thought of Alma sitting on the back of the mission bus, praying, moved me almost to tears. It reminded me that you don’t have to be physically active to help bring in the Kingdom: you can be spiritually active. In my devotional reading for this morning were these words from Harry Emerson Fosdick: “Some things never without thinking; some things never without working; some things never without praying! Prayer is one of the three forms of man’s cooperation with God.” What Harry was saying in his wonderful old-fashioned way is that you don’t bring in the Kingdom only by thinking about it and working for it, you also have to pray for it.

Maybe that’s what Alma and a host of other saints are teaching us: that when your hands can no longer hold a hammer they can still be folded in prayer.

Thanks, Alma.

KOH2RVA: Day 93

pageantLast night’s Youth Christmas Pageant was wonderful.

It was written by our own Ann Carter, who worked with the youth to develop a script that was just right for Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

The play was set in Eunice’s Piano Café, and at one point two girls showed up wearing “wise men” costumes. They explained that they were on the way to the youth pageant at their church, but all the boys wanted to be shepherds, leaving the girls to play the part of the wise men. Later one of the café patrons made a sarcastic remark about “those wise girls from the heaven on earth church.”

I laughed out loud.

But the play wasn’t only funny: it was a creative and innovative way of telling an almost too-familiar story. And when the wise men made their regal procession at the end of the pageant to bow before the baby Jesus, I probably wasn’t the only one with a lump in my throat. In my closing prayer I said, “Twenty years ago these children weren’t even born, but they’ve grown up in this church, they’ve heard this story over and over again, and now here they are, telling it to us.”

As I said, it was wonderful.

But just before the play began I heard something that may have been even more wonderful. Beth Holthaus asked me if I knew Ginny Sanders. Well, of course I do. Everybody knows Ginny. She directed the Youth Christmas Pageant for decades and earned a reputation as “the world’s oldest living teenager.” But these days Ginny is in health care at Lakewood Manor. She can’t direct the youth pageant any more. She isn’t even able to come.

And so the pageant came to her.

Yesterday, during the Sunday school hour, the senior youth put on their pageant costumes and went out to Lakewood Manor. I wish I could have been there to see Ginny’s face when they walked into her room. I understand pictures were taken, and as soon as I get one I’ll post it below. But for now it’s enough to imagine that moment, and to thank God for the youth from “that heaven on earth church,” who, on Sunday morning, in a lonely room at Lakewood Manor, did just that—

They brought heaven to earth.

Ginny