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’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 297

Linda and Louis

Let me tell you about Linda and Louis Watts (at left in the photo above).

If I’m remembering correctly it was Linda who baked mountains of pumpkin bread at Thanksgiving and took it to the teachers at Glen Lea Elementary School. She and Louis were back for the faculty luncheon last month, serving up heaping plates of goodness for the teachers and letting them know just how much they are appreciated. Kimberly Lee, Principal, was so moved by that kind of generosity that she presented a plaque to Steve Blanchard thanking all the members and friends of First Baptist who have made a difference at Glen Lea during this year-long, every-member mission trip. But if I were giving out plaques, I would want to give one to Louis and Linda.

I found them in the waiting room at VCU Medical Center at 5:45 on Monday morning when I went by to pray for a young woman who was having surgery that day. They had brought her to the hospital because her parents were out of town and she didn’t know who else to ask. So she asked Louis and Linda, her “adopted” parents, and they were glad to help. They had brought books and snacks and were planning to stay until the surgery was over.

While I was sitting with them they told me about the big adventure they’d had the previous weekend, when Louis ended up driving the church bus to Short Pump so 25 international students from VCU could do some shopping. I’ve driven that bus before. It’s a little intimidating. But Louis got everybody to Short Pump and back while Linda took a “cute little Egyptian family” in her car because they had a baby and needed to use the car seat.

And then they told me about the surprise birthday party they threw for one of those international students, a young woman from Iran who has no family here in the States, one of their other “adopted” daughters. She thought she was having a quiet birthday dinner at their home, but when they opened the door—surprise!—a room full of people was waiting to wish her well and sing the birthday song. Louis and Linda were afraid that she might be overwhelmed by all the attention but she blushed with pleasure and called her mother later to tell her all about it. Think how pleased her mother was to know that her daughter had friends in the States.

So, that’s a little about Louis and Linda, who seem to be working every day to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, even if it means baking mountains of pumpkin bread, or getting up really early in the morning, or driving a big, intimidating, church bus. They remind me of those servants in Luke 17 who, when they have done everything they were told to do, say, “We are unworthy servants: we have only done our duty.”

Good for you, Louis and Linda. May your tribe increase.

KOH2RVA: Day 295

BackpacksI re-blogged yesterday.

I hardly ever do that, but I spent all day Saturday working on the sermon and when I got up on Sunday morning it still wasn’t finished. So, a little after 6:00 a.m. I pushed the re-blog button on Meredith Holladay’s excellent summary of the workshop I led at the CBF General Assembly and went back to the sermon.

But I’m feeling a little guilty.

I’m supposed to be blogging about First Baptist Church’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, not some workshop I led in Greensboro, North Carolina. So, it was a relief to get to worship yesterday and find that the faithful members of FBC were still on mission.

In fact, it’s kind of a funny story.

I was talking with FBC member Rob Courain last week about a brilliant fund-raising idea he’d had, and suggested that maybe he could raise funds for backpacks—stuffed with back-to-school supplies—for the students at Glen Lea Elementary school. I don’t know where that idea came from; it just seemed like a simple, do-able, hands-on project.

So, imagine my surprise and delight when I looked at yesterday’s worship bulletin and discovered, among the announcements on the back page, this one from the First Baptist Women on Mission:

Backpack Project for the Oregon Hill Baptist Center (collecting today through August 11). Our goal: 100 filled backpacks (sturdy, large enough for notebooks and textbooks). Supplies to be included in each backpack:

• 1 three-ring binder and divider tabs
• 1 or 2 packs loose-leaf paper (wide or standard rule – 200 sheets total)
• 4 black-and-white marbled composition books
• 2 one-subject notebooks
• 1 three or five subject spiral notebook
• 5 to 8 No. 2 pencils (no mechanical pencils)
• 5 to 8 black or blue ink pens (erasable/no gel)

See a list of additional items needed on the kiosks in the hallways. Collection bins will be located at the Mulberry Street Receptionist Desk.

I don’t know what you know about the Oregon Hill Baptist Center, but those kids need back-to-school backpacks every bit as much as the ones at Glen Lea Elementary, and it’s a wonderful way for our church to partner with the Richmond Baptist Association and one of its existing missions.

So, if stuffing a backpack full of back-to-school goodies sounds like fun and you’d like to participate, just follow the instructions above and drop it off at church when you’re done. And if you don’t live in the area, but still want to help, you can send a donation of $25 per backpack to the attention of Mary Palmer, Women on Mission, First Baptist Church, 2709 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA, 23220.

Who knows? We may end up with enough backpacks for both places!

KOH2RVA: Day 256

I hope you will take five minutes to turn up the volume on your computer, click on the image above, zoom to full screen, and sit back to watch this remarkable video about a partnership between First Baptist Church, the Children’s Museum of Richmond, and Glen Lea Elementary School.

If this were the only thing we accomplished on our year-long, every-member mission trip, it would be enough.  But this is only one of the things.  There are dozens more, hundreds more, because every member of the church has been looking for a way to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

David Powers and his team of volunteers in our communications ministry made it their goal to produce one KOH2RVA video each week.  That’s how they wanted to “bring it.”  David confessed to me recently that their goal was a little too ambitious.  Making a video is a lot of work.  But I hope that as you watch this one you will appreciate all that it took to record it, edit it, and present it in a way that tells the story and also gives you that good, warm feeling inside.

I’ve gotten that feeling each time I’ve watched this video–four times this morning.  Now I’m going to publish this post, make some oatmeal, sit down to breakfast, and probably, just probably,

Watch it one more time.

KOH2RVA: Day 241

domestic violenceYesterday morning I had the fun of going to Glen Lea Elementary School with the church staff and surprising the teachers with a show of appreciation. We knocked on the doors of the classrooms and when the teacher opened the door we would burst in, say “Surprise!” and then tell the class we were from First Baptist Church where we had been trying to be good to Glen Lea all year long, but on that day, especially, we wanted to be good to their teachers. And then we presented each teacher with a rose, a huge Hershey bar, and a poem of appreciation. Each presentation took about two minutes, the teachers seemed grateful, and for the staff, as I said, it was fun.

But yesterday afternoon I went to police headquarters for the monthly faith leaders’ meeting, and that was no fun at all. I learned that in some of the same neighborhoods where those bright, beautiful children from Glen Lea live, there is an ongoing epidemic of domestic violence.

The place was packed, and Chief Ray Tarasovic began by saying, “The house is full today because we’re on a mission. We have some folks here who are in the business of saving lives.”

He said that when it comes to domestic violence we always know who did it. It’s not a stranger; it’s someone who lives in your own home. And so he asked us as faith leaders to “preach about it, pray about it, identify it, and refer it.”

Sergeant Carol Adams talked about her own efforts to rescue a Nigerian woman from abuse. Her husband had been keeping her locked up in a house on the south side of Richmond with the windows boarded up so she couldn’t see out or get out. He threatened and abused her almost daily. Carol talked about her efforts to get that woman out of that situation, including taking a day off from work to drive her to New York where she had family. Carol’s passion was evident; I got the feeling she knew exactly what she was talking about when it came to domestic abuse.

But Chief Tarasovic wanted to make sure that we knew, as well. He told us that simple assault involves slaps, kicks, punches, and threats. Aggravated assault is when a weapon is used or serious injury results. He said that so far this year there have been 39 instances of aggravated assault in Richmond.

I thought about the difference between what we had done that morning—surprising school teachers with flowers and chocolate—and the kind of surprises some people face in their own homes, when someone who has promised to love them turns against them in anger, even violence. I said a silent prayer for those 39 people who had been victims of aggravated assault, and for the hundreds more who have been slapped, kicked, punched, or threatened in their own homes.

Sergeant Adams said, “A lot of these situations never get reported because people are too ashamed to talk about them. But we ought to be able to talk about them. We ought to be able to talk about them in church,” she added. “If it happened in the first family (referring to the story of Cain and Abel), we shouldn’t be surprised that it happens in ours, too.”

No, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and dismiss it, either. We should do everything in our power to stop it. And if we know of a situation where domestic violence is going on we should report it to the police.

We’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, on this year-long, every-member mission trip. Yesterday I was reminded that there are some places in Richmond that are much more like hell.

KOH2RVA: Day 230

Glen Lea Artists

Steve Blanchard, our Minister of Christian Compassion, is recovering nicely from his recent hospitalization and surgery (to relieve swelling and pressure on the brain following a fall from an eight-foot ladder). I can tell because on Thursday I got about twelve emails from him, all work-related. One of them was an update on the partnership between Richmond’s First Baptist Church and Glen Lea Elementary School in this year-long, every-member mission trip we call KOH2RVA.

I’ve told you about Karen, who finally got off the bus and discovered what a joy it is to read to second-graders at Glen Lea. And I’ve told you about Brenda, the artist, who was inspired to invite Glen Lea students to participate in the church’s recent art show (I love the photo above). Yesterday I learned that Raylene is helping out once a week in a kindergarten class, so that an exhausted teacher can get a few minutes’ rest.  Karen and Brenda and Raylene are heroes, but if you take a look at the list below you will see that lots of people have been doing lots of things to bring heaven to earth at Glen Lea. You will also see that there are some opportunities coming up for those who are still looking for a way to get involved. If that’s you, let Steve know you’d like to help by sending email to: Blanchard@fbcrichmond.org. He’s feeling better. He’ll help you get off the bus. He may even hold your hand and tell you to watch your step.

Participation at Glen Lea through KOH2RVA

• October 15 Teacher Appreciation (done by Ruth Szucs and 11th grade girls)
• November 5 Provided dinner to teachers and staff during Parent/Teacher Conferences
• November 10 Sponsored cake walk and book giveaway table at fall festival
• November 19 Provided shuttle service to Community Workshop
• February 14 Sponsored Love To Read book collection
• April 15 Sponsored essay contest. Essays picked up May 6 with winner receiving Chuck E. Cheese package.
• May 7 Provide 70 gifts to teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day
• June 12 Provide Appreciation Dinner for staff
• Approximately twenty volunteers giving time and gifts to the school
• Provided school supplies for students and teachers
• Sponsored homework club prizes for various classes
• Art students presenting their art at FBC Art Show