KOH2RVA: Day 289

Essex Bible SchoolI didn’t make it to Bible school yesterday and it was my loss. Appointments and commitments that started early in the morning kept me busy until just before lunch. But I heard great things about the opening day of “Camp 2” at Richmond’s First Baptist Church and after lunch I drove out to Essex Village Apartments to see what happens when Bible school goes on the road.

In yesterday’s post I talked about the partnership between First Baptist and Park Meadows Baptist Church in Waxahachie, Texas, and how the two were collaborating to bring Bible school not only to First Baptist Church, but also to Essex Village Apartments, where there are 544 children, many of whom live in single-parent homes.

I got there early, before the afternoon session of Bible school began, but in time for a pick-up game of kickball. And once again I got to watch that old miracle occur, where people who don’t know each other overcome their initial awkwardness through some silly game, and then begin to laugh and play together, so that by the end of the day they are BFF’s (Best Friends Forever). What breaks my heart is that the kids at Essex Village are so hungry for attention Essex Bible School3they will accept it from almost anybody, even a youth group from Waxahachie, Texas. What fills my heart is the way those youth discover that they can make a difference in someone’s life, and how much joy it gives them. By the end of the week they won’t want to leave their new friends at Essex Village, and their new friends at Essex Village won’t want to let them go.

I predict tearful farewells.

But today is only Day Two of Bible school, and the end of the week seems a long way away. So, if you’re looking for a little joy in your life, and for a way to make a difference in someone else’s, then come on out to Essex Village around two o’ clock this afternoon. Bring your sunglasses and bottled water and big, floppy hat, because it’s going to be hot, but wear your kickball shoes, because it’s going to be fun. I predict that by the end of the day miracles will have occurred at Essex Village, and the Kingdom of Heaven will have come a tiny bit closer to Richmond, Virginia.

KOH2RVA: Day 251

heart stringsWhen I say that First Baptist Church is on a year-long, every-member mission trip, it doesn’t mean that I know what every member is up to, or how they are working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. So it does my heart good when I find out that somebody has been bringing it all along, and I didn’t even know it. Jackie Morsink, for example, who sings with “The Heart Strings,” a group of some 73 ladies whose mission is to bring joy, through music and song, to the many senior citizens in retirement and nursing homes across the Richmond metropolitan area. Jackie writes:

Jim: This has been my “mission trip” (off the bus!!!) this year to help bring heaven to earth in the Richmond area (and also Effie Farmer). We have visited 30 homes on Monday mornings since October 8 of last year. Our last performance is next Monday, May 20, at Lakewood Manor (Health Care), from 10:30 to about 11:15. Come check us out, if you can fit it into your schedule! Would love to see you in the audience! Jackie

Do you see what I mean? On 30 different occasions since our mission trip began on September 9, 2012, Jackie has gotten up, gotten dressed, and gone off to some retirement or nursing home in the area to share some joy (and believe me, Jackie’s got plenty to share). How many others are out there on secret missions and would somebody please tell me?

Secrets like these are too good to keep.


p.s. I hear the Heart Strings are going to be singing at the Memorial Day celebration on the Goochland Courthouse Green at 10 a.m. on May 27.  Included in the announcement were these words about Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the special day on which we remember the men and women who have given their lives while serving in the armed forces of the United States. Like most traditions, it evolved from similar celebrations. Memorial day most likely started after the Civil War as a way to commemorate the death of both Union and Confederate soldiers, however, there is documentation that the women of Savannah Georgia decorated the graves of soldiers as early as 1862.

The day became an occasion to not just lay flowers on the graves, but to come together and remember fallen family members. It is still a common practice in Richmond to assemble at Hollywood cemetery and hold memorial picnics at the military grave sites.

On this Memorial Day, even though it is the unofficial start of summer, take time to find one of the many neglected military graves or memorials. Pull up the weeds, place some flowers, and leave a small U.S. flag in remembrance of those who gave all for this country.

KOH2RVA: Day 209

Karen AprilI love it that Karen Grizzard went ahead and brought the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, even while I was away on retreat. She’s been volunteering at Glen Lea Elementary School, and finding real joy in it. Last time she wrote she told me, “I’m so glad I got off the bus!” Off the mission bus, that is, and onto the mission field. Take a look at her message below and the picture to the right. It’s the kind of thing that must make Jesus smile.

Hi, Jim. I hope you have enjoyed your time away at the retreat. I have been envious; I miss the mountains so much. I wanted to share my latest reading day picture. Last Thursday at midday found me in Ms. Caison’s classroom. After reading 3 books several kids hugged me. The girl in pigtails even came back for a second hug. They asked me to come back “the Monday after spring break.” What a true blessing this activity has become for me. I plan to schedule my April reading days very soon. Regards, Karen.

Karen has been good about sending me pictures and updates, but she is not the only one who has been out there bringing heaven to earth. If you have pictures and stories to share please send them to me at somerville@fbcrichmond.org and type “KOH2RVA” in the subject line.

Maybe something you do today will end up on this blog tomorrow.

KOH2RVA: Day 202


It’s Holy Saturday, the only day in history when Jesus was dead.

If there is one day on the calendar when we shouldn’t be out there joyfully bringing heaven to earth, when we should, instead, put on sackcloth and ashes and mourn the death of our Lord, this is it.

So, other than presiding at the funeral of a beloved church member, I’m not going to work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, today, but I am going to work. I’m going to write a sermon that I hope will help us celebrate what happened on the day after that mournful Saturday long ago, and I hope you will be in church tomorrow to celebrate with me.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” –Ps. 30:5

KOH2RVA: Day 198

student artI spoke with someone yesterday whose brother belongs to an evangelical church and who sometimes goes from door-to-door with members of his congregation to talk to people about Jesus. Their approach is to knock on the door and ask whoever answers some version of this question: “If you died tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?” (I tried to imagine how it would feel to open my door to a stranger whose first words had to do with my death. I’m pretty sure it would get my attention and I’m pretty sure that’s the point). At any rate, he had called her recently to tell her about it and about the kind of results they were having.

“We had five conversions the other night,” he said.

“Were they real conversions, or were people just trying to get you to leave them alone?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

And that’s part of the problem: we don’t know. We don’t know if those kinds of efforts bring people closer to Christ or push them further away, but we do know we have been commanded to “go, make disciples,” and this is one of the ways Christians try to do it.

But let me tell you about another way.

I had a talk recently with a woman named Brenda who has been visiting First Baptist for the past two years. Brenda is an artist, and a good one; I’ve seen some of her work. She was telling me how much she has enjoyed coming to church and how she has wanted to get involved in our mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, but she didn’t really know where to start. She mentioned the elementary school we are partnering with this year—Glen Lea—but she also talked about the exhibit the Fine Arts Team is putting on in April. As we talked, the two began to come together.

I can’t remember if it was my idea or hers but somewhere in that conversation we began to talk about putting some student artwork in the exhibit, and the more we talked the more excited we got. “I think that’s a great idea,” I said. “Really?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “I think you should get in your car and drive over to Glen Lea Elementary right now and ask the art teacher if she has some students whose work could go in our show.” “Really?!” she asked again. “Yes,” I said, and she got up from her chair right then, and put on her coat, and headed out the door. We were nowhere close to the end of our appointment, but she couldn’t wait.

She was that excited.

Now, the door-to-door evangelist might say that hanging student artwork in an exhibit doesn’t bring those kids one step closer to salvation and he might be right, but he might be wrong. As with door-to-door evangelism it’s hard to know what happens in the human heart. We have to leave that part up to God. But here’s what I was thinking about as Brenda left my office:

  • I was thinking about how excited she was, and how different that is from the way we sometimes do evangelism, as it were a chore.
  • I was thinking about how excited those kids would be to find out their artwork had been chosen for display.
  • I was thinking that they might beg their moms and dads to take them to First Baptist Church for the exhibit.
  • I was thinking about fifty or sixty students and parents from Glen Lea Elementary showing up at our church.
  • I was thinking what a wonderful opportunity that would be to greet them, visit with them, brag on their artwork, and make them feel special.
  • I was thinking how they would go home from that experience, smiling.
  • I was thinking how that might make Jesus smile.

I believe that Brenda was thinking all those same things, and that’s why she couldn’t wait to get in her car and drive over to Glen Lea Elementary that day. There is something about this kind of work—about bringing heaven to earth—that fills people with joy.  I’ve got to believe it is the joy of the Lord, and that the Lord will know just how to use it to accomplish his eternal purposes.

KOH2RVA Day 185

KarenGAt last night’s deacons’ meeting we talked about joy and agreed that it was not the same thing as happiness. Happiness seems to be dependent on circumstances whereas joy does not.

At one point I reminded the deacons at my table of that place in Luke 10 where Jesus sends his disciples out to do what he, himself, has been doing: curing the sick, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, casting out demons, and proclaiming the good news of the coming Kingdom. Luke says the disciples returned “with joy,” and I said, “That’s why I keep insisting that the members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church get off the bus and onto the mission field: because I believe there is joy in it.”

That certainly seems to be true in Karen Grizzard’s case—Karen, who had such a hard time finding her way of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, she made up her mind to volunteer at a local elementary school. Since then she’s been going to Glen Lea Elementary at least once a month and lately she’s been reading to second graders.

I’ve shared some of her letters before but this one seems to capture the essence of the joy we were talking about at our deacons’ meeting last night. Listen:

Hi, Jim. I hope you won’t grow tired of my KOH2RVA updates. I am so glad I got off the bus. I took a break today from a hectic workweek to read to Ms. Caison’s second graders at Glen Lea. They were so attentive, displayed their best manners and clapped after each story! The cute girl in pigtails to my left grabbed me by the waist and asked me to come back again to read. You know my answer. Regards, Karen.

Did you hear what she said? She took a break from a hectic workweek to read to Ms. Caison’s second graders. In other words, she took a break from a hectic workweek to see if she could find some joy, and she found it in giving her time and talents to a group of second graders. Notice that she didn’t say, “This was just one more thing I had to add to a busy week.” She didn’t say, “Why do you keep nagging us about bringing the KOH2RVA?” Instead she said, “I am so glad I got off the bus.”

There is joy in this work, real joy, but you may never find out for yourself if you don’t take that first step. Still looking for ways to do that? Visit the KOH2RVA section of our church website and see what you can find. Or just do what Karen did:

Make up your mind.

KOH2RVA: Day 123

reading is funThis is the way I heard the story:

At the Holiday Party at Essex Village on December 23, parents were given a chance to buy gifts for their children from a wide selection of donated items, which included games, puzzles, toys, and books. Each item was priced at 25 cents, allowing the parents to hold on to their dignity by actually buying gifts for their children, and not simply receiving charity.

Christy Somerville was at the book table, helping parents choose age-appropriate books for their children. Christy recently graduated with a Master’s Degree in Reading from VCU. She has worked as a literacy coach and a reading specialist. Her vanity license plate says, “RD2KDZ.”

She’s all about it.

And so she was dismayed to hear some of the parents say they didn’t want to spend their 25 cents on books, that they would rather spend it on something a little flashier, a little more fun to open on Christmas morning. That’s when she pulled Steve Blanchard aside and said, “Look, I’m going to put a book in each of these shopping bags. I’ll make a donation to cover the cost.”

That’s what she started doing—picking out age-appropriate books for each of the children who came by and slipping them into the parents’ shopping bags. But when the crowd died down a little she found a place to sit on the floor, open a book, and do what her vanity license plate tells her to do: read to kids.

I love this picture of a little girl who is finding out that “Enchanted Stories” can be exactly that: enchanting. And if you look closely at this picture you can see the Kingdom of Heaven coming to Richmond, Virginia, and the joy it brings to those who bring it.


Blogger’s Note: I will be traveling to Georgetown, Kentucky, today to participate in a two-day pastor’s conference, and staying through Sunday to preach at Faith Baptist Church—the church where I became a Baptist, served as a youth minister, was licensed to the ministry, and married the pastor’s daughter. It’s going to be a very special occasion. But because of all that (and because I will be away from RVA) I will probably wait until I get back on Monday to continue my day-by-day report on our year-long, every-member mission trip. Until then, give me something to report on! You can send your KOH2RVA news to somerville@fbcrichmond.org. I’ll be glad to hear from you.