KOH2RVA: Day 360

calendarThis is when I begin to wonder if I’ve been counting correctly…

If today—Wednesday—is Day 360 of KOH2RVA, then Thursday will be Day 361, Friday will be Day 362, Saturday will be Day 363, and Sunday will be…Day 364.

That doesn’t seem right.

We’re planning to celebrate the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip on Sunday. We’ve already made all the plans. The RVA United band is going to be in the gym at 9:30 that morning. We’re going to hear testimonies from our friends at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, Glen Lea Elementary, and Essex Village Apartments. We’re going to watch some of the KOH2RVA videos and wind things up with a kaleidoscope of images from our mission trip set to a song about “heaven coming down to the earth.”

Do I need to reschedule all that for Monday, Day 365?

And then I remember: we started KOH2RVA on Sunday, September 9, 2012, and this Sunday—while it is the second Sunday in September—is September 8, 2013, a day short of the full 365 but close enough to call.

I’m calling it. And I’m calling it good.

In the past few days I’ve had a number of letters, calls, and emails from people wanting to reassure me that they had actually gotten “off the bus and onto the mission field” during the year. You read Chloe Buchanan’s moving testimony on Day 354. Pratt Stelly’s story (and funny video) was published on Day 355. On Monday I learned that someone who has been looking for a way to get off the bus all year went over to Glen Lea Elementary and participated in the “Sidewalk Chalk of Love” event. And then yesterday I got a letter from Elmer and Betsy West with an end-of-the-year report on their mission endeavors that moved me nearly to tears. Elmer and Betsy are having a hard time getting to church these days, but that’s not keeping them from being on mission right there at Imperial Plaza where they live.

I may get more cards, letters, and emails today. I may find that everybody comes to church on Sunday ready to celebrate KOH2RVA with their own stories of participation. While I believe that many more of our members than usual have been on mission this year, I may find—to my amazement—that every member has been involved in one way or another.

And I may find that the Kingdom of heaven has come closer to Richmond, Virginia, than any of us could have imagined.

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.

KOH2RVA: Day 244

I don’t know how many years Bob Palmer has been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, but I do know this: for as long as I’ve been at First Baptist he’s been “Mr. Habitat.”

I was glad to discover First Baptist was involved with Habitat when I arrived five years ago.  I’ve volunteered a lot of hours to help people have decent, affordable housing and once had breakfast with Millard Fuller, Habitat’s founder, whose motto was: “No more shacks!”  Bob Palmer is committed to that vision, and like Mr. Fuller, sees it as a way of putting his faith into practice.

One of the other things I’ve admired about Bob is his commitment to racial reconciliation.  He’s become friends with one of the deacons at First African Baptist Church and they regularly dream about how our two churches might partner more closely.  One of those ways is Habitat’s “Faith Build,” when members of the faith community are encouraged to volunteer.  Not long ago I spent a day with several members of First Baptist and First African as we worked on a Habitat house together.  Driving nails side by side is a wonderful way to forget your differences and find out how much you have in common, and to learn that every once in a while everybody–even the most experienced volunteer–bends a nail.

So, thanks to Bob and the other FBC members pictured in this video who are bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, through Habitat for Humanity.  The families who move out of their shacks and into these beautiful homes may conclude that, for them at least, the Kingdom has come

KOH2RVA: Day 232

EG2At the end of worship yesterday Lori Bianco slipped me a folded piece of paper with a KOH2RVA story written on it: an account of a moment when the Kingdom of Heaven came to Richmond, Virginia, and she was lucky enough to have a front row seat.

She wrote:

The family I nanny for was going through some old clothes to give to Goodwill, and I asked if I could have them for a little girl who lives in an apartment complex where a friend of mine lives. She always has a big smile on her face, even though I always see her in the same outfit, and all through the winter, only sandals on her feet.

I brought over a box and a bag full of little girl treasures. When I knocked on the door, the children could not open the door since they were babysitting for their little sister and their mom was sleeping. I told them I would come back in a little bit.

I went across the road to have tea with a family from Egypt, and saw her little face pressed against the window…waiting impatiently for me to come back.

When I went back I was immediately let into the apartment. I put down the box and bag, but they were hesitant to look at it all. So I started to pull out the different things. This adorable little girl smiled at everything I brought out. Then I pulled out a pair of Barbie sandals, and her eyes grew large, she sucked in her breath, and her face lit up with the biggest smile possible.

Her Egyptian mother, who spoke very little English, repeated “God bless you!” over and over.

This was by far the highlight of my week, and the blessing I received from them far outweighed the little that I did for them.

When we do things like this—simple acts of kindness and generosity—we often take people by surprise. They want to know why we would do such a thing. That gives us the perfect opportunity to say, “Because of Jesus. Because this is what I think Jesus would do.” If they know who Jesus is, it might cause them to think about him in a different way, not only as someone they’ve seen in pictures, hanging on a cross, but as someone who comes and gives smiles and hugs and Barbie sandals to little girls. And if they don’t know who he is and say, “Jesus who?” Well!

That’s the perfect opportunity to tell them.

KOH2RVA: Day 194

Shaka SmartDear Readers:

I’m not feeling well today. I think it’s only a cold, but it has me down. I’m going to try to get some rest and feel better soon. In the meantime, let me ask those of you who are able to carry on with our mission of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

A glance at today’s newspaper headline tells me Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams were feeling well enough last night to crush the Akron (Ohio) Zips in the second round of the NCAA tournament’s South Region. I don’t think they were trying to bring the KOH2RVA when they did it, but there was at least one VCU fan in my neighborhood who got pretty excited about the win. I’ll have to think about the connection today, when I’m feeling a little better, but as I recall it was just last Sunday that Chris Harris (who leads the Upward Basketball program at First Baptist Church) assured the congregation: “You can bring heaven to earth with a basketball.”  Maybe he’s right about that.

Thanks for reading,

Jim

KOH2RVA: Day 37

At the end of Sunday worship these days I often say something like this:

“Let me remind you that we are on a mission trip, and that once again this big bus we’re riding on is about to come to a stop, the doors are about to swing open, and we are about to step off the bus and onto the mission field.”

And then I remind the congregation of our mission:

“I believe that as children of the Heavenly Father, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are called to labor alongside the Lord Jesus in the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth, and I believe there are a thousand ways to do that.”

In worship yesterday we heard about one of those ways. Bucky Neal, who is not a member of the church but someone who went through our Divorce Recovery Workshop, gave a testimony about how much that ministry had meant to him after the tragedy and heartbreak of his own divorce. He said that it was there, at DRW, that he began to recover “a future with hope.”

It was an eloquent testimony, and right at the end of it Bucky said, “I want to encourage you in your mission of bringing the KOH2RVA. It’s happening. Through the ministry of this church the Kingdom of Heaven came to me.”

That’s what it’s all about: the Kingdom coming—one person at a time. And sometimes all it takes is one person, working in one of those thousand ways, to bring heaven to earth.

That’s what I ask myself sometimes: I see someone who is struggling, suffering, or sad and wonder, “What could I do to make that person say, ‘Heaven just came to earth!’?”

And what about you? What could you do?

KOH2RVA: Day 36

Mildred Allen is a member of our “television congregation.” She wrote to me recently to tell me how much that ministry means to her, and how much she enjoyed the service from September 30 that was aired on October 7. The Kingdom of Heaven comes to a lot of hospitalized and homebound people at 11:00 Sunday morning on Channel 8. It sounds like it came to Mildred on October 7. When I read her letter, it came to me, too. Thanks, Mildred.

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Dear Dr. Jim, If I was able to attend the service on Sunday, as I shook your hand, I would want to say:

You were so good with the children’s time. You got their attention with your enthusiasm. Mine too.

The Men’s Chorus “Let It Shine” was such happy arrangement, and they did it well. They were a handsome group.

Lynn Turner’s information about the KOH Mission Trip was so interesting. Her smile lights up the entire Church.

I thought your sermon on prayer was one of the best ever. You were so introspective in exploring the nuances of prayer. I was in tears during most of your explanation, because of the beauty and depth. (Women enjoy crying!)

And when we sang the last hymn, the words were so special and were meant for today’s lifestyle and problems. I didn’t learn the name, but I know everyone took in the words because it followed a message that stimulated our thinking.

Also, I will pray for KOH Mission Trip every day. I’m going to move on, there may be others waiting to write!

Mildred Allen