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 354

ChloeAfter worship on Sunday Chloe Buchanan approached me shyly and asked if she could be one of my guest bloggers. Chloe is in the youth group at First Baptist Church. She said she was writing something about what KOH2RVA had meant to her and wondered if I would be interested in publishing it on my blog. “Absolutely!” I said, and encouraged her to send it to me as soon as possible.

She sent it the next day, but because of the backlog in my email inbox I didn’t find it until yesterday. But it’s all for the best. Today is my day off and I’m driving to West Virginia to see my parents. I didn’t really have time to blog. So, a huge thank you to Chloe for wanting to put into words what this year-long, every-member mission trip has meant to her, and for doing it so beautifully.

Here are her thoughts:

Before our church’s year long mission trip, KOH2RVA, started I just went on doing my daily routine without any thought about what God’s purpose was for me. For kids, well young adults my age we’re mostly focused on school, friends, and for some their first job. We go to church on Sundays, Wednesday nights, and might even volunteer on Saturday, but that’s where church stops. At my age there are so many distractions we face on a daily basis. I faced the struggle to make my time with The Lord everyday, and honestly it wasn’t on the top of my to-do list.

Since KOH2RVA started I have taken the extra effort to search for what God is trying to show me everyday. Whether it be how the sun shines through the clouds or that the checkout lady needs her day brightened up. I have also taken more time to just be still, reflect, and to know that The Lord is almighty. I have found that if you can make that extra few seconds to either reflect or pray for someone it can change not just your day but others as well.

One of my biggest focuses this year has been my walk with The Lord and how I can help others. My youth group has brought both of those together throughout the year. One of those moments happened while on a mission trip in Nickelsville Virginia. During the week we helped children, elders, and the less fortunate. I had already felt blessed for all that God had shown me through out the week but I was not expecting this. We were at a function called Nickelsville Days, there I met a women who proceeded in thanking me and blessing our youth group for what we have done and asked to pray with me. There, it hit me, just because we are a group of teenagers we have the power to make an impact on an entire town.

Now, there isn’t a day that goes by that God’s love and power isn’t present in some way. Even if you don’t have the gift of traveling elsewhere to do God’s work, you can do it here at home in Richmond. You can be any age, 1 or 101, if you take that extra few seconds, you’ll have the power to change not just your life but someone else’s life too.

Chloe Buchanan is a student at Atlee High School, a member of First Baptist Church, and the great granddaughter of legendary pastor Theodore F. Adams.  Her mother, Julie Adams-Buchanan, recently contributed to this blog.

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 343

xy axisI came home from Preacher Camp a day early, just so I could participate in yesterday’s five-hour attempt to bring some healing to the fractured Richmond Baptist Association. I did it because I care about the Association. I want it to succeed.

At one point Bill Wilson, President of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, asked us to create an X/Y axis of identity and mission and come up with some clever nicknames for the resulting quadrants (I know; I had a hard time picturing it, too). But eventually someone at our table drew a bold, vertical line down the center of a sheet of newsprint and wrote “Clear understanding of mission” at the top and “No understanding of mission” at the bottom. And then she drew a bold, horizontal line and wrote “No sense of identity” on the left and “Clear sense of identity” on the right.

And then we came up with clever nicknames.

We decided those in the bottom left quadrant were those who didn’t know who they were or what they were doing. We called them “The Clueless.” In the upper left quadrant were those who didn’t know who they were, but knew what they were doing. We called them “The Busy.” In the upper right quadrant were those who knew who they were and what they were doing. We called them “The Focused.” And in the bottom right quadrant were those who knew who they were but didn’t know what they were doing. We called them “The Feel-Good.”

The more we talked about those four quadrants the more obvious it became that the upper right quadrant was the place to be: that a clear sense of identity and a clear understanding of mission were essential to organizational health.

I couldn’t help but think of Richmond’s First Baptist Church in that moment. Who are we? Followers of Jesus. What are we doing? Working with him to bring heaven to earth. Currently, we are working with him on this year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. It couldn’t be much more clear than that, or more compelling.

One of the people at my table said, “That’s what we need: a mission so clear, so compelling, that it moves us from one quadrant to the other.” I think that’s true for every organization. We don’t want to be people who don’t know who they are or what they are doing. We want to be those who know exactly who they are, and exactly what they’re doing. That’s when things get done.

That’s when the Kingdom comes.

KOH2RVA: Day 333

dress up shoesI got this email from Steve Blanchard a few days ago and wanted to share it with (all seven of) my readers.  It’s a short one, but a good one:

I heard a story today from a volunteer that really impressed upon me the Kingdom. This past week, in our clothes closet, a lady came in need of a pair of size 10 shoes. Our volunteers began trying to find a pair to no avail. The volunteer who had escorted her to the clothes closet overheard and said, “You need a size 10?  I wear a size 10,” and proceeded to remove her shoes and offer them to the lady in need. Fortunately, a few moments later, the clothes closet volunteers found a pair of size 10 shoes that fit perfectly so our volunteer was able to keep her shoes, but what an act of selfless love to offer the shoes off her feet to one in need. On top of that, she did not want her name mentioned so that no credit would go to her. The Kingdom at work behind the scenes!

Steve Blanchard
Minister of Christian Compassion
Richmond’s First Baptist Church