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

 

KOH2RVA: Day 330

soccer campI didn’t blog yesterday, but it’s not because I didn’t want to: it’s because I forgot.

I got up at five o’ clock for a day that didn’t end until ten, with less than an hour in the afternoon to come home and change clothes. I’m not complaining. It was a wonderful day. But I am explaining how Richmond’s premiere KOH2RVA blogger might have forgotten to bring you up to date on the mission.

So, where were we?

Yesterday we were at Day 329. Today we are at Day 330. Which means that in just over a month this year-long, every-member mission trip will have come to its end. What I learned at church yesterday is that there are things going on I didn’t even know about and there are members who are still looking for a way to get off the bus.

For example: I didn’t know that Buddy Burgess, who heads up the ministry of recreation at First Baptist, had conducted a week-long soccer camp at Essex Village in which 25 children had participated. I must have been on vacation that week. But I heard Ralph Starling mention it during worship yesterday and when I closed my eyes I could almost see those children laughing and learning as Buddy worked with them patiently and came back to do it again every day that week. If he had done it in Sri Lanka it might have been on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but he did it at Essex Village—one of the most neglected neighborhoods in our city—and because he did not many people knew about it. Even his pastor found out after the fact. But those 25 children will never forget it and for them, I’m sure, heaven came a little closer to earth.

I also overheard someone whispering about a church member who hasn’t found her way to “get off the bus” yet, by which I mean she hasn’t found a way to participate in this year-long, every-member mission trip (emphasis on every). That didn’t surprise me; what surprised me was the expectation that she would, as if it were simply understood that that’s what you do at Richmond’s First Baptist Church—you get off the bus! The person who was whispering to her friend wasn’t doing it in a gossipy way; they were putting their heads together, wondering what they could do to help this woman before it’s too late, before this mission trip comes to an end and everybody else gets back on the bus—tired and happy—only to find their friend hiding in the back.

To learn that good things have been going on while you were away, and that a culture has been created in which everyone is expected to be on mission, well…that makes a pastor’s heart sing, even at the end of a very long day.

Today is a new day.  It’s day 330.

What will you do to bring heaven to earth?

KOH2RVA: Day 322

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What are the signs of the coming Kingdom? They’re in the hallways at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

I’ve posted two of these previously, but take a look at what our bulletin board artists have done to communicate the truth that our church is on a year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia–the KOH2RVA–and that we really do want everybody to get off the bus and onto the mission field.

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Children's Ministry

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Is KOH2RVA part of the church’s culture?  Has it gotten into our DNA?  We’re still working on it, but a walk down the hallways of the church will let you know we are moving in the right direction.

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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 318

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Take a close look at the image above.

It’s a screen shot from my iPhone, showing the distance between Windsor Farms—the city’s wealthiest census tract—and Gilpin Court—the city’s poorest. According to my iPhone even if you are driving in heavy traffic it’s less than five miles, less than twenty minutes, from one to the other. And yet the two are worlds apart.

So, I was a little surprised to find this email from First Baptist member Leslie Beale in my inbox when I got back from vacation:

Jim,

Normally I wouldn’t send these but since you asked us to keep working in your absence I thought I would share. Kevin and I are volunteering at STEP‘s VBS this week serving the kids from Gilpin Court. And I suppose we are working to bring KOH2RVA but to us it just seems like summer fun!

I hope that you are enjoying your vacation,

Leslie

Leslie and Kevin don’t live in the wealthiest census tract in Richmond, but they still live a long way from Gilpin Court, socioeconomically speaking. To think of them and their three beautiful children–Paige, Christopher, and Carter–helping out with Bible School at Gilpin Court stretched my imagination. I needed proof. Leslie must have known that.

She sent pictures.

I’m going to let those pictures speak for themselves, but I hope what you will hear when you look at them is this: that bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, is work, but it’s joyful work.

To some people, “it just seems like summer fun!”

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