KOH2RVA: Day 316

Anne4It was great to be back in church yesterday.

I preached the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42 and ended up talking about “holy moments.” At the end of the sermon I asked the congregation to recognize that that very moment was a holy one—when we were all gathered together, sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking up every word, just like Mary in the story.

But there was another holy moment that came later that afternoon.

I was in a meeting with the Associate Pastor for Communications search team, the team that is trying to find someone who can take David Powers’ place as when he retires at the end of next month. It won’t be easy. David is, in so many ways, irreplaceable. But we had a promising candidate at the table who had just asked an interesting question: “What is the mission of First Baptist Church?”

There was a brief pause, and then Anne Keo offered an answer. She started by saying that she had been at First Baptist all her life—almost literally. She was dedicated a month after she was born. She talked about her days in the youth group, when kids came to First Baptist from 36 different high schools in the area. “But since Pastor Somerville has been here,” she said, “there seems to be more of a push to be on mission where we are the rest of the week, and not only on Sunday mornings—for everyone to be a missionary.”

From the moment she said, “But since Pastor Somerville has been here,” I had been holding my breath, wondering what she would say next, but when she said that—about everyone being a missionary—I let it out in a sigh of relief.

It was a holy moment.

Because since I’ve been at First Baptist I’ve been trying to help it become a more missional church. Missional is different from “mission minded.” First Baptist has always been mission minded. We’ve been sending missionaries to other parts of the world forever, supporting them with our money and our prayers. But in the missional church everyone is a missionary, and the mission field is not only over there, but also right here where we are, where we live and work and play. This year-long, every-member mission trip called KOH2RVA is simply a way of putting that idea into action as we “labor alongside the Lord Jesus” to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

Looking back on yesterday’s holy moment I realize that when Anne said there has been “a push” for everyone to be a missionary since Pastor Somerville’s arrival she didn’t say it was a good thing. She might have been wishing this pushy pastor would leave things the way they were when she was in the youth group. But I could tell from what she said later in the meeting that she was learning to think of herself as a missionary, and that she saw this as different, and much more important, than simply “coming to church.”

It seems so simple: “Everyone is a missionary.” And yet to know that in your heart, to feel it in your bones, to begin to look at the world around you through “missionary eyes” can take years. I believe Anne is getting it, and who knows how the world will be different because she is?

KOH2RVA: Day 315

blanchard-2010-headshotIf a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?  If the pastor goes on vacation, and doesn’t blog about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, for two weeks, does it still happen?

Apparently so.

I can’t tell you how good it was to come home from vacation and find this message (below) from Steve Blanchard.  Steve is our Minister of Christian Compassion at First Baptist Church.  He’s been one of the driving forces behind our year-long, every-member mission trip.  And when I read this message I was gratified to learn that even while I was on vacation someone was still driving: the mission was moving forward.

July 16, 2013

Been a busy week thus far with KOH2RVA and it’s only Tuesday. Just a brief report on two events if you are interested. Monday was our first movie afternoon this summer at Essex. We had 5 helpers who jumped in, Don and Margaret Price, Ellen Lipford, Millie Barnes, and Candi Brown. On a day where the AC did not work and then the DVD/TV did not work for the first 20 minutes, we still had a great day with approximately 27 kids attending. I say approximately because the crowd flowed in and out at times and it was hard to keep count. All the kids asked if we could come back…every day!

Tuesday morning was another day of TAGG (Talented And Greatly Gifted…I think that is right). It is a day camp at Essex from 9-1 where kids are tutored in a variety of areas. This morning, we took 11 kids to the VA Museum of Fine Arts where they experienced the wonders of the art world. They loved it! Several FBC members accompanied the group; Josie Carver, Pam Franklin, Lee Byerly, Hanna Zhu and Betty Ann Dillon. Afterwards, we took the kids to Sweet Frog in Carytown for their first ever trip to the frozen yogurt store where each kid piled their bowl to overflowing. I guarantee there are stomach aches along with the smiles tonight. Anne Brasfield, another volunteer, treated the whole group!

While all this is going on during the day, CARITAS for women continues in the evening. A fantastic group of volunteers has hosted the group of 36 since Saturday night. While I have not been there, I have heard wonderful things.  I expected no less.

And, of course, other great volunteers continue to serve the homeless community in our ongoing ministries of food pantry, clothes closet, and shower ministry on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday

Blessings to all who have worked hard this week to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, whether it has been noted above or not. Keep up the good work!

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

A report like this one makes me so grateful, and makes me believe that this year-long, every-member mission trip has a momentum all its own.  We may find, when we get to the end of the year, that it can’t be stopped.

And that would be OK.

 

KOH2RVA: Day 301

FrontPorchFrontofHse 042Today we will commission five different mission teams at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Two will go to South Africa, one will go to Arkansas, one will go to the Philippines and then on to Singapore for the Baptist World Alliance Youth Conference, and one person (Skyler Cumbia) will go to Ghana. It’s a good reminder that First Baptist is not only interested in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, but to the whole world. We focus on Richmond simply because this is the place where we live, and the place that we love more than any other place in the world.

Not that there aren’t some other wonderful places.

I’ll be leaving Richmond just after the 11:00 worship service today for two weeks’ vacation in the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Catskills of New York. I’m going to walk in the woods, sit on the front porch, read good books, eat good food, and rest, rest, rest. I won’t be blogging for the next two weeks, but it would be a great time to dig through the archives and be reminded of all we have accomplished together in the last 301 days.

I will be counting on those of you who are still in town to carry on the mission, and to surprise me with all the good ways you have brought heaven to earth when I get back. One of the things we’re going to do shortly after my return is gather at the river on July 21 for the Sixth Annual FBC River Baptism. Please be in prayer for those who are preparing to be baptized, and join us if you can for that very special event.

Know, as I go, that some part of my heart will remain here in Richmond, and that I will look forward to being back with you here and getting on with our mission. But for the next two weeks I’m going to do my best to rest, remembering that even Jesus withdrew from time to time. I think I understand now, more than ever, why he had to.

Bringing heaven to earth is hard work!

Thanks for your help.

KOH2RVA: Day 300

tired_runnerThere’s something about a nice round number…

But what I think of when I see this number—300—is that there are only 65 days left in our year-long, every-member mission trip.

For some people that may inspire a surge of fresh commitment to the mission: “We don’t have much time left! Let’s do something great!” For others it may inspire a heavy sigh: “We’ve been on this mission trip for nearly 10 months. We’re exhausted!”

For me, it’s a little of both.

I think about some of those things I was hoping to do on this mission trip, like putting up a mailbox at church where our neighbors in the Fan could drop their prayer requests so we could pray for them on Wednesday nights. Like taking portraits of some of our homeless neighbors and turning them into big posters that could be plastered on walls downtown with the caption: “I’m not homeless: Richmond is my home.” Like working more closely with county and city governments, so that our efforts would be multiplied. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to all of those things.

On the other hand, I’m surprised and pleased by what we have been able to do. I didn’t know, for example, that we were going to form a partnership with the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. I didn’t know that our youth were going to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Nickelsville, Virginia. I didn’t know our fifth graders were going to go Christmas caroling at nursing homes. I didn’t know the second graders were going to raise money to buy a new pair of shoes for Cheryl.

There have been dozens of other things that have surprised and pleased me as I’ve watched this mission trip unfold, and those are the things that inspire me to keep going. I want to get to September 8th like the Apostle Paul, who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

I hope you will be able to say it with me.

KOH2RVA: Day 299

Book Buddies 2Tomorrow will be Day 300 of First Baptist Church’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

How are we doing?

Well, the Kingdom hasn’t come, not yet, not entirely, but there have been many times when heaven touched down briefly, just long enough to encourage us. I sometimes think about that remarkable picture of the sixth-grade boy from the housing projects in the East End reading to one of our privileged preschoolers at First Baptist and realize that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been on this mission—if one of our members hadn’t been thinking about what she could do to help bring heaven to earth.

But that’s just one example. There are hundreds more, literally. So many of our members have been involved, and in so many ways. When I flip through the pictures I’ve posted on my blog in the last 299 days the stories come rushing back right along with them until I am almost overwhelmed by God’s goodness and grace and a glimpse of what is possible when his people put their shoulder to the wheel and push in the same direction, toward the coming of his Kingdom.

So I’m putting together a slide show for our closing celebration on Sunday, September 8. It’s going to feature dozens of those pictures and a song called “Heaven” by Michael Gungor that says, “I don’t know but I’ve been told, heaven is coming down to this world.”

There are days when I can believe it, and this day may be one of them. Why not seize the opportunity to do something on this day that is picture-worthy, story-worthy—one of those things that will stay in your memory forever as an example of how heaven can come to earth and sometimes does? And then do this: take a picture, write up the story, and send it to me at somerville@fbcrichmond.org. Who knows? It may be the Day 300 example of how “heaven is coming down to this world.”

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 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.