Every Ending is a Beginning

Richmond SunriseWe celebrated KOH2RVA yesterday at Richmond’s First Baptist Church—the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip—and we did it in style. The RVA United band started things off in our gym as people gathered, I offered a welcome, and then they played a few songs in a gentle, acoustic style that was perfect for that time of day. We showed videos of how the church had worked to bring the kingdom of heaven to Richmond, Virginia, this year, and heard testimonies of gratitude from Mike Maruca (head of the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School) and Kimberly Lee (Principal of Glen Lea Elementary, a Richmond public school). Steve Blanchard talked about the work that’s been done at Essex Village, one of the largest housing projects in our city, and we wrapped things up with a slide show of images accompanied by a song about how heaven is coming down to this world.

In the worship service I shared my vision of how this mission can go forward through partnerships with other people, churches, agencies, and institutions. I suggested the name KOHX2 (that is, “Kingdom of Heaven Times Two”), and had some of our youth spell it out with giant cardboard letters so everybody could see it and remember it. And then I said this:

KOH times 2. Think about that with me for a minute.

In the past year I’ve been trying to post something on my blog almost every day as a way of sharing the stories of our members who have been busy bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and inspiring the ones who hadn’t yet found their way. But can I tell you something? Blogging every day is harder than it looks! You have to think of something to write, you have to write it, you have to edit it, you have to find a picture to go with it, you have to publish it, and then you have to promote it on Facebook (at least I do). It often takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half just to get something up there, even something that’s not very good. And so I’ve decided to start a new blog called KOH2RVA and invite other people to contribute to it. I’m hoping that anyone who is bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, would be inspired to write up a few paragraphs, attach a picture, and send it to me so I can post it on the new blog. And then, sometime in the spring and perhaps again in the fall I’m going to invite all those people to a city-wide conference called KOH2RVA right here at First Baptist, and we’re going to see what we can do to start a missions collaborative that will make a visible impact on our city.

And then I said, “That’s what I’m going to do to go forward with this mission. What about you?” Before the day was over I’d heard from Melissa Ansley Brooks, who shared with me her own vision of how to go forward. Grateful for her partnership in this mission, I posted her email on the new blog. You can find it by clicking HERE.

Every ending is a beginning, friends. Our year-long, every-member mission trip has come to an end, but our year-long, find-a-partner mission trip is just beginning. I hope you will find a partner and join us on KOHX2.

KOH2RVA: Day 349

AJCES Melissa BrooksSomehow I got myself on the Mustard Seed mailing list, which means I get the e-mailed prayer requests of the Mustard Seed Sunday school class. It’s been a good way for me to keep up with the concerns of this large, vibrant class, and to pray along with them for the needs of their classmates, family, and friends. But on Monday I got this announcement from class member Mark Roane:

Good afternoon ‘Seeds,

As many of you know, our church has been helping out at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, located at 2124 N 29th Street in Richmond’s Church Hill Area. This coming Friday, August 23, 2013 a group will be doing some interior painting at the school from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. If anyone is interested in participating, please contact Chuck Dean.

Thanks

When I got that email I put it on my calendar to drop by the Cooper School on Friday to see how the work was going, but when I got to the office yesterday things were even more piled up than usual. I wasn’t able to get away. And then at 3:57 p.m. I got this email from Mike Maruca, Head of School.

Jim:

I’m going to recommend that Our Lord put your congregation in charge of housekeeping and hospitality in heaven.

A small group was over here today and what they did was really something else. A lot of seemingly small stuff that makes all the difference and makes us look good—in the best sense. My debt to [First Baptist Church] only grows.

Blessings,

Mike

I don’t know that any of the members of that “small group” were members of the Mustard Seed Sunday school class, but I wouldn’t be surprised, because this is how it often happens:

1. One person becomes aware of a need and lets others know about it.
2. One of more of those others is moved to do something about that need.
3. The need is met in a way that makes a difference in the lives of still others.

There are kids from the housing projects in the East End who will come to the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School on the first day of school not knowing that Mark Roane sent out an email to the Mustard Seed Class, not knowing that some of those “Seeds” responded, not knowing how much time they spent at the school or exactly what they did—knowing only that when they walk into that building they feel special, as if someone cares about them and their future, a feeling they may not have anywhere else.

Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Mustard Seeds. Thank you for the ways you allow yourselves to be used to make things on earth a little more like they are in heaven. We cannot know how far these simple acts of kindness will reach, but Jesus said the Kingdom is like a mustard seed:

It starts small and grows.

KOH2RVA: Day 265

Maruca and ClemmonsOne of the surprises of our year-long, every-member mission trip has been a friendship and partnership with the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond’s East End. It started when Melissa Ansley Brooks, who lives in the neighborhood, chose the Cooper School as her KOH2RVA “project.” She began to volunteer at the school, and as she did she began to see the potential for a Kingdom-bringing partnership between the school and First Baptist Church. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and “infected” a number of people at First Baptist including Mary Hiteman, Director of Weekday Early Education, and Joyce Clemmons, leader of the church’s Generosity Team. It was Joyce’s idea to provide gifts and prizes for the school’s “Spring Bash” a few weeks ago, and to spoil the teachers with extravagant gift baskets during Teacher Appreciation Week. Here’s her report:

TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK AT AJCES

The Cooper School enjoyed a marvelous lunchtime experience on May 8th as ten teachers were presented with mementos of that special week set aside for teachers everywhere.

The lunchroom was a beehive of eating, talking, and speeches. Head of School Mike Maruca introduced visitors from First Baptist Church who presented lavish baskets overflowing with gifts for each of the ten teachers. Joyce Clemmons, Generosity Team leader, asked the students to join her in rousing applause for the role each teacher plays in their everyday lives. She encouraged the students to continue to pursue an education and set goals for the future. Those two things will assist each student in having a high school diploma, an opportunity to attend college, and a bright future ahead of them.

Teacher AppreciationRichie Hilbert’s Bible Study group was represented by Nell Coffman. A majority of that group generously donated items to fill the bright yellow, red, lime-green, and blue baskets. Generosity Team members Joyce Clemmons and Chuck Dean added their gifts. A colored picture of each teacher was attached to the gift.
Items included Flying Squirrels tickets, Car Pool car washes, McBucks from McDonalds, and gender specific items for the school desk and at home.

Thank you teachers at AJCES for all you do. Thank you Bible Study group for your generosity. Thank you Nell Coffman for the delightful framed plaque—”A Teacher’s ABCs”—which can be displayed on the teacher’s desk.

It was a fun lunch time and George, Sr. fed us well. Thank you, George!!

I don’t think the teachers at the Cooper School are always so generously appreciated. I think it was Joyce’s intention to overwhelm them with appreciation. I think she succeeded.

I’m grateful for the way heaven has come to earth through this partnership, and I want to thank Melissa, Mary, and Joyce, for the way they keep it coming.  Who would have guessed that a big Baptist church on Monument Avenue and a little Episcopal school in the East End would form such a beautiful friendship?

It sounds like something Jesus himself might have dreamed up.

KOH2RVA: Day 238

Here you are, friends: a 21-second glimpse of yesterday’s Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School “Spring Bash,” a festival conceived and executed mostly by First Baptist member Melissa Brooks, with lots of help from Joyce Clemmons and the FBC Generosity Team.

I talked with head of school Mike Maruca briefly who confessed that he had done almost nothing to bring about the “Bash.” “This is our first one,” he said, “but it seems to be going beautifully. Thank you so much First Baptist Church!”

Thanks to the 30+volunteers who showed up to help with games and prizes.  This was one of those days when it really did feel like we were on a mission trip, and everybody was helping to make it a success.  I am so proud of First Baptist right now, I’m about to start dancing like the girl in the yellow shirt, above.

KOH2RVA!

KOH2RVA: Day 237

tug_of_warOkay, campers…we’ve had our fun. We’ve spent the week sharing our thoughts and feelings about homosexuality. We’ve done it in a respectful way and my hope is that we’ve all come to a more compassionate place, but as I wrote in Tuesday’s post I am not on a crusade:

I’m on a mission trip.

And today is Day 237 of KOH2RVA, First Baptist’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. It’s a big one. I’ve been up since 5:00 just because there’s so much to be done.

At 9:00 this morning Dr. Terry Whipple and friends are going to host “The Physician Within,” which started with Terry’s dream of taking a medical mission trip without ever leaving the city of Richmond. Today the topic is back and neck pain, and if you have either, or know someone who has either, I hope you will be in the dining hall of Richmond’s First Baptist Church at 9:00. The workshop will last until 11:30 this morning, which should give you enough time to have a leisurely lunch with friends before moving on to…

The “Spring Bash” at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School on Church Hill. The Generosity Team at First Baptist challenged the church to provide gifts and prizes for the middle schoolers who will be competing today and the response was overwhelming, but we could still use some volunteers to help out with the games.  We’re hoping for two shifts: one from 11:00 to 1:00 and another from 1:00 to 3:00. The school is located at 2124 N. 29th Street. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

I’m hoping to spend some time at each of those events, but it’s Saturday, the day I finish up the sermon, and there’s a whole lot left to be written. But the people who were made uncomfortable by last Sunday’s sermon will be glad to know—this one is about Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia saying, “Come over and help us!” It’s not about homosexuality at all. Because I’m not on a crusade:

I’m on a mission trip.

KOH2RVA: Day 224

Hands healingIt’s Sunday morning, April 21, 2013. I’m sitting at my kitchen table just a few minutes after 6:00, making oatmeal and putting the finishing touches on today’s sermon.

I’m preaching from Acts 9:36-43: the story about Peter raising Dorcas from the dead. I don’t think I’ve ever preached on that passage before, and I’m impressed by the lessons some of us other, ordinary disciples can learn from it. Here’s an excerpt:

When Peter was alone in that upper room with the cold, lifeless body of Dorcas he simply did what he had seen Jesus do. He wasn’t a faith healer; he was just full of faith in the One who once said to his disciples, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12).

If we believed that, I think we would lay hands on more people and pray for them, and, to be fair, at our prayers for healing service we do. You’ve heard me say that it’s not a healing service. We can’t promise that. But we do promise to pray for healing and usually, when people come forward for prayer, we ministers listen to their requests and then put our hands on them and pray. Sometimes, at their request, we anoint them with oil. Why not? But if we really believed what Jesus said I think we would lay hands on people all the time, everywhere, and pray for them every chance we could. I think we would pat on them, and hug them, and shake their hands, and every time we did we might pray that God’s healing power would somehow flow through us to them. We’re not faith healers, but we could be full of faith in Jesus, we could believe that somehow he could use us—his disciples—to get his work done here on earth.

One of the people who seems to do that especially well is Suzii Paynter, the new Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She’s going to be with us in worship today, and stick around for a brief reception afterward. I hope you will come, if you can, and meet her.

Another person who does that well is Mike Maruca, head of the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. I hear that he greets all 52 students at his school by name each morning, and if one of them is missing he goes to find him, just like a good shepherd. Mike is going to be with us in worship as well.

I hope that you can be with us, and if not in person then perhaps you could tune in to our live webcast at 8:30 or 11:00 a.m. by clicking HERE. Because it’s going to be a great day at First Baptist. We’re going to learn how Jesus can use us—his disciples—to get his work done here on earth.

See you in church!

KOH2RVA: 136

R0916_FLR_MIKE4First of all, let me apologize to the staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church:

When I said that you were doing a “service project” yesterday I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t on a mission, or that you weren’t trying to change the world, I was just thinking about how some people do service projects because they make them feel good, or because they think they ought to, and not because they have some bigger goal in mind.

You do.

You’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and yesterday you came close. As Steve Blanchard put it—heaven was “hovering” just above the ground.

Thank you for your good work.

But back to that other question: Is there a difference between doing a service project and being on a mission? Yes, there is. We did a little painting at the Anna Julia Cooper School yesterday. We put up a gigantic photo collage, and moved some furniture, and cleaned out the gutters. We did a service project. But Mike Maruca, the founder of the school, is on a mission. He says, “Helping to ensure that our students are on a path toward a full and decent life is our fundamental reason for being here.”

I heard a story about Mike that made that clear. A member of the staff said that Mike greets the students as they enter the building in the morning and calls each one by name. If one or more of them is missing he says, “I’ll be right back,” and then gets in his car and drives to those students’ homes where he knocks on the door and asks if they are all right.

He not only knows their names; he knows where they live.

That tells me something about his commitment to this mission. He’s helping to ensure that his students are on a path toward a full and decent life. Everything he does has that bigger goal in mind.

A service project can contribute to a mission. If we hadn’t done what we did yesterday Mike, or someone else, would have had to do it. But here’s another difference, and it’s a big one: when you finish a service project you can go home and get some rest, but a mission never really ends. Mike Maruca will never be finished “helping to ensure that his students are on a path toward a full and decent life.”

And we may never finish bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. But there are days when you can tell it came a little closer, just as I’m sure there are days when Mike knows he’s making progress. I heard that all of his graduating students from last year got into good local high schools.

Just think how he will feel when he hears that they all got into good colleges.