KOH2RVA: Day 359

2013-09-02 10.59.19It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, and for many the first day of school. Parents all over the region are rousing their sleepy children, feeding them a healthy breakfast, helping them into stiff, brand-new, back-to-school clothes, and then getting them onto the bus or dropping them off at the front door of the school with a lump in their throats. Say a prayer for those parents and children (and for teachers and administrators) today.

Education isn’t easy.

But yesterday I saw a different kind of education going on. It didn’t look easy, but it did look like fun.

I was at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, participating in the “Sidewalk Chalk of Love” event (the concept is simple yet brilliant: show up at school on the day before it starts and write messages of encouragement on the sidewalk with chalk; it’s especially brilliant at those schools where children need a little extra encouragement, like the Cooper School or Glen Lea Elementary; some of our members showed up at both). There I was, trying to think of something encouraging to write, when Claudia Harris and her daughters, Morella and Isabella, showed up.

Claudia went to work immediately, sketching the outline of a gigantic unicorn, and then her girls went to work making it beautiful. Morella made a rainbow-colored horn and a rainbow-colored tail. Isabella thought it would be fun to chalk the bottoms of her feet and then fill in the outline with her purple footprints.

Apparently it was.

But I imagined the conversation that took place before all the fun began:

“Girls, we’re going over to the Anna Julia Cooper school to write encouraging messages on the sidewalk.”

Why?

“Because not every child is as lucky as you are. They don’t all have two loving parents who encourage them every day. They need a little extra boost.”

Oh. OK.

But think of the education those girls were getting yesterday. Even before the start of school they were learning that we (followers of Jesus) think of others and not only ourselves; that we try to help and encourage others, especially those who don’t usually get much help or encouragement; and that we are willing to make some sacrifices toward that end, even if it means taking an hour out of our own activities on the last day of summer vacation.

I said to Claudia, privately, “I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing for your girls,” and she said, “Oh, we love our church. There are so many great opportunities!”

That’s music to a pastor’s ears.

Claudia meant that there are great opportunities through First Baptist to educate her children, to teach them how to be generous, selfless, faithful followers of Jesus. But Claudia and her husband Noel are taking responsibility for much of that education. After all, we didn’t send a bus to her house yesterday; she brought the girls herself. She and Noel want them to learn how to do the work of the kingdom. They are grateful for all the good opportunities the church provides.  And me?  I’m grateful for them.

May their tribe increase.

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 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 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 290

CBF General Assembly

After lunch today I’m getting in my car to drive to Greensboro, North Carolina, for the annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

I remember my first meeting.

It was in 1991, shortly after I had been called as pastor of Wingate Baptist Church in North Carolina. For the ten years I had been a Baptist—and for all the years I was in seminary—the Southern Baptist Convention had been engaged in a bitter conflict between the “moderates” and the “conservatives” where all we seemed to do at our annual meetings was fight over things like the authority of Scripture, the role of women in ministry, and the question of who would control the world’s largest protestant denomination. Long before 1991 I was ready to be done with the fighting. So when I heard that a group of Baptists were meeting in Atlanta to give up the fight and get on with the mission, I was eager to learn more. I drove from Wingate to Atlanta and was there at the Omni with 6,000 other Baptists when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was formed. On the cover of the program were those words from Isaiah 43: “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” I was ready for a new thing, and when I drove home from Atlanta I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling that at last I could quit fighting denominational battles and get on with the work Jesus had called me to do.

22 years later I’ve gotten on with my work, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has gotten on with its work, and the Southern Baptist Convention has gotten on with its work. And, praise be to God, I believe we are all doing good work. Richmond’s First Baptist Church has not aligned itself with either the SBC or the CBF, but it does support missionaries through both entities. From time to time we get to hear some of those missionaries speak and tell us about the work they’re doing around the world. And when I hear them speak I can tell where their hearts are.

To a person, their hearts are in the right place.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is trying to be the presence of Christ in the world; the Southern Baptist Convention is trying reach the world for Christ; Richmond’s First Baptist Church is trying to bring heaven to earth, and part of the way we do it is by supporting SBC and CBF missionaries. The other way we do it, of course, is to roll up our sleeves and go to work right here where we are—as missionaries.

I’m going to leave that job up to you for a few days while I go to Greensboro. I won’t be blogging on Thursday or Friday. But if you’d like to know what’s going on at the General Assembly you can click HERE, and even if you don’t you can say a prayer for the work of all kinds of Baptists all around the world. Pray that it would be the kind of work that would make Jesus proud.

And thank God that the fight—at least, that fight—is over.

KOH2RVA: Day 133

Suzii Paynter of Austin, Texas, has been named candidate for the position of Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  That’s a  bold move for CBF, and one that is probably overdue.

Women have always been the driving force behind missions in Baptist life.  They are the ones who have taught us about missions, asked us to pray for our missionaries, and promoted the annual missions offerings.  Suzii has done all those things in her Baptist life, but she has also paid attention to the way the world is changing.  We live in a world where young people, especially, are not content to let someone else do missions for them—they want to do it themselves, they want to get their hands dirty helping others.

“The era of the passive listener is over,” Suzii says.

That’s a strong endorsement of the thinking behind KOH2RVA, our year-long, every-member mission trip.  We’re not only asking our members to support and pray for career missionaries in other places, but to become missionaries right here where we are—to roll up their sleeves and go to work in this place that we love, this place where we live.

I hope you will take the six minutes and 52 seconds required to watch the entire video and get to know Suzii Paynter a little better.  She will be visiting First Baptist Church on April 21 and staying for lunch in our dining hall afterward to talk with anyone interested in knowing more about her, about CBF, or about a new way of doing missions.  If you’d like to come let me know by sending an email message to somerville@fbcrichmond.org and typing “CBF Lunch” in the subject line.

I’ll save a place for you at the table.

KOH2RVA: Day 111


Have you seen this video? I love the way these First Baptist members bring heaven to earth by delivering Meals on Wheels. I’ve been with them once, and it really does make a difference to the people who receive these meals. They not only get a hot, nutritious meal, they get a friendly greeting, a handshake or hug, and often a “God bless you,” on the way out. Think about how much that improves the quality of life for each one.

My parents have been on the receiving end of this service when they were living in Summerville, South Carolina, and I remember what a huge difference it made for them. I’m going to try to bring a little bit of heaven to earth today by visiting them in Franklin, West Virginia, where they live now. Maybe I’ll ask them if they remember Meals on Wheels, and when I do I will be grateful all over again for these First Baptist “missionaries,” and the way they are bringing the KOH2RVA.