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 326

Christy TutoringToday is my day off, and I’m going to the mountains to do some hiking. But not Christy, my wife. She’s going to Essex Village to work with some children who are struggling to read.

She is such a missionary.

She was working with Mubarak, Muhammad, and Than on Monday, reading a book about elephants, when Muhammad announced that he didn’t like elephants. That seemed a little random. I mean, who doesn’t like elephants? But Muhammad is from Africa. He’s had more experience with elephants than most people.

“An elephant killed my grandfather,” he explained.

There was a moment of shocked silence, but just a moment, and then Christy said, “Well, let’s read a book about butterflies then!”

Who would have guessed that in her efforts to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, Christy would end up working with children named Muhammad, Mubarak, and Than, or that one of them would not like elephants—with good reason? These days more than ever it seems you don’t have to go to faraway places to be a missionary.

You can be one right here at home.

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 229

2013-04-26 07.24.30On Monday of this week a few of my colleagues and I met with Dr. Terry Whipple to continue our conversation on making Richmond “the healthiest city in America.” According to Forbes magazine we’re already number 12. What would it take to move us to 11, and then 10, and then 9? That’s what we talked about on Monday and Dr. Whipple’s interest, of course, is helping people who are sick and suffering get better. His brilliant strategy is a program called the Physician Within, an educational mission designed, as Terry say, “to keep people out of the emergency room.” So, if you or someone you know is suffering from back or neck pain, don’t miss the next session of the Physician Within, Saturday, May 4, from 9 – 11:30 in the dining hall at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

But that’s only the half of it.

Because being the healthiest city in America involves more than not getting sick. It also involves getting, and staying, healthy. So, cities are rated on the number of walking trails and bike paths and public parks they have. They’re evaluated by the question: “How many people are out there, eating less and moving more?” Because that’s the kind of thing that can make a city truly healthy, and not just unsick.

So, my brother Ed came to visit at a bad time, when all that was still on my mind. On Thursday we loaded the canoe on top of the car and spent about four hours paddling on the James, downriver through some riffles and then back upriver, portaging around a dam or two and digging in to buck the current and get back to our starting point. By the time we got finished our arms were tired. But later that afternoon, I took him to the Jewish Community Center, where I work out, and while I was lifting weights in the fitness center he swam laps in the pool—lots of them. This morning I brought him along for ecumenical jogging with my friend and Episcopal priest, Wallace Adams-Riley, and although we didn’t run as far or fast as we usually do, I think we ran enough that Ed was beginning to wonder what he had gotten himself into.

I left him out there on the sidewalk, still talking to Wallace about his work as a missionary in Mexico, and how St. Paul’s Episcopal Church might want to invest in the work that he’s doing (God love ‘em, these missionaries never miss an opportunity to talk about their work). I came in to blog, and have breakfast, and recover from the run. Soon I’ll be dressed and ready for work, and out there on the streets again, thinking more about Richmond’s spiritual health than it’s physical health, and doing what I can today to bring heaven a little closer to earth.

For my brother Ed, heaven may come when he and his wife Debbie drive away from Richmond later this morning, and for the five-hour trip back to Rutherfordton, North Carolina (where they’re staying while on furlough), he gets to put his feet up and rest.

Adios, Ed. Come again soon!

KOH2RVA: Day 228

Brothers smallLast night my brother Ed spoke at First Baptist Church (he’s the one on the far left in the picture, the oldest of the six Somerville boys. The others are Scott, Jim, Greg, Gray, and Bill). Ed is a missionary in Mexico, where he has been serving for more than 12 years. He told the church last night that when he first went to Mexico he took his wife, Debbie, and all eight of his children with him: his own missionary “team.”

But then he told us why he went.

He said that when he was still in his twenties he prayed that God would let him lead 100 people to the Lord in his lifetime. But then he became the director of a Christian camp in North Carolina and in one summer he baptized a hundred kids.

And so he prayed again:

“Lord,” he said. “I wanted to bring 100 people to know you in my lifetime and now I’ve done that. Would it be too much to ask that I might bring (gulp!) 1,000 people to you?” But God reassured him that he was a big God, and after ten summers directing that camp Ed had baptized 1,000 kids.

And so he prayed again:

“Lord,” he said. “I never dreamed that I would lead 1,000 people to know you in my lifetime. You tell me you’re a big God. Are you big enough for this? What if I asked you to let me lead 10,000 people to know you?”

And that’s how he ended up in Mexico, where some 85 percent of the people don’t have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Ed is trying to get the Good News to them, mostly through a Christian camp he calls “El Monte” (the Mountain). The work has been harder and slower than he might have expected, but God is a big God, as Ed would say. Nothing is too hard for him.

It occurred to me as Ed was speaking last night that he’s not really trying to bring heaven to earth. He’s doing this the old-fashioned way: he’s trying to get people to heaven. But when he talks about the way those beautiful brown faces shine with joy as they learn of the love of Jesus, and the way the tears begin to flow, I think heaven does come to earth,

Every time a heart is broken open,

Every time the grace of God gets in.

__________________________

Hint: if you visit the El Monte web site, and want to know more, click on the pull-down menu called “Updates” and type in this password: elmonteupdate

KOH2RVA: Day 100

girl-looking-in-mirrorIt’s Day 100 of our year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

How are we doing?

I asked that question in staff meeting last week partly because I had read an article in the Religious Herald that suggested some churches that call themselves “missional” really aren’t; they have simply given new names to the same old things they have always done.

“Is that us?” I asked.

The staff said no, and they gave specific examples. They said we seem to be getting it that it’s not our mission, it’s God’s, and we get to be part of it; that the mission field is not only “over there” somewhere, but also “right here” where we are; and that if we join God in his mission to love and serve the world that makes us missionaries.

It was that last part that got my attention.

We talked about church members who seem to be thinking of themselves more and more as missionaries. The things they have done on mission trips in faraway places they are now doing right here at home. Vicki Pope, for example, who has been to Helena, Arkansas, several times, is currently serving as a liaison between First Baptist Church and Essex Village Apartments, where there are 544 children, most of them in single-parent homes. They remind her very much of the children she has worked with in Helena. When Steve Blanchard needed to know something recently he sent email to Vicki, who called the social worker at Essex Village and got an answer back to Steve in 12 minutes. It’s becoming clear to Steve that Vicki doesn’t just go on mission trips from time to time: Vicki is a missionary, and Essex Village is her mission field.

That inspired me. I thought, “What if we took a picture of every member of First Baptist Church and posted it in the hallway, along with a caption that read, ‘This is what a missionary looks like’? Would that change our self-perception? Would we stop thinking of ourselves as members (which country clubs have), and start thinking of ourselves as missionaries?”

Take this simple test: the next time you look in a mirror say to yourself, “This is what a missionary looks like.” If you can believe it we will be well on our way to becoming a truly missional church, and several steps closer to bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

Habits of the Mind

My wife, Christy, is trying to teach little children to read. 

She’s working on a Master’s degree in reading, and at the same time working for a non-profit called ExCELL, which is all about early literacy.  She’s learning that children often develop an interest in reading if they think of themselves as writers, and so one of the things she is doing is giving little children crayons and scraps of paper and telling them to write down their stories.  Never mind that it looks like a green scribble, the child can tell you exactly what his story is about, and that makes him a writer…of sorts. 

Christy says this is one of those habits of the mind—thinking of yourself as a writer—that can change your whole outlook on life.  I thought about that when I heard Reggie McNeal say last week that instead of members the church needs missionaries.  I wondered what I could do that would make every member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church think of himself or herself as a missionary.  How do you develop that “habit of the mind”?  I don’t know, but I did think about what it would do for me to look out over the congregation on Sunday morning and see all those missionaries gathered there, people who had been out on the mission field during the week trying to bring heaven to earth.  It would inspire me.  I would begin to think there was nothing we couldn’t do.  I would begin to believe we could actually bring heaven to earth, and probably before Easter.

What about you?  What would it do to you to think of yourself as a missionary, and to imagine that place where you live or work as your mission field?  Is that a “habit of the mind” you could develop?  I’ve got a green crayon and a scrap of paper.  Maybe you could write “I am a missionary” on that paper, and then pin it to the front of your shirt. 

Who knows what might happen next?