KOH2RVA: Day 256

I hope you will take five minutes to turn up the volume on your computer, click on the image above, zoom to full screen, and sit back to watch this remarkable video about a partnership between First Baptist Church, the Children’s Museum of Richmond, and Glen Lea Elementary School.

If this were the only thing we accomplished on our year-long, every-member mission trip, it would be enough.  But this is only one of the things.  There are dozens more, hundreds more, because every member of the church has been looking for a way to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

David Powers and his team of volunteers in our communications ministry made it their goal to produce one KOH2RVA video each week.  That’s how they wanted to “bring it.”  David confessed to me recently that their goal was a little too ambitious.  Making a video is a lot of work.  But I hope that as you watch this one you will appreciate all that it took to record it, edit it, and present it in a way that tells the story and also gives you that good, warm feeling inside.

I’ve gotten that feeling each time I’ve watched this video–four times this morning.  Now I’m going to publish this post, make some oatmeal, sit down to breakfast, and probably, just probably,

Watch it one more time.

KOH2RVA: Day 209

Karen AprilI love it that Karen Grizzard went ahead and brought the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, even while I was away on retreat. She’s been volunteering at Glen Lea Elementary School, and finding real joy in it. Last time she wrote she told me, “I’m so glad I got off the bus!” Off the mission bus, that is, and onto the mission field. Take a look at her message below and the picture to the right. It’s the kind of thing that must make Jesus smile.

Hi, Jim. I hope you have enjoyed your time away at the retreat. I have been envious; I miss the mountains so much. I wanted to share my latest reading day picture. Last Thursday at midday found me in Ms. Caison’s classroom. After reading 3 books several kids hugged me. The girl in pigtails even came back for a second hug. They asked me to come back “the Monday after spring break.” What a true blessing this activity has become for me. I plan to schedule my April reading days very soon. Regards, Karen.

Karen has been good about sending me pictures and updates, but she is not the only one who has been out there bringing heaven to earth. If you have pictures and stories to share please send them to me at somerville@fbcrichmond.org and type “KOH2RVA” in the subject line.

Maybe something you do today will end up on this blog tomorrow.

KOH2RVA Day 185

KarenGAt last night’s deacons’ meeting we talked about joy and agreed that it was not the same thing as happiness. Happiness seems to be dependent on circumstances whereas joy does not.

At one point I reminded the deacons at my table of that place in Luke 10 where Jesus sends his disciples out to do what he, himself, has been doing: curing the sick, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, casting out demons, and proclaiming the good news of the coming Kingdom. Luke says the disciples returned “with joy,” and I said, “That’s why I keep insisting that the members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church get off the bus and onto the mission field: because I believe there is joy in it.”

That certainly seems to be true in Karen Grizzard’s case—Karen, who had such a hard time finding her way of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, she made up her mind to volunteer at a local elementary school. Since then she’s been going to Glen Lea Elementary at least once a month and lately she’s been reading to second graders.

I’ve shared some of her letters before but this one seems to capture the essence of the joy we were talking about at our deacons’ meeting last night. Listen:

Hi, Jim. I hope you won’t grow tired of my KOH2RVA updates. I am so glad I got off the bus. I took a break today from a hectic workweek to read to Ms. Caison’s second graders at Glen Lea. They were so attentive, displayed their best manners and clapped after each story! The cute girl in pigtails to my left grabbed me by the waist and asked me to come back again to read. You know my answer. Regards, Karen.

Did you hear what she said? She took a break from a hectic workweek to read to Ms. Caison’s second graders. In other words, she took a break from a hectic workweek to see if she could find some joy, and she found it in giving her time and talents to a group of second graders. Notice that she didn’t say, “This was just one more thing I had to add to a busy week.” She didn’t say, “Why do you keep nagging us about bringing the KOH2RVA?” Instead she said, “I am so glad I got off the bus.”

There is joy in this work, real joy, but you may never find out for yourself if you don’t take that first step. Still looking for ways to do that? Visit the KOH2RVA section of our church website and see what you can find. Or just do what Karen did:

Make up your mind.

KOH2RVA: Day 179

robbie and justin

Robbie Dalton and his Book Buddy Justin enjoyed Dr. Seuss’s birthday

When Melissa Brooks was deciding what her way of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, would be, she looked at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School not far from where she lives on Church Hill.  This school is dedicated to educating bright young people from the neighborhood and helping to break the cycle of poverty that keeps so many of them down.  Melissa began to volunteer at AJCES, and eventually had the idea of bringing sixth graders from that school to read to preschoolers at the Weekday school at First Baptist, where her own son is a student.  I blogged about the Book Buddy program once before, when I got to drive the bus, but last Friday I saw Melissa at church with a big grin on her face.  It was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and the Book Buddies had come to read Dr. Seuss books to our preschoolers (all of them wearing “Cat in the Hat” hats they had made themselves).  I asked Melissa why she hadn’t asked me to drive the bus and she said she had recruited a church member—someone still looking for his way to bring the KOH2RVA—to help.  I loved that.  In fact, I loved everything about the event.  I asked Melissa to send pictures and stories and this is what I got.


Dear Jim:

I put together a few words because my heart was full after today’s Dr. Seuss celebration. Please don’t feel like you need to use these words for anything, but I wanted to offer them up because “my cup runneth over.” Thanks.



If you’re still thinking about how to get off the mission bus and bring the kingdom of heaven to Richmond, Virginia, let me offer some insight from a few overheard conversations by the 6th graders at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. Since the beginning of 2013, the “Cooper kids” have been picked up by two FBC volunteers on the first Friday of every month. We make the bumpy trip from their east end school nestled in between two of the largest housing projects in the city to the towering mansions that line our beloved Monument Avenue. It’s like traveling to another country and the kids know that. For two hours the entire 6th grade class of AJCES fill the First Baptist Weekday Preschool classrooms with their smiles and love of books. We pray together, read together, laugh together and eat together. When it’s time to load the shuttles back to the “other” side of town we say goodbye with sincere hugs and high-fives—the way good friends do. For me, one of the most rewarding moments is the ride back to the Cooper school. I love hearing the candid chatter from the back of the shuttle. Here are a few of the things I’ve heard:

“I like that the kids don’t even know us, but are respectful.” Respect is powerful in all cultures. Sometimes respect can be offered for the wrong reasons, especially in the neighborhood that AJCES serves. Showing unconditional respect for your neighbor is a lot like loving your neighbor. I’m pretty sure Jesus was big on that.

“They always have the best snacks.” Food brings people together, and it’s also a basic necessity. You’d be surprised at what a bag of pretzels and a cup of juice can do.

“I wish we could stay longer.” Time is free, but it’s priceless. Slow down and spend a little more time on people.

Every month when Book Buddy Day rolls around Mary Hiteman and I giggle with excitement and think to ourselves why on earth we haven’t been doing something like this sooner. We run from classroom to classroom snapping pictures and observing the beauty of budding friendships. We pray about how God can work through us to the benefit of both FBC Weekday Preschool and the Cooper kids. We remind ourselves to stay out of the way and to let His will be done. So far, he’s been exceeding any and all expectations. Only the Lord of sea and sky could take two groups of kids separated by age, race, geographic location, socioeconomic class, and faith denomination and weave them together through the common denominator of his love.

That’s KOH2RVA.

KOH2RVA: Day 167

2013-02-08 13.44.18Yesterday I went to Clark Springs Elementary School to spend some time with my lunch buddy, Jaylen. He brought three little paperback books with him he was supposed to read and so I spent most of the time listening, offering corrections and suggestions from time to time, like, “Why don’t you take a breath when you get to the end of a sentence, Jaylen?” (He’s a very fast reader. In fact, last time I went I took him the book he’s reading in the picture above, from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. He loved it, and read 43 pages while I was there).

But on the way back to his classroom Jaylen asked one of the other kids how many books he’d read during the hour.

“One,” the kid said.

“I read two,” Jaylen said, proudly.

“Well, we spent most of the time talking,” the kid said. And then he said this:

“He’s about the only person who listens to me.”

And I looked at his lunch buddy who was walking along beside him, a nice-looking older gentleman wearing a blue windbreaker. He didn’t seem all that remarkable. You probably wouldn’t single him out in a crowd. But to this kid he was special. He was “The One Who Listens.”

The One.

Can you imagine how much difference it would make in a kid’s life to have even one person who listens to him? And can you imagine that it’s not that hard to give up an hour or so a few times a month to sit there, wide-eyed, while a kid shares his life with you? If you’re interested you could probably contact your local elementary school or, if you’re in Richmond, volunteer with the Micah Initiative or one of the other tutoring programs. It’s not that hard to sit and listen to a kid for an hour. But for the kid it may be the only time he has the full attention of an adult who will listen, and nod, and say, “Wow!” And if you’ve ever been listened to—really listened to—you know:

It’s heaven on earth.

KOH2RVA: Day 159

Today’s guest blogger is Lynn Turner, Senior Associate at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, who was at Glen Lea Elementary School yesterday for an event that definitely brought the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.  Thanks, Lynn, for writing, and thanks Janet Chase, for the pictures!



SONY DSCIt began with a need….450 plus students at Glen Lea Elementary School who did not have books of their own so they could practice their reading at home. This need soon caught the heart and passion of Raylene Harton and Theresa Norton from Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and Schuyler Davis at the Children’s Museum of Richmond. Before you knew it another KOH2RVA initiative was born.

SONY DSCWe settled on a theme—“Love to Read”—and picked a date—Valentines Day—as a way of encouraging kids to read. Kimberly Lee, the principal of Glen Lea, loved the idea! Contests were announced to all the students that the top three classes that met their reading goals within a six-week period would earn a pizza party with “Seymour the Dinosaur” (the Children’s Museum mascot), sponsored by the museum and First Baptist Church.

Glean Lea 4The word went out to our congregation, “We need books! Lots of books!” and the books poured in. By the end of the drive we had enough to put a book in the hands of every student at the school, extra books to give to the teachers in each grade, and several bins of used books to start a library at Essex Village Apartments.


SONY DSCOn Valentines Day, we headed to Glen Lea for our party with the top three classes. You should have heard the screams of delight as the principal announced over the intercom who the winning classes were! They came pouring out of their classrooms to the cafeteria to enjoy games, eat pizza, hug Seymour, and show off their brand new books! Thank you First Baptist Church for putting smiles on every child’s face at Glen Lea Elementary School today with books they could call their own and take home!

Best Valentine’s Day Ever!

KOH2RVA: Day 146

book buddies

Yesterday was a cold and windy day in Richmond, Virginia, but I had promised to drive a church bus to the East End and that’s what I did. There was a lot of play in the steering wheel, and when a gust of wind caught the side of the bus on an interstate bridge I had a hard time holding it in the road. But I did, and eventually made it to the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School where Melissa Brooks and I picked up a load of sixth graders and brought them back to First Baptist Church. The idea was that these sixth graders from a poor neighborhood would come and read books with preschoolers from a rich neighborhood.

And that’s what happened.

I can’t tell you how much I love this picture, not only because of the way the sunlight is coming through the window and falling on the floor, but because of the way this sixth-grade boy is reading to this preschool girl, and the way the book is helping them forget—for the moment at least—that they come from different worlds. They are in the world of the story, together, and it is a world of perfect equality.

When I asked our staff six months ago how we would measure the success of this year-long, every-member mission trip, David Powers said we would measure it with “pictures and stories.” Well, here’s a picture that spells success. And the story behind it is remarkable, too.

So often when I look at pictures of mission trips I see affluent, educated people helping people who are poor and uneducated. And that’s not a bad thing; to whom much is given, much is required. But I love the way Melissa Brooks and Mary Hiteman partnered to turn that around. Melissa lives on Church Hill and has been volunteering at the Anna Julia Cooper School, a school for students of limited resources primarily from Richmond’s East End neighborhood. Mary is the director of our preschool at First Baptist, which draws most of its students from the historic (and affluent) Fan District. “Why not get the two schools together?” they thought, and this was the result: a day of learning, laughing, reading, praying, dancing, storytelling, and baking enough gingerbread for everybody to take some home (it smelled so good on the bus back to the East End!)

Is KOH2RVA a success?

Well, yesterday it was. And I’ve got pictures and stories to prove it.


Photo by Melissa Brooks