KOH2RVA: Day 352

So, I was talking with Rob Courain yesterday about this crazy idea he has to raise money for missions. Rob is a member of First Baptist who was baptized in the James River on August 18. He is also a co-founder of RVA United, the ministry with and for 20-30somethings in Richmond that rocks First Baptist Church with a powerful praise service on Tuesday nights (Rob plays guitar in the band). And, as it turns out, he is something of an entrepreneur.

Here’s what he’s thinking:

Using the business model made popular by Groupon, Rob has made arrangements with Arianna’s Grill at 700 N. Sheppard Street to offer up to 500 vouchers to our congregation valued at $20 each. When you buy a $20 voucher and take it to Arianna’s you get $20 worth of delicious Italian food. But here’s the interesting part: in exchange for the in-church publicity and promotion, Arianna’s will give half that money to the mission cause of our choice, in this case to Mark and Sarah Williams, CBF missionaries working to save the lives of AIDS orphans in South Africa.

Before reading any further, stop to appreciate that last point: Arianna’s—a friendly neighborhood restaurant less than two blocks from the church—is going to give half of the money it earns on these vouchers to missionaries in South Africa, evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven is coming to Richmond, Virginia.

Now, here’s the catch: in order to offer this kind of deal Arianna’s has to sell at least 200 vouchers. If they don’t sell 200, the deal is off. They believe that the publicity and promotion they receive through the church will be well worth the minimum of $2,000 they send on to Mark and Sarah. And they are hopeful, of course, that people who discover Arianna’s through this promotion will like it and want to come back at other times.

I have.

In fact, I’ve had lunch there the past two days. I love their lunchtime specials, their big, conversation-friendly booths, and the charming and attentive wait staff. But I looked at Arianna’s differently when I was there yesterday. It wasn’t just a friendly neighborhood restaurant, serving up good food at good prices: thanks to Rob I looked at Arianna’s as a partner in mission.

Vouchers go on sale at First Baptist on One Sunday, September 8. I want to be the first person in line, holding my $20 in the air, knowing that half of it will go to Mark and Sarah Williams and the good work they are doing in South Africa.

I hope you will be right behind me.

KOH2RVA: Day 295

BackpacksI re-blogged yesterday.

I hardly ever do that, but I spent all day Saturday working on the sermon and when I got up on Sunday morning it still wasn’t finished. So, a little after 6:00 a.m. I pushed the re-blog button on Meredith Holladay’s excellent summary of the workshop I led at the CBF General Assembly and went back to the sermon.

But I’m feeling a little guilty.

I’m supposed to be blogging about First Baptist Church’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, not some workshop I led in Greensboro, North Carolina. So, it was a relief to get to worship yesterday and find that the faithful members of FBC were still on mission.

In fact, it’s kind of a funny story.

I was talking with FBC member Rob Courain last week about a brilliant fund-raising idea he’d had, and suggested that maybe he could raise funds for backpacks—stuffed with back-to-school supplies—for the students at Glen Lea Elementary school. I don’t know where that idea came from; it just seemed like a simple, do-able, hands-on project.

So, imagine my surprise and delight when I looked at yesterday’s worship bulletin and discovered, among the announcements on the back page, this one from the First Baptist Women on Mission:

Backpack Project for the Oregon Hill Baptist Center (collecting today through August 11). Our goal: 100 filled backpacks (sturdy, large enough for notebooks and textbooks). Supplies to be included in each backpack:

• 1 three-ring binder and divider tabs
• 1 or 2 packs loose-leaf paper (wide or standard rule – 200 sheets total)
• 4 black-and-white marbled composition books
• 2 one-subject notebooks
• 1 three or five subject spiral notebook
• 5 to 8 No. 2 pencils (no mechanical pencils)
• 5 to 8 black or blue ink pens (erasable/no gel)

See a list of additional items needed on the kiosks in the hallways. Collection bins will be located at the Mulberry Street Receptionist Desk.

I don’t know what you know about the Oregon Hill Baptist Center, but those kids need back-to-school backpacks every bit as much as the ones at Glen Lea Elementary, and it’s a wonderful way for our church to partner with the Richmond Baptist Association and one of its existing missions.

So, if stuffing a backpack full of back-to-school goodies sounds like fun and you’d like to participate, just follow the instructions above and drop it off at church when you’re done. And if you don’t live in the area, but still want to help, you can send a donation of $25 per backpack to the attention of Mary Palmer, Women on Mission, First Baptist Church, 2709 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA, 23220.

Who knows? We may end up with enough backpacks for both places!

KOH2RVA: Day 155

KalenaYesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

I left my house at 8:00 to walk the four-and-a-half blocks to “Mission Central” (that’s what Billy Burford, our administrator, calls the church campus at the corner of Monument and the Boulevard. I like it). I got there in time to meet with our worship leaders and clip on my wireless microphone before the service began at 8:30. It was Commitment Sunday, and at the end of the service people streamed forward to lay their pledge cards, tithes, and offerings on the altar. And Cari DuVal told me that yes, she thought she would like to become a full member of First Baptist.

That’s another story altogether, but a good one. Cari grew up in another denomination. She’s been one of our most committed Watchcare members for years now. The recent change in our membership policy allows her to join without being re-baptized but she told me yesterday she would like to be immersed in the swimming pool in Helena, Arkansas, where she has been participating in an annual mission trip for the last several years. The catch? I have to come do it.

I’m checking my calendar.

Between our two morning worship services Dot Smith brought me coffee and a plate full of treats to keep me going. She does it every Sunday, but yesterday it was especially appreciated. The day was just getting started.

The third-grade Sunday school class knocked on my door around 10:15. They were on a prayer walk, and wanted to pray for me. How sweet!

The 11:00 service followed the same order as the 8:30, but the two services are never the same. At the end of the second service people streamed forward again with pledge cards, tithes, and offerings, but this time Rob Courain told me he was ready to join the church.

Rob is part of the powerful city-wide worship celebration called RVA United, and it felt like a great compliment to First Baptist that he would choose to join a church that doesn’t worship with drums and guitars (usually), but instead sings hymns out of a book (gasp!). There must be something good going on at First Baptist. Rob says it’s our mission: that he, too, is trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

After worship I went to a three-hour meeting of the Ministry Planning Team, where we worked on a mission, vision, and values statement for First Baptist Church. It’s hard work, but good work. We spent a lot of time talking about who we are, what we’re trying to do, and the challenges we face as we do it. We didn’t finish our statement, but we came a lot closer.

My next meeting was with the Communication Team, thirty minutes later. They wanted to hear my thoughts as we anticipate David Powers’ retirement in September. David has been doing this job nearly twenty years. He is the driving force behind our television broadcast, our webcast, our website, our in-house publications, and our printed pieces. It’s hard to imagine the post-Powers era, but we did. We spent a full hour talking about the ways technology is changing and how it impacts communication. Jim Norvelle told us how he tuned into our webcast from the west coast last week (at 5:30 Pacific Time), watching the service on his iPhone even before he got out of bed. What will it be like five years from now, ten, fifteen?

From there I went to the Prayers for Healing service in the chapel, and spent a little more than an hour in that candlelit room praying, singing, listening to Bev Carroll talk about the work of spiritual rehabilitation, lighting a candle for my dad, praying with those who requested it, serving communion, and offering the benediction. It was a solemn, holy experience, followed almost immediately by…

Crazy dancing in the youth suite!

I had been invited to drop by for Kalena Porter’s surprise birthday party and when I got up to the third floor I found the youth line dancing. I watched as long as I could stand it and then just jumped in, much to their delight (there is nothing quite so funny, apparently, as seeing the senior pastor dance). Just before Kalena arrived we turned out the lights and waited to yell, “Surprise!” I think Kalena was surprised. The picture above was taken seconds afterward, as she was being rolled down the pink carpet created by Chloe Buchanan (at left in the photo).

Kalena has a terminal illness. She’s not going to be in our youth group much longer. But last night the youth poured out all the love they could on her and she was able to receive it gratefully. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Yesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I didn’t get home until 7:00. But this morning I find myself savoring almost every detail of a day that was filled with worship, work, and witness.

A day when heaven came to earth.