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.

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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.

Melissa

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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 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.

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Photo by Melissa Brooks