KOH2RVA: Day 331

Streetwalking PrayerWay back on Day 40 of this year-long, every-member mission trip I wrote about having lunch with Travis Collins, pastor of Bon Air Baptist Church, and something that church refers to as its “Streetwalking” ministry, headed up by Valerie Carter, Associate Pastor for Glocal Missions. Valerie explained it like this:

In this ministry we walk, pray and engage those whom we meet in what is known as the “prostitution zones” of our city (Jefferson Davis Highway and Chamberlayne Avenue). Our intention is to meet and engage women in prostitution but we share with all those that we meet on any given night. Many of the prostitutes are men in drag. We ask of their well-being, and remind each of them of God’s love for them. We offer a listening ear, share a prayer, and give a list of resources to call for help or to “get out” if ever needed.

At the end of the post I invited anyone who wanted to participate in that ministry to “show up at the Buford Road campus of Bon Air Baptist Church on the third Friday night of each month at 10:00 and tell Travis and Valerie that you’re there to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. They’ll know what you’re talking about.” I’m not sure if Debbie Boykin did it that way or some other way, but somehow she got involved in that ministry, and in response to a recent email from Steve Blanchard describing our own efforts to abolish slavery and human trafficking she wrote this:


Hey Steve and all,

Just wanted to give you a quick update and overview of our StreetWalking Ministry from July 19.

One lady approached my team member and me. We had waved to her from the sidewalk. She jumped out of the chair she was sitting in with a huge smile on her face as if we were old friends. Neither one of us had ever met her before. We introduced ourselves and told her why we were walking. She hugged our necks and told us that she was a believer but had alcohol issues but God laid it on her heart to jump up and go to us (when I say she jumped I mean she REALLY did jump). She was not intoxicated, but she’d had a few drinks that night. She needs the company of believers around her. She and I will be attending a Bible Study together that is held on Jeff Davis Highway. She is a sister in Christ. Please pray for Tina.

We started wrapping things up around 1:45 a.m. It had been a good night for conversation and prayer. As we crossed the street to end our night with prayer, my team member prayed: “God, if there is anyone else you want us to speak with tonight, now is the time.” We huddled together, debriefed the night with our fellow walkers, held hands in a circle and began our prayer. Someone shouted, “HEY, can I join your group?” We opened our eyes and turned around and there was a young, 20-something woman running toward us. We said, “SURE, come join us!” We told her who we were and why we were there. “Sandy” shared that she was addicted to alcohol, cocaine and heroin and she had become a prostitute to support her habit. She wanted out, but did not know how. We shared with her how to begin, how we could assist her, and that we were there tonight for that very purpose. She held us tight and we prayed and laid hands on her. When we said our Amen, she said, “I usually run away from folks like you. I don’t know why I didn’t tonight, but something told me to run TO this group, NOT away from this group!”


Isn’t He good??


Yes.  God is good.  And God uses good and faithful people to do much of his work on earth.  Thanks Debbie, Steve, Valerie, Travis, and all those others who are trying to rescue the victims of slavery and human trafficking.  In Luke 4 Jesus says, among other things, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to … proclaim release to the captives and … let the oppressed go free.”

It it was important to him, it should be important to us.

KOH2RVA: Day 255

diversityI don’t have a lot of time to blog this morning. I’m speaking at a conference called “Faith, Freedom, and Forgiveness” this afternoon and I’m a long way from being ready. My assignment is to help the audience move toward a theology of forgiveness, especially as it relates to the old wound of slavery.

As I was digging around in my files I came up with these notes from Martin Luther King Week at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2001, when I was (to my great surprise) invited to be the guest speaker. The title of my lectures was, “Living in the Lion Tribe: Confronting the Problem of Prejudice with the Power of Love and Imagination.”

On the first night I gathered with about fifty students in a large, upper room and started with this introduction:

Ken Medema is a blind musician with a remarkable kind of inner vision. I once heard him say something I wish I had written down, because I’m not sure I remember it exactly as he said it, but what I heard him say was something like this: “People don’t change because you tell them to. They don’t change because you shame them into it. People change when they can imagine a different kind of reality than the one in which they are living.”

I think that was one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s greatest gifts—he helped people imagine a different kind of reality than the one in which they were currently living. He talked about a day when racism would no longer exist. He dreamed of a day when black people and white people would join hands and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” It may have been this gift of religious imagination, more than any other, that led to the success of the Civil Rights movement.

He learned it from Jesus, who asked his hearers again and again to imagine a reality he called the Kingdom of God. He learned it from Paul, who talked about the church as the living, breathing body of Christ. He learned it from his father and a host of other black preachers who knew the power of imagination to inspire and change.

And then we moved into a group activity, guided by these notes (written mostly to myself):

Tell the story of Ayla from Jean Auel’s book, The Mammoth Hunters. How she came to a tribe headed by a red-haired giant of a man named Talut who valued difference more than sameness (read the paragraph on page 286). Describe the others in the tribe: Ranec, dark-skinned and handsome; Fralie, angry and bitter, Druwez, a half-breed from the Clan; Tulie, an imposing headwoman. All of them part of the tribe even though some of them made things more difficult and made the tribe less welcome at the large summer gathering.

Talk about how Ayla was welcomed as a guest, and treated as special because she was tall and blonde (that is, different from the short, dark people from whom she had come). Her special abilities were her healing knowledge, her way with animals, her skill with weapons, and her talent for making fire. She was invited to join the Lion Tribe, and on the night she was “adopted” she revealed her fire-making ability to the astonishment of the others, and then gave to each member of her new “family” a piece of firestone and flint so that they, too, could make fire.

Here is a fictional community in which people are valued for what makes them different, not what makes them the same. Let’s take some time tonight to discover our differences and to learn how to value them.

Crane Hearth—blue
Fox Hearth—red
Elk Hearth—green
Bear Hearth—black

Each “hearth” will circle up and take some time to identify the unique contributions of its members. Members will take turns speaking by holding the “speaking stick” (a washable marker). When the hearth is satisfied that someone has a valuable difference to offer, that person will pass the speaking stick to his or her left and be welcomed into the Lion Tribe with its special mark—four, short vertical lines on the right palm. When each hearth is finished the whole tribe will circle up, its members will hold out their right palms, and be dismissed with this blessing:

“That which makes us different makes us valuable.”

I don’t know which of these notes, if any, will end up in my address today, but I hope you’ve found something here that will help you think about how we can work to overcome prejudice through the power of love and imagination. The alternative is to keep our hearts and minds closed, and go on exactly as we have.

And that’s not a good alternative at all.

KOH2RVA: Day 254

YosselinPray for the people of Oklahoma today, friends. The headline of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reads: “Massive Tornado Pummels Oklahoma.” The sub-heads carry the grim news that at least 51 people are dead and more than 140 injured; that a school was devastated and children, some dead, were pulled from the debris; that it was a powerful storm—a half-mile wide—packing 200 mph winds.

It’s that image of children being pulled from the debris of a school that gets me. There’s something about their innocence and vulnerability that makes that scene especially tragic. And even though I don’t believe this tornado was God’s judgment on the people of Oklahoma I still want to know why:

Why do children have to suffer?

I was asking that question on Sunday afternoon as I watched a documentary about modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Often it is children, some of them very young, who are the victims of traders and traffickers. Little boys forced to work in rock quarries or make bricks day after day in India. Little girls prostituted in brothels in Cambodia and hotel rooms in Richmond. It’s their faces that break your heart.

There is no joy there.

On the table in front of me on Sunday was the face of a boy from Africa. He was up for “adoption” through Compassion International. And even though I might never meet this boy face to face Compassion International assures me that for a little more than a dollar a day he can receive food, clothing, shelter, and education. In other words, he can be rescued from a life of suffering.

I already sponsor a child through Compassion (Yosselin, from Mexico, in the picture above), but on Sunday I thought about sponsoring at least one more. I like what Tony Campolo says, that “every Christian should have a kid’s picture on their refrigerator.” If we did that—all two billion of us around the globe who call ourselves Christians—it would make a difference. And beyond that we could support the work of the International Justice Mission abroad and the Richmond Justice Initiative here at home, both organizations working to set children free from slavery and the sex trade.

There’s not much we can do about tornadoes, but we can do something about this. We can do our best to bring people to justice who trade and traffic in human flesh, and we can give children a chance to live a different kind of life. Our efforts may not make a difference to all the children in the world, but as I look at Yosselin’s picture, above, I’m hoping they will make a difference to her.

KOH2RVA: Day 160

Slave Auction, Richmond, Virginia, 1850s_jpgOne of the things that keeps the Kingdom of heaven from coming to Richmond, Virginia, is the old animosity between the races. White people used to buy and sell black people on the auction block in this town. That’s not something you get over right away.

It’s been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, but you can sometimes still feel the old guilt and fear and hurt that hangs in the air between the races. If the Kingdom is going to come, if God’s will is going to be done, we’ve got to clear the air. We’ve got to recognize that we are children of the same Father, and start treating each other like members of the same family.

To that end let me share a story about my father.

I’m planning to drive to West Virginia to see him today because my brother Scott, who lives nearby, thinks he may be down to his last few days. I’m at peace about that, and my dad isn’t in any pain, but because of that he’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I woke up this morning thinking about this story. I think I’ve shared it with you before, but let me share it again in honor of my dad and in the hope of someday achieving true and lasting reconciliation between the races.


I was born on March 14, 1959, in Selma, Alabama. My mother tells me I was the most difficult of all her babies to deliver, and that while she was waiting for me to make up my mind about being born she walked the hallways of that hospital saying the 23rd Psalm over and over: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” My father was the new pastor of the Presbyterian church in Hayneville, Alabama, 35 miles away, and recently he told me the story of his own labor, there, and of his eventual delivery.

He said that when he was considering a call to that church he asked the committee chairman what the civil rights situation was in Hayneville. Since the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954, resistance to integration had been strong in the South, and sometimes violent. The chairman said, “Well, you’re a good old South Carolina boy, aren’t you? You know what it’s like.” And it’s true. My father had grown up in South Carolina. He probably knew exactly what it was like. But he came anyway. He hadn’t been there very long when a member of the church invited him to say the opening prayer at the next meeting of the White Citizen’s Council. “What is the White Citizen’s Council for, exactly?” my father asked. “Could I look over a copy of the Constitution and Bylaws before I give you my answer?” And the man looked at my dad as if he were crazy, or maybe a communist, and said, “Well you know what it’s for: it’s to keep niggers in their place!”

Although I don’t think the Constitution and Bylaws read that way, that is what the White Citizen’s Council was for. According to one of my better sources the WCC was an American white supremacist organization which flourished between the mid-fifties and the mid-seventies. With about 15,000 members, mostly in the South, the group was well known for its opposition to racial integration in the South. Headed by Gordon Lee Baum, a St. Louis attorney, its issues involved the so-called “protection” of “European-American” heritage from those of other ethnicities. If my dad had only had Wikipedia he would have known all that. But in answer to the man’s reply Dad said he didn’t think that was his role in the community. He said he thought his role was to share the gospel with anyone who would receive it, black or white, and to make no distinction between the two. “And that,” my father said, “was when he looked at me as if he really did have a rattlesnake loose in his house.”

It was not long after I was born that the leaders of Dad’s church sat down with him to discuss the policies of racial integration being promoted by the denomination. According to some Presbyterians, at least, black people ought to be welcome in the church just like white people. The elders of the church in Hayneville talked about that for a long time and finally decided that black people—“negroes” as they called them in polite company—were welcome to visit the church but not welcome to join it. And then they looked at my dad to see what he thought. He must have been about thirty years old at the time, a young man, sitting in that room with all his elders, trying to be respectful. But finally he said, “This church doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to Jesus Christ. And I don’t think he would keep anyone from joining because of their skin color.” And the man who had chaired the search committee looked at my dad and said, “Son, I don’t know what kind of religion they taught you in seminary, but we’ve only got one kind of religion here, and it’s that good old Southern religion.”

Soon word began to get around in Lowndes County that the new pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Hayneville was a “nigger lovin’” preacher. Church attendance began to fall off. Women would stare at my mother in the grocery store. And then one morning while she was fixing breakfast she noticed a string of cars passing by the house, slowing down at the front yard and then speeding up again. One of our neighbors called to ask if we were all right and Mom said, “Yes, why wouldn’t we be?” “Didn’t you know?” said the woman. “Why, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of your house last night!”

Mom hung up the phone and got my father out of bed. He put on his bathrobe and slippers and walked across the front lawn to a patch of burned grass. My mother watched him poke a pile of ashes with the toe of one slipper and when he came back in she said, “Well?” And he answered, almost disappointed: “Sure was a little one.” But after that the threats began to get more serious until my father finally decided he needed to get his family out of there. So, he loaded up his wife and three little boys in a 1953 Ford Fairlane, strapped a dog house on top with our dog “Lady” and her five puppies inside, nailed a piece of plywood over the opening, and then, under cover of darkness, pulled out of the parsonage driveway and headed up the road toward Southwestern Virginia, where he would try to continue his ministry under happier, friendlier circumstances.

Things were happier there, and friendlier, too. But even though I was just a toddler when we left Alabama those stories, and my father’s courageous example, have shaped my views on race relations ever since. How about you? Who shaped your views on this issue?

KOH2RVA: Day 69

I had to leave Grace Fellowship early last night to get to my next event, but that’s a shame, because there was some very gracious fellowship going on in the dining hall at First Baptist Church.

Vicky Nicholau, who has been doing this for years, welcomed everybody and asked for prayer concerns and praises. I was impressed by how she was able to call almost everybody by name in a room with more than a hundred of our homeless neighbors present. And I was impressed by the diversity of that group: there were black people and white people, old people and young people, men and women and a few I wasn’t sure about, but when I stood to pray I said, “God, there isn’t a person in this room who isn’t precious to you,” and I believed it.

I got the feeling that everybody who was volunteering last night believed it, and that made it possible for our guests to believe it, too. Again, I was impressed by how many people were able to call each other by name, just like they do at Wednesday night church suppers. But this was a Thursday night, and the people in the room didn’t look much like the ones who come on Wednesday. They looked happier, if that’s possible. More grateful. If you had been in that room I think you would have agreed that the Kingdom of Heaven came to Richmond, Virginia, at least for a little while.

I slipped out in time to get to the University of Richmond to hear John Kinney and Ben Campbell speak at the annual Weinstein-Rosenthal Forum on Faith, Ethics, and Global Society. Their topic was: “From Hurt to Healing: Forgiveness and Hope in Metropolitan Richmond.”

Ben talked about the hurt; John talked about the healing.

The way Ben tells the story Richmond has been deeply divided by the issues of race and class almost from the beginning. He talks about Jefferson proclaiming that all men are created equal and Henry saying “Give me liberty or give me death” while Richmond was becoming the largest slave market on the eastern seaboard. He talks about how decisions made in the latter half of the last century bulldozed some of Richmond’s traditionally black neighborhoods and pushed its poorest citizens into ghettos on the other side of the new Interstate.

There was plenty of hurt to talk about last night.

But when John Kinney spoke he said what would get us from hurt to healing was forgiveness of the past and hope for the future. I’ll probably need to save that for my next post because those are huge topics, but I hope you will pause and say a prayer for Richmond today, asking God to forgive us for some of the atrocities committed in the past (and there were atrocities), and to give us hope for a different kind of future.

The prayer itself might be a first step on the road to healing.