What Are You Going to Do Now?

Partners

Inez Cocke was already at church when I arrived yesterday morning (Inez is one of our most faithful volunteers.  She had probably been there for hours.  I often suspect she actually lives at church and has a cot somewhere in the basement).  But I walked in and said hello and after some friendly banter she asked, “What are you going to do now that your mission trip is over?”

Wow.

I hadn’t really thought about it like that.  I knew that we had come to the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip called KOH2RVA, but in my mind the mission was still going on, only in a different way.  Instead of trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, by ourselves we were going to start working with other churches, individuals, agencies, and organizations in a mission called “Kingdom of Heaven Times Two,” or, as I like to say it, “KOHX2: Bringing It Together.”

I gave Inez an example: I told her that some of our deacons have been working to renew our friendship with First African Baptist Church in the hope that we might work together to do something remarkable in Richmond, to show this city what true reconciliation looks like.

She seemed pleased by that.

“There’s always something going on around here,” she said, smiling, as if she knew that she would still have work to do when she showed up the next morning, as if she knew that our mission—God’s mission, really—won’t be over until his kingdom comes, and his will is done in Richmond as it is in heaven.

KOH2RVA: Day 360

calendarThis is when I begin to wonder if I’ve been counting correctly…

If today—Wednesday—is Day 360 of KOH2RVA, then Thursday will be Day 361, Friday will be Day 362, Saturday will be Day 363, and Sunday will be…Day 364.

That doesn’t seem right.

We’re planning to celebrate the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip on Sunday. We’ve already made all the plans. The RVA United band is going to be in the gym at 9:30 that morning. We’re going to hear testimonies from our friends at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, Glen Lea Elementary, and Essex Village Apartments. We’re going to watch some of the KOH2RVA videos and wind things up with a kaleidoscope of images from our mission trip set to a song about “heaven coming down to the earth.”

Do I need to reschedule all that for Monday, Day 365?

And then I remember: we started KOH2RVA on Sunday, September 9, 2012, and this Sunday—while it is the second Sunday in September—is September 8, 2013, a day short of the full 365 but close enough to call.

I’m calling it. And I’m calling it good.

In the past few days I’ve had a number of letters, calls, and emails from people wanting to reassure me that they had actually gotten “off the bus and onto the mission field” during the year. You read Chloe Buchanan’s moving testimony on Day 354. Pratt Stelly’s story (and funny video) was published on Day 355. On Monday I learned that someone who has been looking for a way to get off the bus all year went over to Glen Lea Elementary and participated in the “Sidewalk Chalk of Love” event. And then yesterday I got a letter from Elmer and Betsy West with an end-of-the-year report on their mission endeavors that moved me nearly to tears. Elmer and Betsy are having a hard time getting to church these days, but that’s not keeping them from being on mission right there at Imperial Plaza where they live.

I may get more cards, letters, and emails today. I may find that everybody comes to church on Sunday ready to celebrate KOH2RVA with their own stories of participation. While I believe that many more of our members than usual have been on mission this year, I may find—to my amazement—that every member has been involved in one way or another.

And I may find that the Kingdom of heaven has come closer to Richmond, Virginia, than any of us could have imagined.

KOH2RVA: Day 344

Alma SnowaI love Alma Snowa.

Alma was one of the first women to be elected as a deacon at First Baptist Church back in 1976, along with Ginny Sanders and Betty Allen (pictured at right). I hope you will read the whole story when you get a chance, because it’s fascinating, but it’s not what I want to talk about this morning.

I want to talk about Alma.

Alma lives at Lakewood Manor, a Baptist retirement community in Richmond’s west end. When I came to First Baptist five years ago, I heard that we had sixty-two members who lived at Lakewood Manor. Alma was one of those, and one I have come to know well since then. It’s Alma who makes arrangements for the annual “Lakewood Luncheon,” when the church staff is invited to come out and have lunch with our members who live there. That gives her a good reason to be in touch with me: to ask about available dates early on and later to firm up the details. But one of the things I love about Alma is that she doesn’t need a good reason to be in touch with me. Sometimes she just writes to tell me what’s on her mind or in her heart.

She did that last week.

She wanted to talk to me about KOH2RVA and her participation in it. Before I share her email with you I probably need to tell you that Alma’s physical ability has become increasingly limited in the time that I’ve known her. If anybody had an excuse not to “get off the bus and onto the mission field” Alma had one. She might have written to tell me that, but she didn’t. She wrote to tell me this:

Dear Jim:

It is hard to realize that the year long bus trip is almost over, however, the things accomplished will be lasting. Sometime I wonder if I ever got off the bus or if I have spent the entire year sitting on the back seat praying. My physical participation is limited, but it has been a very meaningful experience. I have spent so much more time in prayer for others, I have prayer walked our halls and one of my efforts has been to seek out persons who just needed someone to talk with.

Thanks for letting us all share the experience.

Love and prayers to my pastor,

Alma

The thought of Alma sitting on the back of the mission bus, praying, moved me almost to tears. It reminded me that you don’t have to be physically active to help bring in the Kingdom: you can be spiritually active. In my devotional reading for this morning were these words from Harry Emerson Fosdick: “Some things never without thinking; some things never without working; some things never without praying! Prayer is one of the three forms of man’s cooperation with God.” What Harry was saying in his wonderful old-fashioned way is that you don’t bring in the Kingdom only by thinking about it and working for it, you also have to pray for it.

Maybe that’s what Alma and a host of other saints are teaching us: that when your hands can no longer hold a hammer they can still be folded in prayer.

Thanks, Alma.

KOH2RVA: Day 322

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What are the signs of the coming Kingdom? They’re in the hallways at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

I’ve posted two of these previously, but take a look at what our bulletin board artists have done to communicate the truth that our church is on a year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia–the KOH2RVA–and that we really do want everybody to get off the bus and onto the mission field.

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Children's Ministry

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Is KOH2RVA part of the church’s culture?  Has it gotten into our DNA?  We’re still working on it, but a walk down the hallways of the church will let you know we are moving in the right direction.

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KOH2RVA: Day 315

blanchard-2010-headshotIf a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?  If the pastor goes on vacation, and doesn’t blog about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, for two weeks, does it still happen?

Apparently so.

I can’t tell you how good it was to come home from vacation and find this message (below) from Steve Blanchard.  Steve is our Minister of Christian Compassion at First Baptist Church.  He’s been one of the driving forces behind our year-long, every-member mission trip.  And when I read this message I was gratified to learn that even while I was on vacation someone was still driving: the mission was moving forward.

July 16, 2013

Been a busy week thus far with KOH2RVA and it’s only Tuesday. Just a brief report on two events if you are interested. Monday was our first movie afternoon this summer at Essex. We had 5 helpers who jumped in, Don and Margaret Price, Ellen Lipford, Millie Barnes, and Candi Brown. On a day where the AC did not work and then the DVD/TV did not work for the first 20 minutes, we still had a great day with approximately 27 kids attending. I say approximately because the crowd flowed in and out at times and it was hard to keep count. All the kids asked if we could come back…every day!

Tuesday morning was another day of TAGG (Talented And Greatly Gifted…I think that is right). It is a day camp at Essex from 9-1 where kids are tutored in a variety of areas. This morning, we took 11 kids to the VA Museum of Fine Arts where they experienced the wonders of the art world. They loved it! Several FBC members accompanied the group; Josie Carver, Pam Franklin, Lee Byerly, Hanna Zhu and Betty Ann Dillon. Afterwards, we took the kids to Sweet Frog in Carytown for their first ever trip to the frozen yogurt store where each kid piled their bowl to overflowing. I guarantee there are stomach aches along with the smiles tonight. Anne Brasfield, another volunteer, treated the whole group!

While all this is going on during the day, CARITAS for women continues in the evening. A fantastic group of volunteers has hosted the group of 36 since Saturday night. While I have not been there, I have heard wonderful things.  I expected no less.

And, of course, other great volunteers continue to serve the homeless community in our ongoing ministries of food pantry, clothes closet, and shower ministry on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday

Blessings to all who have worked hard this week to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, whether it has been noted above or not. Keep up the good work!

Steve Blanchard
Minister of Christian Compassion
Richmond’s First Baptist Church

A report like this one makes me so grateful, and makes me believe that this year-long, every-member mission trip has a momentum all its own.  We may find, when we get to the end of the year, that it can’t be stopped.

And that would be OK.

 

KOH2RVA: Day 301

FrontPorchFrontofHse 042Today we will commission five different mission teams at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Two will go to South Africa, one will go to Arkansas, one will go to the Philippines and then on to Singapore for the Baptist World Alliance Youth Conference, and one person (Skyler Cumbia) will go to Ghana. It’s a good reminder that First Baptist is not only interested in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, but to the whole world. We focus on Richmond simply because this is the place where we live, and the place that we love more than any other place in the world.

Not that there aren’t some other wonderful places.

I’ll be leaving Richmond just after the 11:00 worship service today for two weeks’ vacation in the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Catskills of New York. I’m going to walk in the woods, sit on the front porch, read good books, eat good food, and rest, rest, rest. I won’t be blogging for the next two weeks, but it would be a great time to dig through the archives and be reminded of all we have accomplished together in the last 301 days.

I will be counting on those of you who are still in town to carry on the mission, and to surprise me with all the good ways you have brought heaven to earth when I get back. One of the things we’re going to do shortly after my return is gather at the river on July 21 for the Sixth Annual FBC River Baptism. Please be in prayer for those who are preparing to be baptized, and join us if you can for that very special event.

Know, as I go, that some part of my heart will remain here in Richmond, and that I will look forward to being back with you here and getting on with our mission. But for the next two weeks I’m going to do my best to rest, remembering that even Jesus withdrew from time to time. I think I understand now, more than ever, why he had to.

Bringing heaven to earth is hard work!

Thanks for your help.

KOH2RVA: Day 237

tug_of_warOkay, campers…we’ve had our fun. We’ve spent the week sharing our thoughts and feelings about homosexuality. We’ve done it in a respectful way and my hope is that we’ve all come to a more compassionate place, but as I wrote in Tuesday’s post I am not on a crusade:

I’m on a mission trip.

And today is Day 237 of KOH2RVA, First Baptist’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. It’s a big one. I’ve been up since 5:00 just because there’s so much to be done.

At 9:00 this morning Dr. Terry Whipple and friends are going to host “The Physician Within,” which started with Terry’s dream of taking a medical mission trip without ever leaving the city of Richmond. Today the topic is back and neck pain, and if you have either, or know someone who has either, I hope you will be in the dining hall of Richmond’s First Baptist Church at 9:00. The workshop will last until 11:30 this morning, which should give you enough time to have a leisurely lunch with friends before moving on to…

The “Spring Bash” at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School on Church Hill. The Generosity Team at First Baptist challenged the church to provide gifts and prizes for the middle schoolers who will be competing today and the response was overwhelming, but we could still use some volunteers to help out with the games.  We’re hoping for two shifts: one from 11:00 to 1:00 and another from 1:00 to 3:00. The school is located at 2124 N. 29th Street. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

I’m hoping to spend some time at each of those events, but it’s Saturday, the day I finish up the sermon, and there’s a whole lot left to be written. But the people who were made uncomfortable by last Sunday’s sermon will be glad to know—this one is about Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia saying, “Come over and help us!” It’s not about homosexuality at all. Because I’m not on a crusade:

I’m on a mission trip.