KOH2RVA: Day 229

2013-04-26 07.24.30On Monday of this week a few of my colleagues and I met with Dr. Terry Whipple to continue our conversation on making Richmond “the healthiest city in America.” According to Forbes magazine we’re already number 12. What would it take to move us to 11, and then 10, and then 9? That’s what we talked about on Monday and Dr. Whipple’s interest, of course, is helping people who are sick and suffering get better. His brilliant strategy is a program called the Physician Within, an educational mission designed, as Terry say, “to keep people out of the emergency room.” So, if you or someone you know is suffering from back or neck pain, don’t miss the next session of the Physician Within, Saturday, May 4, from 9 – 11:30 in the dining hall at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

But that’s only the half of it.

Because being the healthiest city in America involves more than not getting sick. It also involves getting, and staying, healthy. So, cities are rated on the number of walking trails and bike paths and public parks they have. They’re evaluated by the question: “How many people are out there, eating less and moving more?” Because that’s the kind of thing that can make a city truly healthy, and not just unsick.

So, my brother Ed came to visit at a bad time, when all that was still on my mind. On Thursday we loaded the canoe on top of the car and spent about four hours paddling on the James, downriver through some riffles and then back upriver, portaging around a dam or two and digging in to buck the current and get back to our starting point. By the time we got finished our arms were tired. But later that afternoon, I took him to the Jewish Community Center, where I work out, and while I was lifting weights in the fitness center he swam laps in the pool—lots of them. This morning I brought him along for ecumenical jogging with my friend and Episcopal priest, Wallace Adams-Riley, and although we didn’t run as far or fast as we usually do, I think we ran enough that Ed was beginning to wonder what he had gotten himself into.

I left him out there on the sidewalk, still talking to Wallace about his work as a missionary in Mexico, and how St. Paul’s Episcopal Church might want to invest in the work that he’s doing (God love ‘em, these missionaries never miss an opportunity to talk about their work). I came in to blog, and have breakfast, and recover from the run. Soon I’ll be dressed and ready for work, and out there on the streets again, thinking more about Richmond’s spiritual health than it’s physical health, and doing what I can today to bring heaven a little closer to earth.

For my brother Ed, heaven may come when he and his wife Debbie drive away from Richmond later this morning, and for the five-hour trip back to Rutherfordton, North Carolina (where they’re staying while on furlough), he gets to put his feet up and rest.

Adios, Ed. Come again soon!

KOH2RVA: Day 228

Brothers smallLast night my brother Ed spoke at First Baptist Church (he’s the one on the far left in the picture, the oldest of the six Somerville boys. The others are Scott, Jim, Greg, Gray, and Bill). Ed is a missionary in Mexico, where he has been serving for more than 12 years. He told the church last night that when he first went to Mexico he took his wife, Debbie, and all eight of his children with him: his own missionary “team.”

But then he told us why he went.

He said that when he was still in his twenties he prayed that God would let him lead 100 people to the Lord in his lifetime. But then he became the director of a Christian camp in North Carolina and in one summer he baptized a hundred kids.

And so he prayed again:

“Lord,” he said. “I wanted to bring 100 people to know you in my lifetime and now I’ve done that. Would it be too much to ask that I might bring (gulp!) 1,000 people to you?” But God reassured him that he was a big God, and after ten summers directing that camp Ed had baptized 1,000 kids.

And so he prayed again:

“Lord,” he said. “I never dreamed that I would lead 1,000 people to know you in my lifetime. You tell me you’re a big God. Are you big enough for this? What if I asked you to let me lead 10,000 people to know you?”

And that’s how he ended up in Mexico, where some 85 percent of the people don’t have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Ed is trying to get the Good News to them, mostly through a Christian camp he calls “El Monte” (the Mountain). The work has been harder and slower than he might have expected, but God is a big God, as Ed would say. Nothing is too hard for him.

It occurred to me as Ed was speaking last night that he’s not really trying to bring heaven to earth. He’s doing this the old-fashioned way: he’s trying to get people to heaven. But when he talks about the way those beautiful brown faces shine with joy as they learn of the love of Jesus, and the way the tears begin to flow, I think heaven does come to earth,

Every time a heart is broken open,

Every time the grace of God gets in.

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Hint: if you visit the El Monte web site, and want to know more, click on the pull-down menu called “Updates” and type in this password: elmonteupdate