KOH2RVA: Day 354

ChloeAfter worship on Sunday Chloe Buchanan approached me shyly and asked if she could be one of my guest bloggers. Chloe is in the youth group at First Baptist Church. She said she was writing something about what KOH2RVA had meant to her and wondered if I would be interested in publishing it on my blog. “Absolutely!” I said, and encouraged her to send it to me as soon as possible.

She sent it the next day, but because of the backlog in my email inbox I didn’t find it until yesterday. But it’s all for the best. Today is my day off and I’m driving to West Virginia to see my parents. I didn’t really have time to blog. So, a huge thank you to Chloe for wanting to put into words what this year-long, every-member mission trip has meant to her, and for doing it so beautifully.

Here are her thoughts:

Before our church’s year long mission trip, KOH2RVA, started I just went on doing my daily routine without any thought about what God’s purpose was for me. For kids, well young adults my age we’re mostly focused on school, friends, and for some their first job. We go to church on Sundays, Wednesday nights, and might even volunteer on Saturday, but that’s where church stops. At my age there are so many distractions we face on a daily basis. I faced the struggle to make my time with The Lord everyday, and honestly it wasn’t on the top of my to-do list.

Since KOH2RVA started I have taken the extra effort to search for what God is trying to show me everyday. Whether it be how the sun shines through the clouds or that the checkout lady needs her day brightened up. I have also taken more time to just be still, reflect, and to know that The Lord is almighty. I have found that if you can make that extra few seconds to either reflect or pray for someone it can change not just your day but others as well.

One of my biggest focuses this year has been my walk with The Lord and how I can help others. My youth group has brought both of those together throughout the year. One of those moments happened while on a mission trip in Nickelsville Virginia. During the week we helped children, elders, and the less fortunate. I had already felt blessed for all that God had shown me through out the week but I was not expecting this. We were at a function called Nickelsville Days, there I met a women who proceeded in thanking me and blessing our youth group for what we have done and asked to pray with me. There, it hit me, just because we are a group of teenagers we have the power to make an impact on an entire town.

Now, there isn’t a day that goes by that God’s love and power isn’t present in some way. Even if you don’t have the gift of traveling elsewhere to do God’s work, you can do it here at home in Richmond. You can be any age, 1 or 101, if you take that extra few seconds, you’ll have the power to change not just your life but someone else’s life too.

Chloe Buchanan is a student at Atlee High School, a member of First Baptist Church, and the great granddaughter of legendary pastor Theodore F. Adams.  Her mother, Julie Adams-Buchanan, recently contributed to this blog.

KOH2RVA: Day 289

Essex Bible SchoolI didn’t make it to Bible school yesterday and it was my loss. Appointments and commitments that started early in the morning kept me busy until just before lunch. But I heard great things about the opening day of “Camp 2” at Richmond’s First Baptist Church and after lunch I drove out to Essex Village Apartments to see what happens when Bible school goes on the road.

In yesterday’s post I talked about the partnership between First Baptist and Park Meadows Baptist Church in Waxahachie, Texas, and how the two were collaborating to bring Bible school not only to First Baptist Church, but also to Essex Village Apartments, where there are 544 children, many of whom live in single-parent homes.

I got there early, before the afternoon session of Bible school began, but in time for a pick-up game of kickball. And once again I got to watch that old miracle occur, where people who don’t know each other overcome their initial awkwardness through some silly game, and then begin to laugh and play together, so that by the end of the day they are BFF’s (Best Friends Forever). What breaks my heart is that the kids at Essex Village are so hungry for attention Essex Bible School3they will accept it from almost anybody, even a youth group from Waxahachie, Texas. What fills my heart is the way those youth discover that they can make a difference in someone’s life, and how much joy it gives them. By the end of the week they won’t want to leave their new friends at Essex Village, and their new friends at Essex Village won’t want to let them go.

I predict tearful farewells.

But today is only Day Two of Bible school, and the end of the week seems a long way away. So, if you’re looking for a little joy in your life, and for a way to make a difference in someone else’s, then come on out to Essex Village around two o’ clock this afternoon. Bring your sunglasses and bottled water and big, floppy hat, because it’s going to be hot, but wear your kickball shoes, because it’s going to be fun. I predict that by the end of the day miracles will have occurred at Essex Village, and the Kingdom of Heaven will have come a tiny bit closer to Richmond, Virginia.

KOH2RVA: Day 93

pageantLast night’s Youth Christmas Pageant was wonderful.

It was written by our own Ann Carter, who worked with the youth to develop a script that was just right for Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

The play was set in Eunice’s Piano Café, and at one point two girls showed up wearing “wise men” costumes. They explained that they were on the way to the youth pageant at their church, but all the boys wanted to be shepherds, leaving the girls to play the part of the wise men. Later one of the café patrons made a sarcastic remark about “those wise girls from the heaven on earth church.”

I laughed out loud.

But the play wasn’t only funny: it was a creative and innovative way of telling an almost too-familiar story. And when the wise men made their regal procession at the end of the pageant to bow before the baby Jesus, I probably wasn’t the only one with a lump in my throat. In my closing prayer I said, “Twenty years ago these children weren’t even born, but they’ve grown up in this church, they’ve heard this story over and over again, and now here they are, telling it to us.”

As I said, it was wonderful.

But just before the play began I heard something that may have been even more wonderful. Beth Holthaus asked me if I knew Ginny Sanders. Well, of course I do. Everybody knows Ginny. She directed the Youth Christmas Pageant for decades and earned a reputation as “the world’s oldest living teenager.” But these days Ginny is in health care at Lakewood Manor. She can’t direct the youth pageant any more. She isn’t even able to come.

And so the pageant came to her.

Yesterday, during the Sunday school hour, the senior youth put on their pageant costumes and went out to Lakewood Manor. I wish I could have been there to see Ginny’s face when they walked into her room. I understand pictures were taken, and as soon as I get one I’ll post it below. But for now it’s enough to imagine that moment, and to thank God for the youth from “that heaven on earth church,” who, on Sunday morning, in a lonely room at Lakewood Manor, did just that—

They brought heaven to earth.

Ginny

One Cup of Tea

For weeks now—months, really—I’ve been seeing these beautiful, smiling refugees from Nepal in the hallways of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  I’ve learned how to press my palms together and say “Namaste” in greeting.  I’ve welcomed three new members and dedicated the child of a Christian couple.  I’ve even sung “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in English with three of the older adults (where did they learn that song?).  But on Sunday night I spent an hour having tea with some of the young people from this group, and I started with a game I learned when I was a youth minister.

I took a pen from my pocket, turned to the young man on the right, and said, “My name is Jim and this is my friend Lucy,” and then I handed the pen to him.  He turned to the girl on his right and said, “My name is Rom, and Jim told me to tell you that this is Lucy.”  She took the pen and turned to the boy on her right: “My name is Bimela, and Jim told Rom to tell me to tell you that this is Lucy.”  And so on around the room until all of us had been introduced to Lucy, but by repeating the names each time we also began to learn them: Rom, Bimela, Indra, Rupa, and Bhola (I’m guessing at the spelling). 

And then we just started talking.

These kids spoke excellent English, which helped.  They told me that back in Nepal all their classes were in English except one.  They also watched American television and movies to help them learn the language.  I sang some songs for them in English; they sang some for me in Nepali.  We talked about the kinds of food we liked.  We talked about family relationships, and that’s where it got interesting.

Rom told me that Bimela and Rupa were his sisters.  Indra told me that Bhola was his brother.  I told them that Dot Smith (who had served us tea and pie) was my sister.  They didn’t believe me.  I said, “Dot and I are Christians.  Christians are part of God’s family.  We call each other brother and sister.”  And then their eyes lit up with understanding.  Ah, yes.  They had heard this before.  “My Uncle is a Christian,” Rom said.  “I used to go to church with him in Nepal.”  They all made it clear how much they enjoy coming to First Baptist Church, and some of them even began to hint that they would like to join.  But then Bhola said that in their culture Christians were shunned, and that if they became Christians they might be rejected by their community. 

“Did that happen to your uncle?” I asked Rom.  “Did he get ‘put out’ of the community?”  Rom nodded thoughtfully.  “He must be very brave,” I said.  “Yes,” Rom answered.  “Very brave.”

I didn’t have to say another word.  I could see that they were counting the cost of discipleship, and wondering if it would be worth it to become Christians.  I hope they will decide that it is worth it, but it will take at least one more cup of tea to have that conversation, and maybe another one after that.  Maybe Greg Mortenson is right, that it takes “Three Cups of Tea” to forge life-giving and life-changing relationships with people from other cultures.

I’m looking forward to my next one.

Smooched by an Angel

first-kiss-adolphe-william-bouguereau-5236The Fourth Sunday of Advent was a full day at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  It started for me at the early service (which is not “dress rehearsal” for the 11:00 service, as some have implied, but a wonderfully intimate worship experience, precious to many, especially in a big church like this one).  Imagine my surprise and delight when the choir sang a Mendelssohn piece, at full volume, before nine o’clock in the morning (not every choir can pull that off!).   That was followed by a few quiet moments in my study, enjoying the coffee, pastry, cheese, and fruit Dot Smith lays out for me on a silver tray each Sunday (please don’t be jealous; she considers it a ministry, and I’m sure my preaching has improved as a result).  And then there was a knock at the door—Joyce Chrisman, my secretary—asking me if I was on my way to the Pusey House to visit the Traveler’s Class. 

“Um, am I supposed to be?”

Apparently I was.  I gulped the last of my coffee and hurried out the door, across the street, and into the Pusey House with seconds to spare.  I was intoduced to the class and as we talked about the curriculum they had been using I began to share some of my own thoughts on Bible study, which led into a discussion of the lectionary, and eventually a summary of my views on the mission and purpose of the church.  When I finally looked at my watch I saw that I was late for my 10:30 appointment in the sanctuary, meeting the families and the babies who would be dedicated at the 11:00 service.

They were precious, those babies—two healthy boys named Andrew and Jake whom I presented to the congregation and prayed over.  And although it was only my second dedication at First Baptist Church I managed not to drop anyone (whew!).  I also managed to get through the sermon on live television before we cut to commercial, which is no small feat.  You may not know this but when we’re broadcasting live I’m never entirely sure how much time I will have to preach.  I know when I need to be finished but I don’t know when I will get to start.  So I have to stretch or shrink the sermon to fit the available space.  At the early service I had plenty of time, but because of the baby dedication I had to shave about five minutes off the sermon at the second service.  For those of you who were paying attention that’s why there was no prayer at the end of the sermon on Sunday, and why the invitation was cut down to something like, “Please-stand-as-we-sing-Hymn-77-and-respond-as-you-feel-led.”  But I did it.  I finished before the red light went off, and I could almost hear the sigh of relief from the control room.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about. 

You may remember that I went to the International Friendship Luncheon a few months ago and had a wonderful time, and you may remember that I mentioned a tiny girl from Bangladesh named Dighi who likes to be called “Doctor Pinky.”  Well, we had another friendship luncheon on Sunday, and Dighi was at this one, too.  When we started to sing Christmas carols I invited her to sit with me in one of the big wingback chairs there at the Pusey House.  She did, and did her best to sing along with every carol even though she was holding her song sheet upside down (well, she’s two-and-a-half!).  But when the luncheon was over and it was time to go Dighi came over to give me a hug.  How could I resist?  She’s about two feet tall with glossy black curls and beautiful brown eyes.  I bent down from the chair I was sitting in and she reached up to put her arms around my neck.  It was sweet.  She started to walk away but then turned around and came back.  I thought she was coming in for another hug, but instead she puckered up and kissed me right on the lips.

Well! 

I think I was still blushing when I went to a meeting of the Permanent Planning Team at 3:00, which finished up just a little before the youth Christmas pageant at 6:00.  The youth did a magnificent job, acting and singing their way through ‘It’s a Wonderful Birth” (Todd Ritter’s creative adaptation of the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”), but by the time I went home from the reception I realized I had been at First Baptist for more than twelve hours.  It was a full day, as I said: a day when I was thrilled by worship, touched by a pageant, and smooched by an angel.

You just never know what will happen at church.