Archive for January, 2011

(L-R) Becky Payne and Doris Pittman were among 30 FBC staff members who helped prepare gifts in December.

A Mixteca family enjoying their gifts.

Thirty members of the FBC staff spent a morning in December stuffing Christmas stockings, wrapping gifts, writing cards, and assembling gift baskets for some 300 homeless, disadvantaged and disenfranchised members of the Richmond community.

The gifts went to a number of places:

  • Twenty-two Mixteca immigrant families, with 78 children in south Richmond
  • Seven families, with 10 children at Fresh Start for Single Women
  • 105 community missions clients who participated in the homeless breakfast December 20
  • 80 Grace Fellowship participants
  • Nine children at the Rosy Grier Youth Pavilion
  • and five other families.

The effort was coordinated by the Ministry of Christian Compassion. Gifts and items for the baskets were donated by church members and Weekday Preschool parents and children. Other items were purchased with money given to Community Missions.

Mary Willis, daughter of FBC member LaVora Sprinkle, is the church’s “connection” with the Mixteca community. She has been working for several years with a few dozen families in the Mixteca community who live in a trailer park in south Richmond. She teaches English and helps the families with the basic necessities of living.

The Mixteca are indigenous to the southern, Pacific coastal region of Mexico. Mary grew up speaking Spanish, the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries. But even she often has a challenge communicating with some of the families. They have their own language. Many of them speak a tribal dialect within the Mixteca language.

In addition to the Christmas gifts, FBC has helped Mary with providing English classes, making repairs to some of the homes, and providing other assistance to the Mixteca families.

(l to r) Lindsey McClintock, Ralph Starling, Jim Somerville, Mary Willis, and Steve Blanchard delivered gifts to the Mixteca families a few days before Christmas.

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Philip Delano and Erin Cumbia.

By Jeannie Dortch.

In many ways, the summer of 2010 in Ružomberok, Slovakia reads like a fairy tale for college students Philip Delano, a senior at William and Mary, and Erin Cumbia, a sophomore at Liberty University. 

Like Hansel and Gretel, Philip and Erin tentatively left home, uncertain of what to expect from their eight weeks abroad or of their competence to meet the challenges that would lie ahead. They clung to their trust in the Lord and His promises to guide them, tucking flexibility into a side pocket for extra measure.

Erin lived with Pastor Egor Conka and his wife in a flat above the Ružomberok Baptist Church, while Philip roomed with and shadowed 29-year-old Graham Leeder, a British missionary from New Castle. As they traveled to different areas of Slovakia to conduct English camps for seven to 15 year olds, Erin taught crafts and vocabulary lessons. Philip played American football and Frisbee with the students, but he also developed action packed English lessons for the daily Bible themes studied at camp: Accepted, Protected, Saved, Forgiven, and Living.

Both agreed that learning English was the vehicle used to pique the interest of the youths, but the Christian impact was made through building strong relationships and friendships with their colleagues and with the children whom they mentored.

The breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel dropped to mark their trail back home were quickly devoured by the woodland birds, but the breadcrumbs of Jesus’ love that Erin and Philip dropped nourished the many children they encountered. Even now, many of Erin and Philip’s protégés have followed their trail through the heart of Eastern Europe all the way back to Richmond via Facebook and email.

Erin and Philip noticed that Slovakians have less disposable income than Americans do, fewer distractions, and less need to rush from here to there. This lifestyle assured them of more time for conversation and real bonding – “slow down” being the take home message for both of these dedicated interns. “The whole experience gave me a clear perspective on what really matters,” commented Philip. Erin added, “Rather than just going to church, these people lived church in their everyday lives.”

When asked what advice they would give to would-be missionaries, Philip continued, “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are willing to allow God to use you. Showing Christ’s love through actions is the key.”

Erin followed up by saying, “Taking an interest in the people by learning about their culture and traditions and immersing yourself in their everyday lives shows that you care for them.”

Philip and Erin (fourth and fifth from left) with Slovakian friends.

Hansel and Gretel returned home with pearls and precious stones in their pockets, saving their family from poverty. Erin and Philip became rich with pockets full of experiences that led to new friendships in Christ, others to nurture, memories to last a lifetime, and a willingness to be used again and again for the glory of God. A storybook ending with happily ever afters all around!

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By Lynn Turner.

What does it mean to be “community and family” in the church? What does it mean to be “one body and one spirit” in the church? As Minister of Christian Community, I have found myself asking these questions over the past couple of months. I have been searching scripture that might lead us and provide some answers. There are many passages that speak to this, but the one I keep coming back to is Romans 15:5-7:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

First, I note that this is a prayer. Paul asks God to give a “spirit of unity.” Often I think we assume that we have some control over whether we come together in unity, but the truth is unity is not a program, plan or project. Unity cannot be coerced or forced. Unity is a gift that comes down from our Father in heaven. So we must pray for God to grant it to us.

Do you see the word “unity” in “community”? Community is defined by Webster as a “unified body of individuals.” Somehow, I don’t think that we can have community until we have the spirit of unity that Paul prays for. The phrase “spirit of unity” translates a Greek word that means to “be of the same mind” or to be “like-minded.” The New Living Translation calls it “complete harmony.” I like that, because harmony is what results from many different people singing different parts, yet in proper relationship with each other so that a pleasing sound is produced. Every choir contains different parts. At any given moment, six different people might be singing six different notes. Yet every note has a precise relationship to every other note, so that the total sound produced is exactly what the composer intended. The result is beautiful harmony.

It is easy in the church to have many people pulling in many directions. That’s why the end of verse 5, “as you follow Jesus Christ,” is so crucial. If the source of unity is God, the focus of unity is Jesus Christ. As we follow Him, the church moves forward in perfect harmony. When Jesus is at the center of the church, we’ll all be pulling together in the same direction as we follow Him.

We pray for unity “so that with one heart and one mouth we might glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we are to glorify God, we must do it together. It’s not as if you can glorify God your way, and I can glorify God my way, and each of us can glorify God individually and forget about everyone else. We need each other if we are going to truly glorify God by being “one heart and mouth” for the Lord.

And finally this passage concludes with these words from verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” I recently officiated at a wedding in which the bride and groom chose this scripture as the focus of the homily. It is a powerful word for a husband and wife, and it is a powerful word for the bride of Christ – the church. The Greek word translated “accept” is a long word that is very picturesque. It means to see another person and to open your arms to take that person to yourself. It implies taking someone by the hand and walking together as companions. We are to accept each other as Christ accepted us. How did He accept us? He accepted us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). He took us when we were hopeless and gave us hope. He loved us in spite of our sin and welcomed us when we did not deserve to be welcomed. This is a high standard, so high that we will never meet it in our own power. Only Christ Himself can give us strength to accept others this way.

Which brings me to my final thought: We can only be one with each other as we are individually one with God. When I am connected to God personally, keeping my focus on who God has created me to be, I then become clearer on what God has called me to do as a follower of Christ through the church. When my heart is in tune with God, I will be in tune with others who are seeking the same thing.

I am committed to the call of Christ in the work of the church. I am committed to my call of Christ in the work of THIS church. I am excited about the possibilities that God has in store for us as a congregation as we focus on Christ, so that, “With one heart and one mouth [we] … glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

May it be so with us. Harambee!

Lynn Turner (Turner@FBCRichmond.org) is the Senior Associate Pastor and coordinates the Ministry of Christian Community for Richmond’s First Baptist Church. She has been a part of the FBC staff since 1988. Lynn has a B.S. in education from Francis Marion University in South Carolina, an M.S. in Counseling from the University of Tennessee, and a Master of Arts in Religious Education from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. Prior to coming to Richmond, she taught school, served as a guidance counselor in South Carolina and Texas, and was on staff at Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. She contributed to the book, Youth Ministry from the Ground Up, by Ken Dibble.

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Our Missional DNA.

By Clint Smith.

As a child, I attended Mission Friends, placing my hard-earned quarters into the Lottie Moon offering and learning about the missionary families serving all over the globe. Each week, I wrote down the names and ages of the family members, tucked them into my Bible, and included them each night in my prayers. I learned of their enormous faith and bravery as they spread good news across the world, finding avenues into places where most of us would never consider visiting, let alone calling home.

As I grew up and met real-life missionaries, I realized they are really just like you and me; they are Christians who are called to share God’s love. But sharing God’s love is even more than their calling; it’s their career.

Since its foundation 230 years ago, First Baptist Church has shown evidence of a healthy share of “Missional DNA” in its genetic blueprint, supporting its members traveling near and far to spread the Good News. As the congregation strives to be more missional, or to take church beyond the sanctuary doors and into daily life, it seems appropriate to seek advice from those called from our own flock.

The Garrison family recently moved from India to Colorado.

David and Sonia Garrison, members of the First Baptist family now working as non-resident missionaries in Colorado, have studied a dozen languages, lived in 25 homes, and visited over 80 countries. But as different as Richmond seems from Cairo, David insists it’s really just a small world. “Though the cultures and histories of the world’s peoples offer us a boundless array of fascinating insights and discoveries, there is no culture, religion or people on earth that has found an answer to our shared human limitations and weaknesses,” says David. “These limitations require a divine solution, which God has provided us in Christ Jesus.” His advice for our church? “Don’t stop following Him! Don’t be afraid of what lies beyond the limits of your personal comfort zone. God has a wonderful adventure of unfolding salvation and service for you, if you will allow Him to renew your mind daily as you present your life to Him as a living sacrifice.”

If the idea of foreign missions intrigues you, but you aren’t ready to make the journey to another part of the world, try going on a foreign mission in your own town. “Immigrants are hospitable and generous,” says Annette Hall, a teacher currently serving overseas. “Visit immigrants and get to know them. When I say I want to visit, they often ask me why. Once they understand I want to get to know them, the doors open, and I’m welcome as often as I’ll go. Many immigrants come from cultures where people spend lots of time with one another, and now they are starving for friends.” A relationship built around trust then provides opportunities to share about God. “I always try to share a Bible story while I’m visiting. I often find that these stories get told to others,” Annette shares. “If you will make an effort to be a part of their lives, your life will be enriched, and you will have the chance to share Christ with people who need to know Him.”

Leonora and Ben Newell with youths in Helena, Arkansas.

One remarkable aspect of Jesus’ ministry was His initiative to meet people exactly where they are and help them with their difficulties: healing the blind, deaf and sick and calling the tax collector down from the tree. Ben and Leonora Newell, who left Richmond thirteen years ago to work with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, believe in the same model. “The immediate focus is not on planting churches, but on helping the local economy,” says Ben, who works in Helena, Arkansas, one of America’s twenty poorest counties. “People don’t want to be preached at or felt sorry for. Clothes closets, food pantries, and one-week mission trips are all essential ministries, but it’s also important to make a sustainable transformation in people’s lives. Once they can feed themselves, they’re ready to hear the Gospel.” The Newells’ latest project is Delta Jewels, LLC (www.deltajewels.com), a jewelry business employing girls from the community and run in partnership with Together for Hope. Each ten dollar pair of homemade earrings fetches a five dollar profit for the girls, ten percent of which goes back to the community or church. Ben believes that the members of First Baptist Church can replicate this model with any youth. “We tell teens that they can be entrepreneurs. It makes these girls feel worthwhile and builds their self-esteem. Use your unlimited resources to do something real and practical; educate, mentor, and then give these teens real jobs. The missional church doesn’t settle for the mercy ministries. It goes for the transformation.”

The advice that David, Annette and Ben share is varied, but so are the opportunities. The call to join the mission field comes in as many forms as the skills of those who serve. “When I lived in Philadelphia, I met children who couldn’t draw a church because they didn’t know what one looked like,” says Annette. “God just kept bothering me until I made a decision for missions.”

David’s experience was more gradual. “After beginning with Mission Friends, Sunbeams, R.A.s, and then youth group mission trips, I committed to two years of Journeyman service in Hong Kong,” David explains. “It was there that I felt the love of God for the nations drawing me to a lifetime of global, cross-cultural service for Him.”

It’s impossible to know when a calling might come. Ben and Leonora had established their careers in business and occupational therapy, respectively, when they were called to Southeast Asia with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. That experience led to their current service in Arkansas, where they are using the job skills they acquired in Richmond to encourage entrepreneurship among the community.

The Lord loves His people dearly and has a mission for His church: love God, love others, make disciples, baptize, and teach. That mission requires action and urgency and doesn’t end in the church pew; it needs a place in the office, in the classroom, and even in the twenty-minute grocery line at the end of a long workday.

Renew your relationship with God every morning and commit your day to this calling, because inside of every Christian is a missionary waiting to get to work.

Clint (clintondsmith@gmail.com) and his wife, Sally Ann, are members of the Young Couples class. Sally Ann is an eighth grade English teacher at St. Catherine’s School and a member of the Richmond Christian Leadership Institute’s Class of 2010. Clint is working on an MBA at The College of William and Mary, and serves as an Associate Teaching Director with Teen Community Bible Study of Midlothian. They were married at FBC in 2007 and currently live in the Near West End. Clint was ordained as a Deacon in January 2011.

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By Robert Dilday. Photos by Win Grant.

Worship at Richmond’s First Baptist Church is multifaceted, transforming, grounded in Scripture and deeply sensitive to God’s presence – in a word, liturgical. Some Christians are skittish of the word because liturgy, for them, connotes sterility, anachronism, an inability to transform. That’s because, in part, they associate it so closely with the distant Christian past. Yet, this ancient method of encountering God is uniquely suited to pointing to God’s presence in a postmodern world.

Liturgy, says worship writer Mark Galli, lives out a story in a story-deprived world. Western culture has lost its story. The narrative which modernity gave us – that human life is progress, that science and technology will resolve all difficulties – has been shattered by a century of world wars and economic collapses, holocausts and genocides, pandemics and terrorist attacks. In contrast, liturgy reenacts a profound narrative. It’s a story – The Story, actually – that begins with God’s creative act and the choosing of a people. Through them the Creator was revealed to the world – by the gathering of a nation and the insights of that nation’s prophets, and, ultimately in the supreme revelation, by Jesus Christ.

But the story continues among generations of believers – including us – who have discovered broken lives healed by the God revealed in Jesus, and who look hopefully to the time when all creation will be redeemed.

Worshippers pray during Sunday morning worship services.

When we welcome others to worship, we welcome them, not just to a service at the corner of Monument and the Boulevard, but into a drama that is epic – and one which will transform them.

How does liturgy reenact the story through worship at FBC?
By embodying worship in four “acts.” The call to worship and opening hymn gather us as God’s people, a preview of the ultimate gathering of all believers from all eras to praise God. We hear the Word through Scripture and through preaching drawn from it. We symbolize Christ’s sacrifice by taking the bread and cup in Communion. And we respond and are sent out to engage in God’s great gathering mission.

By engaging Scripture. If the Bible is, as we proclaim, God’s word, then immersion in it will be lifechanging. Each Sunday, wide swaths of it are read – from the Old Testament, from the Epistles, from the Gospels. Generations of believers have crafted a reading schedule – the lectionary – which reminds us of our story, evoking gratitude for God’s mighty works in the past and promises for the future. That’s why a robust “Thanks be to God” is the appropriate response to the reader’s reminder that what has been heard is “The Word of the Lord.”

By participating in the prayers and praises of past generations. We pray the Psalms in the call to worship. We sing the Doxology in gratitude for God’s blessings. We recite (and, once a month, sing) the Lord’s own prayer.

Jim Somerville baptizes Will Wright.

By symbolic reenactments.
Baptism represents both God’s initiative in offering love and relationship, and the response we make to that great gift. In Communion we are reminded of Jesus’ blood and broken body, and experience His presence in a remarkable and mysterious way.

By living the Christian year. The Christian year isn’t a medieval timekeeping device superseded by the atomic clock. It’s a deeply spiritual – and profoundly counter-cultural – reenacting of the life of Christ as a way of ordering one’s own life. FBC begins the church year by reflecting on the mystery of God’s incarnation at Advent, celebrates Christ’s revelation to the world at Christmas and Epiphany, journeys with Him to the cross in Lent, rejoices in resurrection and a Spirit-filled life at Easter and Pentecost, and proclaims the signs of the Kingdom during the days that follow, until Advent renews the cycle.

In the end, liturgy reminds us of the one great character in our story – God – and anchors the focus there. “ ‘I come to seek God because I need Him,’ may be an adequate formula for prayer,” said the devotional writer Evelyn Underhill. “ ‘I come to adore his splendor and fling myself and all that I have at his feet,’ is the only possible formula for worship.”

Robert Dilday (robert.dilday@gmail.com), a member of FBC since 1986, is a deacon and member of the Church Choir and One Accord, and led the church’s former contemplative and contemporary worship services. He has two sons – Harrison, 22, an engineer in the U.S. Navy based in San Diego; and Andrew, 19, a sophomore theatre major at Baylor University. Robert is Associate Editor of the Religious Herald, the biweekly newsjournal of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He enjoys running, reading and music, and sings in a local jazz band.

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By Susan Grant.

In May, 1998, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. At that time, the only treatment was a bone marrow transplant.

After a long search a donor, Peter Andrews, was found in England. Peter was deemed healthy enough to qualify as my donor and he readily agreed to the bone marrow transplant. In mid November 1998 in London, Peter’s bone marrow was harvested, flown across the Atlantic Ocean, and it arrived at MCV in time for me to get the transplant the day before Thanksgiving.

I entered the hospital on a Sunday afternoon, November 15th. That evening, the youth of our church stood outside my window with candles in their hands. From my 10th floor window, my daughter Stephanie and my son Wingate and I watched as the youth raised and lowered the candles while they were praying for us. It was a sight I will never forget.

Before the transplant, I worked as a realtor, marketing residential properties. I loved my job with a passion. But after the transplant I made the decision not to return to real estate. Nevertheless I had to work – but doing what? A friend approached me about four years after the transplant and suggested I consider nursing. My immediate response was, “Oh yeah, I’m 53 years old. Not exactly the right time in life to start a new career.” I told her I’d pray about it. She wasn’t a Christian, so I’m sure she didn’t understand why I’d consider even asking the Lord for guidance, but I did.

Peter Andrews and his family. Peter was the bone marrow donor for Susan Grant.

I didn’t get a yes or no from God, but I did pursue the possibility. When I contacted John Tyler School of Nursing, I told them just to tell me I was too old. I said, “I won’t be offended, I just don’t want to waste your time, so just tell me and I’ll be gone.” The head of the nursing program told me on the contrary I wasn’t too old. Their oldest graduate had been 62 years old. So I applied.

I went through the nursing program in six semesters. It was tough. At times I didn’t think I would make it. But I graduated in December 2005, at the age of 56. Seven years after my bone marrow transplant.

Now at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital I work as an RN in Radiation Oncology and in the outpatient infusion unit.

Susan Grant and her son, Wingate at his college graduation.

God has used me mightily over these years. Occasionally I have shared my cancer experience with patients. I believe it’s given them encouragement to see me looking so healthy, and working at my age in a physically demanding field.

Professionally, I want to give my patients the best of care as a way of paying back for the excellent care I received at MCV. But also I desire to do something for God as a way of saying “thank you” for His intervention to extend my life. So every morning as I drive to work, I ask Him to help me minister to His children in whatever way He desires. I see it as living out my life in thankfulness for what He has done.

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By Terry L. Whipple, M.D.

I’ve always enjoyed sports. The faster it moved and the rougher it was, the more I liked it. On my 40th birthday, I realized that at some point there would be a lot of athletic activities that I would never have tried. So I pledged to take up a new sport every year for the rest of my life.

One that became a passion was skydiving. It put more adrenaline into my circulation than any sport I had ever done. I really fell in love with it and got reasonably good at it. In fact, I became competitive at building complex formations in free fall. We would build a formation, break, build another formation, break and do that as many times as possible during the fall.

In 1998, I went to the World Free Fall Convention, a recreational, competitive event held in Illinois. That was a wonderful experience … until one afternoon. During a very successful skydive, I was approaching the landing zone when a severe crosswind blew my parachute out of control and into a horizontal position. I fell 75 or 80 feet and landed on my left side. I remember going out of control, and I remember the struggle to get my feet under me, but fortunately I don’t remember the impact as I lost consciousness.

I had a number of injuries, including several broken bones, ruptured abdominal organs and blood loss. I spent six weeks in Illinois hospitals, in a coma. There were surgeries and complications. On three occasions I developed multiple system failure – each time, my physicians would call my family to let them know that they didn’t expect me to survive the night. But I did, and was finally air evacuated back to MCV (now VCU) … still unconscious. Quite unexpectedly and for no explainable reason, while being transferred from one MCV building to another, I woke up in an ambulance.

I remember saying something, and the ambulance attendant was startled and called out to the driver, “He’s awake, he’s awake!” And then I was gone again.

The next weeks were periods of being awake for two minutes and then gone for hours. Slowly and progressively, I’d be lucid and awake for longer and longer periods.

The hospital is a particularly scary place at night for patients. It’s lonely and dark. The chairs are empty. There were occasions, when I would wake up, uncomfortable, aware of where I was, aware of the noises down the hall, very aware that I was completely helpless. I couldn’t turn over; my lower extremities were paralyzed. But sitting in one of the chairs in my room, there was a presence – someone was there. Obviously, there was no one … but I sensed someone in that chair. It was a completely reassuring and consoling presence. And if it wasn’t God Himself sitting there, surely it was one of His angels to keep me company … to let me know that I wasn’t going through this by myself.

Dr. Terry Whipple and his wife, Dr. Ruth Hillelson. Drs. Whipple & Hillelson practice medicine together in Richmond's West End.

It says in the Scriptures, “I am with you always.” I think that means always – not just eternally but constantly, from moment to moment. God is with me. He’s with everyone. We only have to be aware of it. “Seek and you shall find, ask and you shall receive,” open your eyes, and you realize that He’s there. That constant presence means a lot to me, and I know that in my time of real need, I can count on that companionship and that reassurance. It’s sustaining, in every moment of life – even those lonely moments of despair and discomfort and discouragement. Look for Him.

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