Archive for November, 2011

Teaching English for God

By Lisa Byerly. Photos by Lisa Tuck.

large assembly

Morning assembly music was led by Timo Bobula, an exchange student who lived with Candi and Matthew Brown last year.

The work that goes into planning Christian English Camp in Ruzomberok, Slovakia, pays off the minute a hundred kids flood into the gym. Even without understanding what they were saying, we knew they were excited to be at camp and to see the gym decorated like Egypt, the theme for this year. The Bible stories for each day focused on Joseph and how God gives hope, abilities, wisdom, forgiveness, and family. Each morning in assembly, we sang Christian songs in English. The excitement of the kids singing them is contagious: If we were lacking energy, the kids gave it back during the morning gathering.

Slovakia mission team leaders

Teaching team (left to right): Rosie Smith, originally from Northern Ireland and now ESOL teacher in Glasgow, Scotland; Lisa Byerly; Amanda Meyer from Minneapolis, MN now living in Slovakia for a year and working with the gypsy population; Mitchum Brock, originally from Australia, now working at the Glasgow City Mission; Leonie Schwinn, from Germany, was exchange student last year in Richmond and participated in some of the youth programs at FBC.

Only two team members, Lisa Tuck and I, were from Richmond this year. Others came from all over the world – Scotland, England, Germany and included Americans living in Slovakia and Slovaks living in the United States.

How is teaching English a mission trip? Consider the ways teaching English is a valuable gift to those we work with. The English teacher from Ruzomberok recognizes the difference from one year to the next in her students who attend the camp. She said English Camp helps them become more confident in speaking English. Many Slovakian students want to attend college in England or in the U.S. and need to speak English to have that opportunity. English is widely used in the business world in Europe; knowing it opens many employment doors. When teaching English is done to glorify God it becomes a mission for God.

Slovakia mission girls

Children arrive for the morning assembly.

The camp is hosted by a small Baptist church in Ruzomberok, the only one in town. The Catholic Church is the predominant denomination, and Baptist churches are not always understood. The principal of the school where the camp is held has become an ambassador of sorts for the church and was even inspired to learn English himself. As a result of English Camp and the relationships built through it, this Baptist church is now an integral part of the community.

English camp has evolved over the years, but one thing remains the same – it continues to build great relationships, with the adults (this year from all around the world), with the helpers, and especially with the kids. Many adults, who did not speak much if any English 10 years ago, now speak English very well. Helpers are beginning to share with each other their thoughts on God and the Bible. Most of the kids come back to English Camp each year and eventually become helpers. It is so exciting to see the evolution and impact of Christian English Camp.

Lisa Byerly

Lisa Byerly

Lisa is married to Lee, and they have a 19 month old daughter, Rachel. Lisa works at Fort Lee as a logistician. At FBC she serves on the Member Equipping Team and is a member of the Travelers Sunday school class. In her free time she enjoys traveling, photography, playing golf, and watching college football and basketball.

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Good Neighbors

By Rachel Allee. Photos by Skyler Cumbia.

Mary Margaret Shannon is not Irish by birth, but you wouldn’t know it. Her eyes smile and sparkle as she vividly describes the years she lived in Ireland, working for the Irish American Cultural Institute by hosting visiting American students in the home she shared with her husband. The Minnesota native has lived in Richmond – her mother’s hometown – for some years now, but has not slowed down very much. Activity is a virtue to Mary Margaret, who regularly volunteers at Retreat Doctors’ Hospital and attends functions at the Virginia Historical Society and the Library of Virginia.

Todd Brooker and Mary Margaret Shannon

Todd Brooker and Mary Margaret Shannon

Over the past several years, through friendships with First Baptist members Mary Hiteman and Phyllis Wilson, Mary Margaret has added activities at FBC to her list. From Classics in the Courtyard, to various church services, to the Christmas High Tea, sponsored by FLO, she has enjoyed getting to know church members. “Everybody’s so friendly,” she says. “This is such an active church.”

FBC members can be forgiven for not instantly recognizing her name; Mary Margaret is actually a longtime member of St. Benedict Catholic Church in the Fan. Though already familiar with FBC through Phyllis and Mary, her impressions of the church grew a couple of years ago because of a simple kindness by Todd Brooker, who operates the VMFA parking deck shuttle each Sunday.

On a particular Sunday filled with nasty weather, Mary Margaret was walking home from St. Benedict by taking her usual route near the VMFA, when Todd pulled alongside her and stopped the shuttle. “He opened the door and asked me if I would like a lift,” she recounts. “It was bad weather, so I said thank you. Then I said, ‘I don’t go to First Baptist’ but he said it was alright, and so I got on.”

According to Todd, It was impossible not to help her. “I felt sorry for her,” he says. “It was raining and she was an elderly lady without an umbrella. She was just trying to hold something over her head.”

Mary Margaret felt a little unsure about what had happened, however. “The fact that I wasn’t a member here, would they have any difficulty about picking up somebody who’s not coming to this church?” she remembers thinking. “I turned him down the Sunday after because I was worried,” she says. “I turned him down a couple of times and I hoped he could figure out why I was doing it.”

She smiles as she relates the next part. “But I began to think, what would Jesus do? He would do the same as that young fellow! I didn’t want him to feel I was brushing him off, so I thought I’ll just sit on [the shuttle] and get off at FBC and walk back home. Then he stopped right at my house, and I thought, ‘Now what?’” So she made one more effort: “I said I was going to ride around, but then he said this was where I lived. So that’s the way it’s been,” she laughs.

She and Todd have gotten to know each other over time, and both are pleased with the current arrangements. “She is such a nice lady, very grandmotherly, always talkative,” he says.

Mary Margaret is still a member of St. Benedict and rides the FBC shuttle just periodically, but she is grateful for Todd’s small yet gracious act of kindness. “I thought it was very good,” says the lady who volunteers much of her time in service to others. “By doing such things, aren’t we being very ecumenical?”

Rachel Allee

Rachel Lewis Allee. Photo by Jonathan Allee.

Rachel and her husband, Jonathan, are new members of First Baptist and attend the Young Couples class. Rachel teaches eleventh and twelfth grade English and coaches softball at Richmond Christian School. Every now and then she has time to work in the garden, read and write fiction, and play the piano. She and Jonathan enjoy playing with their happy-go-lucky hound dog, Oliver, and hanging out at their cottage in Mechanicsville.

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By Karen Linkous. Photo by Keith Carroll.

Rick and Stephanie Whittington began tithing in January 2011. Now, Rick says, it has created a “lifestyle of generosity” for his family.

Rick and his wife, Stephanie, discussed their giving through First Baptist Church as part of their financial planning for 2011. They based their decision on Proverbs 3:9: “honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops” (NIV).

the Whittington family

Whittington family

Since Rick is a small business owner and has an irregular income, the Whittingtons determine their tithe at the end of each month, based on his gross salary plus any business profit. Rick tithes on his gross salary because “first fruits means the first portion, before taxes and insurance are paid.” The Whittingtons were careful to give ten percent to FBC because the Bible says that the tithe should be given to the local church (Malachi 3:10). Rick shared, “I have faith in giving to my local church, and trust (our) leaders to spend it wisely.”

Most traditional financial planners would say the Whittingtons should save more for education and retirement. Rick said that since the family has been tithing, his worry about saving for retirement or his children’s college educations has not been as great because they trust their finances more fully to God. “If we’re faithful in our giving and providing for the needs of others now, I trust that God will provide for our future needs.”

His advice to fellow members who are considering their giving plans is to “set your budget around your giving, not give around your budget.” He also recommends praying consistently and intentionally about giving decisions.

Prior to moving to the tithing philosophy, Rick didn’t consider himself a generous person. The family gave a flat dollar amount in offering each month. Moving to the tithing plan made them feel “nervous, but excited.” And even if their business had losses for a month, they still planned to make a gift.

In order to set themselves up to be tithers, Rick and Stephanie worked hard to remove all debt, with the exception of their mortgage. They do a monthly budget on paper that has enabled them to live within their means while giving. The tithe is the first expenditure each month.

Rick introduced Financial Peace University to our congregation four years ago. FPU is a 13-session course that is taught by nationally-known financial counselor Dave Ramsey, and is described on www.daveramsey.com as a course on “how to beat debt, build wealth, find bargains, invest for the future and give like never before.” While they were getting out of debt, they cut back on certain activities, such as travel, and Rick did freelance work at night to pay down the debt quickly. “For us, having debt for material goods was our admission that God hadn’t provided enough.” By using a budget they have been able to keep household expenses stable for the last five years. “Once you put the Financial Peace principles into practice, your life and attitude toward saving, spending and giving change.”

offering envelopeIn addition to the joy they have found in tithing, the Whittingtons also provide gifts to people in need when they can. This has been an activity where God puts the desire to give directly into their hearts. In one case, they have been fortunate to help a family friend make ends meet during a difficult time. Stephanie and Rick sponsor a child through Compassion International; their own children have become involved through the child’s picture and letters. “We hope that through child sponsorship, our kids see that there are people that are less fortunate than we are, and that they can do something tangible to help.” In finding opportunities to help others, they are not focused on whether or not they give to an organized charity or get a tax deduction.

Rick adds, “I truly believe that all we have belongs to God.” As they have increased their giving they have seen that God is providing for them in many ways. In addition, God is revealing more needs and nudging them to be more generous. Rick shares that he is learning that he “can’t outgive God.”

He challenges all who are considering increased giving to make a commitment to tithe for three months: “Examine your budget, take a leap of faith, and see what happens.”

Share below your stories of assuming a lifestyle of generosity.

Karen LinkousKaren Linkous joined First Baptist in 2008 and is a member of the Seekers class with her husband, Bob. Karen is the team leader for the Budget Team and serves on the Stewardship Education Team. She is a senior manager at Capital One and enjoys gardening, decorating and reading.

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By Jeannie Dortch.

Light of the World window

The Light of the World window. Photo by Dean Hawthorne.

In 1943, many of FBC’s membership served in World War II. The congregation sent them packages and letters, a calendar of church activities and events, and “prayed without ceasing” for these brave volunteers. But the congregation wanted to thank them in a more concrete and visible way. The Payne Spiers Studio of Paterson, New Jersey was hired to design and install a Tiffany-style stained glass window to honor them. Known as “Christ at the Door” or “The Light of the World,” and based on the 1854 painting by English artist Holman Hunt, it hung in the balcony facing the pulpit but could also be seen from the street on the Monument Avenue side of the building. The contours of the glass actually mimicked the folds of Christ’s garments and the inscription under the picture read:

“To those who served and sacrificed
That mankind might be free
To live and worship in His light.”

In 1943, after the installation of the window, a color copy of it was sent to each of the men and women who were serving at the time. There is a plaque in the narthex listing the names of all 521. As a frame of reference, the average number of FBC members in the armed services whose names appear presently on the prayer list each day is about 10.

WWII memorial plaque

Richmond's First Baptist Church WWII memorial plaque. Photos by David Powers.

During a remodeling of the sanctuary in January 1965, painters working in the balcony laid drop cloths over the flood lights that illuminated “Christ at the Door.” Finished for the day and not realizing that the lights came on automatically at dusk, the workmen left their drop cloths in place. The heat from the lamps during the late afternoon ignited a fire; by the time the fire was put out, the window was severely damaged. By June, the window had been restored using the finest craftsmanship available at the time, but without the contouring technique that had made the original glass so exceptional. The new window was given by his family in memory of T. Justin Moore, a life deacon and deacon chair from 1935-1955.

Sacrifice window

Sacrifice window. Photo by Dean Hawthorne.

The significance of World War II in the lives of FBC’s members continued to be profound. In the series of windows on the lower west side of the sanctuary is “Sacrifice,” installed in 1947. Designed by Katharine Tait Lamb of the Lamb Studios in Tenafly, New Jersey (currently in Wyckoff, NJ), and based on input from Pastor Theodore F. Adams, it is a dramatic rendering of men on the battlefield. It was meant to compliment the “Crucifixion” window in the balcony above and commemorate the gift of life given in the spirit of Him who “Loved us and gave Himself for us.”

Tom Peason

Tom Pearson

The oldest of the survivors who served at the time the foyer plaque was made, and one of four remaining FBC members whose names appear on it, is Tom Pearson. A native of South Carolina, Tom had been in the food business before joining the Army. His skills were utilized in food procurement for base cooks in South Carolina, but he also taught soldiers the art of battlefield camouflage in Georgia before his three year stint ended. “Doing something for the country made me feel very good, but leaving my family for that long was hard.”

Linwood Broach

Linwood Broach

Linwood Broach, a friend and contemporary of Tom Pearson, is the only one of the four who actually served overseas during the war. He fought with the 3rd Army’s 328th Tanker Division under General George S. Patton Jr. In 1944 Linwood was shot in the head while fighting on the German-French border and received the Purple Heart for his bravery under fire. Dr. Theodore Adams, FBC pastor from 1936 to 1968, worked with the Red Cross to find him in a Swiss hospital. After his recovery, Linwood returned to the field and continued to serve until the end of the war.

Dickie Hamilton

Dickie Hamilton

“The patriotic intensity was inspirational to every soldier, sailor and pilot,” said Dickie Hamilton, whose name also appears on the plaque. President Roosevelt had established a civilian aviation program that was open to college students. In the summer of 1941, while a student at Washington and Lee University, Dickie took a course at Byrd Field to become an aviator. Highly motivated to participate, he dropped out of college in 1943, joined the Navy, and graduated from the Pensacola, Florida naval installation as a Navy pilot in five months. He was a member of a squadron that was being trained to fly on and off the SS Roosevelt, being built at the time. His group trained and patrolled off three different carriers in the Atlantic Ocean guarding the US coast while waiting for their chance to go overseas. The war ended before the SS Roosevelt was commissioned.

Don Fergusson

Don Fergusson

“I’m not a hero,” commented Don Fergusson when asked about his service in WW II. “I was drafted into the army eleven days after I graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, and because I had played in the band, I was not given the choice to go overseas. I played my trumpet and performed in parades throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. I was glad to serve because of the significance of the war to everyone in the United States.” Maintaining patriotic fervor and attention to the war effort was paramount at the time. A noteworthy part of Don’s job was to play at train depots as soldiers were leaving for and returning from combat.

These WW II memorial windows continue to be apt tributes to all who fight for freedom around the world.

Editor’s note: Copies of the fully illustrated Memorial Windows written by Theodore F. Adams and The Open Door, the church’s history from 1780-2005, are available for checkout or purchase in the church library.

Jeannie Dortch

Jeannie Dortch joined FBC in 1974 after being lovingly mentored by the members of Buddy Hamilton’s Sunday school class. A grandmother of four, Jeannie has served as a deacon, taught in our children’s, youth, international, and adult Sunday school departments, but attends the Journey class presently. Recently retired from 16 years of teaching at Rudlin Torah Academy, Jeannie enjoys exercising, cooking, reading, tutoring New American students at Maybeury Elementary, and writing articles for FTF.

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Story and photos by Ann Carter.

Mission trips are a funny thing. You select a location that has a need. You determine the jobs to meet that need. You set the date, pack your bags, sacrifice some vacation time, and set off to minister. But, here’s the funny part. You minister, but you come away with the transformational experience of having been ministered to by the community you went to help.

On July 9, 2011, 31 members of First Baptist met in Helena, Arkansas, the county seat of the 12th poorest county in America. We traveled by plane, car and motorcycle. We came with our children, our grandchildren and our friends. We brought our air mattresses and prepared for showering all week in a trailer We joined churches from across the south, as well as from Helena, for week one of the All Church Challenge.

Swim Camp Red Group 3

Swim Camp Red Group 3

FBC team members did a variety of jobs. Billy Burford, Jay Lustig and Carl Evans worked on construction and repair projects around the community. Melissa Johnson and Joy Carlton volunteered in the morning preschool camp for children five and under. Tena Lustig, Ann McRee, Margaret Price, and Susan Seymore worked in Blessings Ministry, volunteering in a women’s shelter, baking cookies for civic leaders in Helena, and asking business owners for donations for the construction team. Don Price used his storytelling talents on the Stories on Wheels bus for children who couldn’t make it into town. Tracy Payne provided water to all who were working outside – very important in a 115 degree heat index with 100% humidity.

Swim Camp friends

Swim Camp friends

My job was to run a swim camp for 120 children aged 6-12 with a staff of more than 100 volunteers. Swim camp is traditional Vacation Bible School combined with sports elements. The children have Bible story, music and craft times. They also have two 30-minute swim lessons each day and an introduction to both golf and soccer. Cari DuVal, Vicki Pope, Leslie Beale, Elizabeth Lipford, and David Carter worked in the camp. All of our children 12 and under were campers with kids from Helena. Their job is the ministry of friendship, very important in this racially divided community.

Swim Camp Morning games

Swim Camp morning games

It had been a bad spring in Helena – the Mississippi came within two inches of flooding the entire town, the area’s economic woes continued, and violence erupted between competing drug families. Helena is a community gripped by fear and uncertainty.

But like a cool breeze, people from outside the community who love Helena and the people who live there were coming to bring hope and a distraction. As we prepared to work, we spoke with people in the community who told us of the joy the kids had knowing that camp would go on as usual. This would be the one bright spot for their summer.

And all week long, we did good work to meet needs and provide relief in the community, but our own personal transformation came in some surprising ways.

When an elaborate computer program intended to place kids in the proper swim lessons and camp groups crashed, we spent the day in frustration and what to us felt like chaos. But the children didn’t notice. All they knew was that they were having the time of their lives. One child said, “This was the best day of my life. Thank you!” Really? Wow! God works in spite of human and technological failures.

One group of boys gave their group leader a run for his money. Every day, he poured his love and his energy into them, trying to keep them on task and not fighting. On the last day of camp, as the boys arrived, they told him that they were so excited for the Bible story time that day because, next to swimming, that was their favorite part of camp. They couldn’t wait to hear what God did next! God’s story speaks even to fighting 11 and 12 year old boys.

Swim Camp morning games

Swim Camp morning games

The flip side of the story was that a pastor from Texas, who was the older kids’ Bible story leader, shared with me that maybe his Bible story telling days were over. He said next year he would meet with local pastors to work on building relationships so that the ministry could continue with more local leadership. But when he heard how meaningful Bible story time was for the younger group, the pastor’s eyes filled with tears and he recommitted “to tell God’s stories to these kids . . . next year!” God uses us even when we don’t feel useful.

Four FBC youths were the first ever from outside the community to participate in Youth Camp. Their experience was quite different from FBC’s youth group – cheers and chants, loud step routines, hip hop dances, and two hour Bible study sessions. Despite the local history of white hatred of blacks, the youths from Helena worked hard to include our very white kids. Whenever the camp leader would see our kids huddled together, she’d call out, “Four white kids sitting in a row!” and campers would grab one of our kids to sit with them. In this community, that is a powerful testimony to God’s work in the hearts and minds of youths.

The poor of Helena rely on federal feeding programs that come with regulations too many to list. A week before camp, there was no one willing to take on that challenge for the lunch program until a local church, New Light Missionary Baptist, came forward. With a little kitchen, the small group really struggled to get 240 lunches out to camp every day. But loving adult leaders gave up their lunches so that kids in the camp could eat. They helped the children share their food so that no one went without. Eventually, everyone got their food, but not before I saw God’s love in action over and over and over.

If you have never been on a mission trip, I challenge you to go with your friends, take your children and your parents; share the power of God working in your life and the lives of the people you serve. And if you can’t travel, then find places in Richmond that don’t look like heaven and go to work. And see what funny things happen.

Ann CarterAnn Whitfield Carter is sometimes known as the crazy person who loves middle schoolers. In 2002, she became the temporary Youth Associate for Middle School. Nine years later, she hopes it is permanent! Ann joined First Baptist in 1992 and met her husband, David, in the church choir. They have been singing together ever since. Their three children, Ellie (15), Claire (12) and Mary Wise (7), are active in First Baptist’s children and youth ministries. When Ann is not working, she is managing her kids’ busy lives, singing with the Richmond Symphony Chorus, or drinking coffee to fuel her for whatever is next on her calendar.

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