Archive for December, 2011

Story and photos by Cathy Gaunt.

Mission team in Xi'an China.

Mission team in Xi'an China.

Sweat was pouring from my brow as I struggled to lug the 25+ pound suitcase up 14 flights of stairs along with my 15+ pound backpack. Out of nowhere a petite woman with a pleasant smile appeared on the stairs and helped me carry the suitcase. It did not seem to be a struggle for her. I smiled, bowed slightly and in broken Chinese said “thank you.” This was my introduction to the people of Xi’an, China, a city of more than eight million, known for its Terra Cotta Warriors.

China mission team

Members of FBC team with two of their translators, Anson (far left) and Nan (far right).

The First Baptist Church team, 13 adults and students from China, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, was in Xi’an to help the local YMCA with a basketball camp. We all felt led to go to China and almost all of us felt led to teach basketball. I can dribble, shoot and pass, but not teach basketball. However, I knew I needed to be flexible when on assignment with God. I served as the team photographer and mom. If someone needed something – Band-Aids, granola bars, powdered drink mix, toilet paper, usually I had it in my backpack.

basketball camp drillsIn 2006 Ashley, our older daughter, and I went to Troyeville, South Africa on a mission trip. Rachel, our younger daughter, had been looking for a similar opportunity for the two of us. She finally found it when Buddy Burgess, Pastor to the Deaf Mission and Minister of Recreation, told her about this trip.

Rachel comments, “I love community missions and helping people. Making people’s day is number one on my list; it just makes me really happy. When I heard about China, I was ecstatic. I played basketball for six years, and I have always wanted to make an impact elsewhere than in my own backyard. Traveling to China was the most incredible experience of my life – the people I met along the way, the relationships with our translators and other group members, the culture, showing God’s love.”

Being flexible became important just before we left when we found out the venue had changed, as well as the numbers. Instead of meeting in a school with 60 campers, we were relocated, with 80 boys. Did I mention that all our student coaches were girls, 14 to 18 years old? The first day of camp there were about 120 campers, and each day the numbers increased. When it rained, we were confined to one and a half inside basketball courts. Being flexible continued to be important.

Two significant moments of my week put us into the Chinese culture – attending worship and eating a meal with one our campers and his family. Another occurred when we were able to share our culture. One day campers asked via translators about American traditions and heard first hand why we were there teaching basketball – because we love God and love His people.

For Rachel, the highlight of the week was the bracelets she and the other student coaches shared: “Our arms were covered in bracelets, not your average bracelets, but the Spirit/Witness/Salvation bracelets. On these bracelets were a heart for God’s love, a black bead for our sin, a red bead for the blood that Jesus shed for us, a white bead for our cleanliness from sin because Jesus died for us, a blue bead for eternal life, a green bead for our growing relationship with God, a yellow bead for the gold in heaven, and a clear bead for our purity.

basketball camp drills“Many people might say ‘Oh it’s just a bracelet,’ but it was more than that. Two team members had made 90 bracelets for us to give out. Since we had more campers, we had to be flexible and make bracelets for about 125 campers to receive the last day of camp. Wherever we traveled, teens commented on these bracelets, and we were able to explain the significance and give each a bracelet and a card in English and Chinese describing what each color meant. One team member spent an hour with a Chinese teen and his three friends explaining the bracelet – all four not only received bracelets but the Gospel, too.

basketball camp participants“We had grown close to our translators and had long discussions about God, the bracelet, the Bible, and His love. At the end of the trip we were able to give all of them Bibles and could tell that some of them were having a change of heart.”

Of course, you don’t need to go to China to share God’s love. Who needs to hear you say, “God loves you”? Who needs to receive a witnessing bracelet from you? Who needs to receive a Bible from you? Remember to be flexible the next time the Holy Spirit prompts you to share the Gospel with someone.

Cathy GauntCathy is married to Gary and they have two daughters: Ashley, a freshman at Longwood University, and Rachel, a junior at Hanover High School. Cathy works at the Federal Reserve Bank as an Accounting Analyst. Cathy joined FBC in 1988, has served as a deacon and is active in missions work within the church. She is a member of Foundations Sunday School Class. In her free time she enjoys running, cycling and hiking.

Read Full Post »

By Jeannie Dortch. Family photo by Paul Bickford.

“Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord” Luke 2:9 (The Living Bible).

Tilley Christmas card - 2010 edition

Tilley Christmas card - 2010 edition

Every year before December, Charles Tilley gets out his pencils and watercolors and begins working on his annual gift to relatives and friends—a hand-painted Christmas card. Since his college days at Clemson University in the early 1990s, Charles has been sending religiously themed Christmas cards as a way of keeping in touch and sharing the love of God in Christ.

“I started with simple line drawings of a Christmas theme,” Charles explained. “Angels mainly, but gradually I looked for nativity type scenes and made black and white line drawings of them. In 1997, I started adding color to the drawings, and then, when our daughter Emma started preschool at First Baptist Church, I began a series of paintings based on the stained glass nativity scenes in the sanctuary windows. There is so much depth and symbolism in our windows, and I have learned a lot from studying them.”

Tilley Christmas card - 2000 edition

Tilley Christmas card - 2000 edition

Over the years, Charles, an architect with BCWH Architects, has painted many windows in churches around the city, including the chapel at the University of Richmond and Grace and Holy Trinity, Saint Stephens and All Saints Episcopal Churches. “Richmond has a lot of great religious art if you look for it,” he says.

After taking a photograph of the window he likes, he makes a line drawing of it, and then paints with watercolors. “I am still developing as a painter since I only do this once a year, and trying to capture the light that brings these windows alive is the hardest part.”

Tilley Christmas card - 2001 edition

Tilley Christmas card - 2001 edition

“This is a wonderful way for Charles to express his faith in a way that he enjoys,” commented Charles’ wife, Gwen, during an interview. Charles added, “It wasn’t intentional, but it turned out to be a way I could celebrate the talents that God has given me in a way that feels really comfortable.”

Charles and Gwen work together to match each card’s painting with an appropriate scripture greeting that appears inside the card each year. And in 2000, Emma, Virginia, and Mae, the Tilley’s three daughters, added their own artistic flair to the annual family gift by each painting a picture of a Christmas angel on the back of the cards. “It has been interesting to witness the girls’ artistic progression, as well as my own,” remarked Charles. “They have become better than I am at mixing and blending color.” Thinking about the hallway gallery at home that displays all the cards they have painted together, Emma said, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without this family project. I would have it no other way.”

Tilley Christmas card - 2004 edition

Tilley Christmas card - 2004 edition

Charles continued, “Stained glass is a beautiful art form, but it’s art that is activated by a natural source that changes and moves throughout the day. As the intensity of light changes, the colors adjust and reveal details that may not be apparent otherwise. It reminds me of how the Holy Spirit enlivens us as Christians. When we let the full light of Christ shine through us, we reveal the beauty of who we are, the craftsmanship of our creator, and the impact that we can have on the world.”

Charles’ impact on those he loves has been profound. And he trusts that God will continue to use his talent as he strives to grow artistically and spiritually each year.

Tilley family

Tilley family

Author’s note: It is unusual to find families in which multiple generations have consistently attended the same church. Charles and his wife, Gwen, members of FBC since 2003, are among the few. Gwen is the daughter of Carolyn Land and the granddaughter of Mae Martin. And the Tilley’s three daughters, Emma, Virginia, and Mae, make up the fourth generation of this family that calls FBC home. But, Gwen can trace her FBC heritage all the way back to Joshua Morris, pastor from 1780-1786. Charles and Gwen attend the Disciples Sunday School Class.

Jeannie DortchJeannie 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.

Read Full Post »

By Steve Booth. Photos by David Powers.

WebClassOn October 9, 2011, the Communication and Formation ministries of Richmond’s First Baptist Church partnered in beginning an online Bible study class. Facilitated by Dr. Michael Harton, the class is webcast from the First Baptist Church campus via the world-wide web. The class takes place at 9:45 a.m. each Sunday – at the same time hundreds of other adults, teenagers, children, and preschoolers are studying God’s written word.


Initial WebClass facilitator, Dr. Michael Harton.

When a minister in another church heard about WebClass, he voiced the obvious question, “What do you hope to accomplish with this new ministry?”

“To provide those unable to come to the church building an opportunity to engage the Scriptures and grow as disciples,” was the response.

But after further reflection, it also includes providing a safe place for people to receive and ask honest questions emerging from dialogue around a biblical text.

Recently I was interviewed by a young doctoral student who was assessing the value of online theological education. I must admit being cynical regarding its effectiveness when I was first asked to serve as an online instructor. The personal engagement needed between facilitator and students was hard to envision.

What I discovered, however, was unexpected: The online experience created the safe emotional environment necessary for open and honest questions and dialogue. With the guidance of a thoughtful and sensitive facilitator, the student is encouraged to question and reflect theologically on how one moves from awareness of God to belief in Christ to a living faith evidenced in behavior and choices.

WebClassRobert Mulholland says that Christian “spiritual formation is the process of being conformed by God into the image of Christ for the sake of others.” That is the ultimate goal of all Bible study classes, whether online or in a more traditional setting. And just as in more traditional settings, men and women choose to participate in WebClass, taking an intentional step in cooperating with God in their spiritual formation.

Editor’s note: Over the initial three months of the class, each Sunday an average of 20 online participants joined eight who take part on the set. Online participants can contribute to the discussion and ask questions at www.FBCRichmond.org/webcast.

There are many online resources for personal Bible study. Here’s a partial list.









http://netministries.org/bbasics/bbasics.html (includes Bible Pronunciation Guide)





http://www.bible.is/ENGESV (online audio Bible)

Steve Booth (Booth@FBCRichmond.org) serves as Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Before joining the pastoral staff of First Baptist in 2002, he served the Bon Air Baptist Church, Huguenot Road Baptist Church and the Richmond Baptist Association. He also serves as an adjunctive faculty member for Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is a native Mississippian with family roots in North Carolina. He received the B.S. degree from Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC, the Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and the Doctor of Ministry degree from Andover Newton Theological School in Boston, MA. He and his wife, Barbara, are the parents of three children.

Read Full Post »

Compiled from reports by FBC CARITAS coordinators Susan Bethel and Vicky Nicholau. Photos by Win Grant.

The expectations for CARITAS (Congregations Around Richmond Involved To Assure Shelter) are that people will be fed, will have a warm and safe place to shower and sleep, and will see football games on Thanksgiving Day. We hope they will worship with the rest of the FBC family, and we pray that some will find answers to the searchings of their souls.

CARITAS guests

Guests enjoy Thanksgiving feast.

But much more happens, things more personal and specific than we expect or know to give thanks for.

Food is an important part of what happens during CARITAS week. More than 200 meals were served – every day, with twice that on Thanksgiving. But there was often some extra food, and that was shared with another facility serving guests through CARITAS, with people in Monroe Park and in the VCU Emergency Room.

CARITAS guests

FBC volunteers serve dinner.

We know that volunteers prepare and serve this food, but we don’t know the range of ages involved. Seven-year-old Jack was one volunteer. He was so excited about serving at CARITAS that he spent the entire week collecting change from friends so he could present it on Thanksgiving. In addition, he brought chewing gum to share with all the men.

CARITAS guests

Game time on TV.

Watching football on a big screen is a Thanksgiving Day tradition for CARITAS. But equally special is having One Accord give a concert just for them, playing bingo with everyone winning a prize, and having Richmond Tech Center provide haircuts.

Part of what makes the week important in the lives of these men is the connections they have with the FBC family. When the men arrived, they were given a toiletry bag put together and handed out by the Girls in Action (Wednesday night missions group). Walter Morton led a Bible study and Dr. Terry Whipple talked with the men about how to stay healthy on the streets.

CARITAS guestBut the connections reach beyond FBC. When Susan Bethel  talked about CARITAS at work, some of her colleagues baked cookies to share. “They ask me every year what they can do, and when the men see homemade treats, they feel quite special.”

And then there is laundry – 80 men, 80 bags of laundry. Most of it is done by FBC members, but the new owner of a Robinson Street laundromat asked if he could help in any way. At the end of the week there were several bags of dirty clothes left, which he laundered at no charge.

Vicky Nicholau found the prayer requests especially moving. “Each evening, the guys were asked if they had any prayer requests and if so, to write them on a card and we would make sure to give them to church members to pray for them.” Not surprisingly, many requested prayers for health and help in finding jobs and apartments. But just as many prayers were for the needs of their families and friends. There were also prayers of thanks for having been saved and of desire to grow stronger in God.

There were so many little things that were done to make these men feel comfortable, loved, happy, and welcome. The little things are what add up to be a blessing. From gum to haircuts, concert to football game, clean clothes to prayers, our CARITAS guests were blessed. Being a part of making that happen is our blessing.

Find more information about CARITAS at their website.

In 2010, VCU student Audra Shreve produced a video report on CARITAS. See it here:

Susan BethelSusan Bethel (left) and Vicky Nicholau, along with Charlie Ball, serve as coordinators of FBC’s CARITAS involvement.

Vicky Nicholau

Read Full Post »