Archive for February, 2012

By Wendy Starkey. Photo by Win Grant.

Valter SorrentinoI met with Valter Sorrentino one Wednesday night in FBC’s “Connection Café.” While we watched families come and go in the bustle of church activities, Valter shared with me how God was working in his life. Before we met, I was expecting lots of clear, concrete responses to my questions about where God was calling him. After all, he was called by God, right? As Valter talked, I was reminded that God’s call does not always include a complete picture.

Valter and his wife, Sandra (who is on the FBC custodial staff and volunteers with the three-year-old choir), are from Brazil. Valter volunteered in a prison ministry there for five years. Because of this work, others encouraged him to go into full time ministry. It took him five years to follow that direction, as well as work up the courage to tell his family.

During this time, Valter began dating Sandra. When they realized they both had a desire to come to the United States, they decided it was such a big move that each of them needed to pray before proceeding. Valter and Sandra eventually discovered they were in unity about the decision. And with Sandra’s family ties in the Richmond area and a Baptist seminary here, another part of God’s plan became apparent.

Valter and Sandra moved to the United States and were married at Second Baptist Church on October 14, 2006. While looking for a church home, they visited First Baptist and met Roberta Damon, a former missionary to Brazil. This connection made the Sorrentinos feel warmly welcomed and at home.

It is as if God were playing "connect the dots."Valter is still in the midst of his studies, considering a dual degree with Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). While studying, he also works two days each week at Bon Air Baptist on the custodial staff.

In listening to Valter’s story, I realized I could relate to his journey. There was not a Damascus road experience. There were many steps in the process – the calling into the ministry, the meeting of his wife, the mutual desire to move to the United States, and the family in Richmond. It is as if God were playing “connect the dots.” God put out the dots, but Valter takes the steps to link them together.

God does not always give us the whole picture but just enough so we will follow, and after that just a little more. Like Valter, it is up to us to connect the God-given dots in our lives. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21, NIV).

Wendy Starkey is married to Shawn Starkey and the mother of two smart and beautiful girls – Mahaley and Anna Carr. She is the daughter of Jim and Gail Markham. Wendy is a member of the Sessions Sunday school class and teaches the infant class at Bible Study Fellowship (BSF – a non-denominational, international Bible study).

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By Hanna Zhu. Photos by Vicky Nicholau.

Sacred Seeds, a class started in October 2011 to explore the idea of missional formation, decided to throw a birthday party for Jesus. The idea came from a class discussion of Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, by Mike Slaughter. He writes that “according to the National Retail Federation, as of 2010, adult consumers spent an average of $830 each on holiday food, decorations, and presents….Christmas has been hijacked and exploited. We have professed allegiance to Jesus but celebrate his birth as if it is our second birthday.”

Whose birthday is it?The members of Sacred Seeds challenged one another to ponder during Christmas this question: If Jesus were standing in front of you, what birthday present would you give Him? They extended this question and an invitation to celebrate His birthday on January 8 to other classes.

The question turned out to be more difficult to answer than anticipated. Vicky Nicolau reflects, “I have thought about the ‘gift for Jesus’ for several weeks and still continue to search my heart. The one gift I have committed to giving is myself. By this I mean completely turning my life over to Him. Although I feel that I have been doing this all along, I now spend more time reflecting on my decisions each day. This exercise has opened my heart even more to the love of God and His Grace for us. I will remember that every day is His birthday and He deserves the best I can humanly give.”

James Wood responded by asking his family members to give money to charities instead of buying gifts for one another. James recalls, “I think this changed our family’s Christmas for the better. My family enjoyed giving away more than receiving this year. Our Christmas was much less stressful. We were not all preoccupied and worried about what gifts and how much money to spend on each other. We were not worried about whether the gifts we were giving were good enough – the competition that Christmas giving always ends up being was ended. When we turn the focus from our birthday party to Christ’s, then all of the selfishness and shallowness of the holiday season ends. When I view Christmas as Christ’s birthday, I must ask myself, ‘Well, what does Jesus want on His birthday?’”

Whose birthday is it?Charles Luger, a member of Foundations Sunday school class, found Jesus’ birthday wish list in Matthew 25:31-46. (“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”) The Foundations Class gathered thousands of cans of food in the name of Jesus to serve those who are hungry – the “Jesuses in disguise.” On Sunday morning, Jan 8, Sacred Seeds joined the Foundations class and a few other classes in a Sunday mini-mission to offload four pallets of these canned foods into FBC’s food pantry on Marshall Street. Charles shares: “When you consider what He did for us, we find it desirable in our hearts to honor and thank Him by doing what He asks of us. And the fact that it tied in with the Birthday Celebration for Jesus was certainly perfect timing. We simply got Him some birthday gifts He asked for!”

Following the mini-mission, about thirty people gathered to light the birthday candle, sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and share His cake. The 12 days of Christmas had just passed, but every day can be a day celebrating the birth of Christ through our deeds and words of kindness, grace and reconciliation.

Editor’s note: Your class can organize its own Sunday mini-missions to honor Jesus through serving others. Contact Steve Blanchard  to share your ideas.

FBC eqiups emerging leaders.Hanna Zhu grew up an atheist in China and became a Christian in 2002 while studying at Illinois State University. She joined FBC in 2008. A student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Hanna started the Sacred Seeds class in October 2011 as part of her internship in the Formation ministry. She will receive a Master of Divinity degree in May 2012. Hanna enjoys swimming, watching tennis matches, and reading.

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