Archive for May, 2012

By Ruth Szucs. Photos by Win Grant and Ruth Szucs.

calloutStarting time, agendas, discussions, problem solving, share and prayer time – sounds like most teams at First Baptist. And like most teams at FBC, FirstRingers do much more.

The sounds of rehearsals are more than just notes; there are lots of “sorry,” “oops,”

photo by Win Grant

“you’ll get it,” and laughs. Handbell choir has been called the ultimate team sport because it takes every person ringing in perfect sync. In rehearsals we practice lots of grace as we try to get that perfect sync.

Ministry within our small group grows out of that grace. We share with each other, pray for each other, take meals to each other, visit each other. Reflecting on our group verse, Galatians 6:2, Mary Eldridge says, “We have truly become a community of believers together, bearing one another’s burdens.”

Concerts in Romania, England, Scotland, Germany, and Slovakia, as well as throughout North America, Virginia, and Richmond have given our members opportunities for ministry outside our group. Martha Grace Washington commented on one of the blessings of concerts: “As we play familiar hymns, faces begin to light up – the faces of the audience, as well as our own.” Perhaps our most memorable ministry went beyond concerts. In 2000, in Cloppenburg, Germany, we were matched, side by side, to a group of new bell ringers, teaching them how to ring. We also prayerwalked and witnessed in their community.

FirstRingers bell choir

photo by Win Grant

Worship, our most visible task, can become our most fearsome. Getting the right note can take over our hearts and minds. We have to get past that, get out of the way, and let the music speak. Janet Chase says, “When we ring, our desire is to contribute to worship a musical praise offering.” We hope people will not focus on us, but close their eyes, move into the sounds, and let themselves be transformed by the music. Mary reminds us that “We use our bell ringing to point beyond ourselves to the Maker of all music.”

There is a long tradition of handbell music at First. Janet remembers “ringing bells since high school age, first at Woodland Heights Baptist and then at FBC. One of the reasons I ventured across the river was to ring with Dr. (Ray) Herbek before he retired—the FBC choirs had a reputation statewide.”

FirstRingers bell choir

photo by Ruth Szucs

Although many FirstRingers began their bell experience in middle or high school, Sarah Amick joined rehearsals in 2007 with no previous training. She has grown since then in knowledge and comfort with ringing and shares that she is “thankful to be a part of a group that so loves God, music and people.” On a mission trip to Austria, Kathy Rock found herself playing handbells for the first time in a worship service. Later during that trip she taught a children’s group how to ring and has been ringing ever since.

However they began, all bell ringers agree with Susie West: Ringing “feeds my soul – the music and the fellowship. I love being part of a small group making music.”

FirstRingers bell choir

photo by Ruth Szucs

Members: Sarah Amick, Sue Atkins, Chuck Batteau, Janet Chase, Mary Eldridge, Robin Hendricks, Martha Pugh, Trudy Rickman, Kathy Rock, Linda Stevens, Martha Grace Washington, Melissa West, Susie West, Ruth Szucs, director.

Editor’s note: In fall 2012 two new handbell choirs will begin, one for seniors, meeting on Thursday afternoons, and one for youths on Wednesdays. If you are interested in participating, contact Ruth Szucs at 358-5458 ext 164.

Ruth SzucsRuth Szucs has been happily married to Richard for almost 22 years; they have two children, Alexandra and Matthew. She is the music assistant for FBC, focusing on handbells and youth and children’s choirs, and thoroughly enjoys directing hymns when Phil is unable to be “on the platform.” Ruth began working with children’s choirs when she was in middle school herself, then after joining FBC in 1987, volunteered in the music program until filling in as handbell interim director in 2000. She is currently teaching 11th grade Sunday school. Ruth likes to keep things stirred up, from hiding under a bell table after a botched handbell solo to looking for fun in as many places as possible. Out of church you can find her at a horse field with Alexandra, at a soccer field with Matthew, or escaping to the lake with Richard.

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By Stephanie Kim. Photo by Susan Brown.

calloutI remember the early years after my now 8-year-old daughter Julia was discovered to have delays. There were numerous visits to specialists and a lot of testing, which resulted in no firm diagnosis, no named syndrome, just that she’s missing part of her eighth chromosome and part is duplicated. I obsessed for a while searching the Internet for every article and website that had anything to do with genetics and all of her maladies – intellectual disability, atrial septal defect, hypotonia, spinal issues, intestinal malrotation at birth. But I started realizing all this research was causing me much fear and anxiety. What other problems might there be? What will she be able to do? What will she NOT be able to do? Am I doing all that I should be?

family photoOver the past few years, I have discovered that my best resource for life as a special-needs parent really is the Bible. I have re-written Psalm 139:13-17 in my Bible with Julia’s name: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of Julia’s body and knit her together in my womb. Thank you for making her so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched Julia as she was being formed in utter seclusion, as she was woven together in the dark of my womb. You saw Julia before she was born. Every day of her life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are Your thoughts about Julia, O God. They cannot be numbered!”

From reading the Bible, I realize that my two daughters belong to God. He has entrusted me to care for them for whatever amount of time He gives me to do so. But ultimately, they are His. He is in control. God knows every malady Julia has and will have; He knows the ones that I don’t even know about yet. I often have to remind myself that God doesn’t make mistakes.

A friend told me about his sister who has a child with delays and how she has worried every day of her daughter’s life whether she would ever walk, talk, read, do math, drive, etc. I did the same for several years, but hearing about her lifelong worries made me decide that I didn’t want to live my life that way – always worrying, wondering, fearing. It all comes down to faith and trust in God. Do I really trust that He has a plan for Julia and that it is good, that He will take care of His children, that she will be able to do the things He has prepared for her, even if I don’t know what those are yet?

Julia still can’t count or recognize any letters, and she still has difficulty expressing her desires and frustrations. But she has taught me to enjoy each moment with her; to celebrate every little success, no matter how small; to slow down and take notice of each of God’s blessings; to have patience like I have never known; to be thankful in all circumstances; to be as joyful and loving as she is; to have the kind of childlike faith she has.

We still have our bad days with uncontrollable screaming fits, inexplicable behaviors like throwing off her shoes, and endless visits to specialists. It is on those difficult days that I am reminded I don’t have the strength to do this on my own and that I must rely on God to help me. I still catch myself wondering if Julia will ever read or be able to live independently, questioning if I’m doing enough for her. I do occasionally research the latest genetic findings, but now it is with faith and without fear. It is because of Julia that my faith has strengthened, and I am now living the abundant life.

I am truly blessed to be chosen by God to be the mother of a child with special needs.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch April 28, 2012.

Stephanie KimStephanie Kim is Director of Finance for the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. She is an active member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church and often participates in worship services as flutist. She resides in Mechanicsville. She can be reached at flute2tr@comcast.net.

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By Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Jeannie Dortch and Sandra Millican.

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

calloutSandra Millican began volunteering in First Baptist’s New Americans Ministry in 2010. As part of the Wednesday night “English as a Second Language” program, she was assigned as a homework helper for Than Sein (THan Sane), a Burmese second-grader.

During the next year, she progressed from his tutor to friend, mentor and family member. Sandra said, “Watching Than succeed is pure pleasure, and I am having the time of my life.”

It didn’t take long before Sandra realized that she could be more effective with 8-year-old Than if she also helped him in his classroom at Laburnum Elementary School. Although a fulltime employee of Virginia Wayside Furniture, Sandra began spending Wednesday mornings at school with Than. Then she decided that giving him her best was going to mean less distraction, so Sandra changed her tutoring with Than to after school on Wednesdays. Following these sessions, Sandra drove him to church where they participated in FBC’s Wednesday night tutoring program. By the spring of 2011, Sandra and Than’s schedule included trips to Barnes and Noble, exposure to the history and culture of Richmond, and plans to enroll him at U-TURN Sports Performance Academy.

Than and his parentsInteraction with Than’s parents has shown Sandra that his education is not a family priority because survival is such an overwhelming task for them. With the help of mutual Burmese friends who speak English, Sandra has been able to help the Seins navigate the social services system. More importantly, she has realized that helping Than succeed offers the best chance for his parents’ success as well. Last year, this revelation propelled Sandra to negotiate an agreement between school and parents for Than to enroll in summer school and repeat second grade. As part of this decision, Sandra committed to increase her time with Than from one to three afternoons per week and some evenings for the 2011-2012 school year.

Sandra reflected on the amount of time she’s investing in Than, “My colleagues will invite me to do something after work, and I am happy to tell them I have homework!”

Than loves working with Sandra because he loves to learn and especially enjoys getting good grades. His goal is to be able to read his own tests by the end of the year instead of having them read to him.

Sandra said her experience with Than has helped her, too. “My heart has been softened by this experience, and it has become a passion I didn’t know I had. For me, the kingdom of heaven is here.”

Editor’s note: For more information on ESL or the New Americans Ministry, contact Steve Blanchard, Minister of Christian Compassion.

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 is presently a member of the WebClass. 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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