Archive for September, 2014

  Story by Julie Pierce.

FBC has brought heaven to earth in many ways. One at the top of the list is its recent work with New Americans, led from 2009 to 2013 by Warren and Julie Pierce. This is the story of their involvement with New Americans. Their challenge to you is: How will you bring the KOH2RVA?

Imagine being expelled from your home. You were expelled because of the language you spoke, the way you dressed or your religious beliefs. The simple truth behind this ethnic cleansing was that the ruling party feared the increasing size and influence of your people group.

Your one hope was to be repatriated. Instead, under pressure from the United Nations, the United States invited you and your family to immigrate.

The immigration process required health screenings, completed forms, orientation classes, and an immediate response whenever the opportunity to move came, even without all your possessions or family and friends. You might have arrived in the middle of the night, knowing no one in your new host country.

New Americans

Photo by Steve Blanchard

This is how the New Americans – they no longer see themselves as refugees! – came to Richmond. While they came from many countries around the world, we worked with those from Bhutan.

These early arrivers were the bold, the adventure seekers, the most adaptable, and the most determined to succeed. They charted the course for those yet to arrive.

As these New Americans began to acculturate, we taught them to drive; instructed them on baking a chicken – not directly on the wire rack, but in a baking dish; introduced them to the potato peeler, the can opener and the blender. They learned that a washing machine will drain on its own – the water does not need to be bailed. All this they embraced with delight and appreciation.

An outing to a dairy farm convinced the elderly that the milk they bought at Walmart was in fact the real thing. In Bhutan, the cows were seen walking down the street, but in America they never saw a real cow until they went to the farm.

They have learned to be careful consumers but have been tested. While visiting a family we noticed magazines about cooking, weight lifting, muscle cars, and celebrities. They had received “free” copies that committed them to a year of overpriced subscriptions. They asked for help and the subscriptions were eventually cancelled. Now they help other New Americans avoid this problem.

While the U.S. government requires a great deal of preparation from immigrants, the assistance it provides is for medical, food and housing needs for only one month. Its expectation is that the sponsoring agency will secure adequate employment to cover all needs after that – a difficult task in the current economy.

First Baptist volunteers partnered with two of Richmond’s sponsoring agencies, Church World Services and Commonwealth Catholic Charities, to collect and distribute all items necessary to furnish a modest apartment. Finding employment was another part of our partnership.

Most started in the hospitality industry until their educational credentials were verified. Several are now teaching and doing research at local universities. Many received their GED, Certified Nurse’s Assistant training, or attended community colleges with scholarships from FBC.

Several years ago FBC member Bob Quisenberry suggested one of the New Americans apply for an opening at the Westwood Racquet Club. While it was clear there was only one position to be filled, it was beneficial for two New Americans looking for work at that time to experience the hiring and interview process. To their surprise both were offered jobs and since then several more have been hired.

Dhan Rimal, a salesman and driver for a large company before arriving in the U.S., has used his employment at Westwood to help his brother acquire his Commercial Driver’s License and a full-time position.

Om Prakash Adhikari

Om Prakash Adhikari and family. Photo by Lindy Keast Rodman, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Om Prakash Adhikari has a business degree from a university in Katmandu, Nepal where he was a banker. He is now responsible for maintaining Westwood’s grounds. Om travelled back to Nepal to dispel the negative rumors that America is a dangerous and difficult place to live. He took a DVD with firsthand accounts from those who have established positive, successful lives here in Richmond.

New Americans are smart and motivated and so happy to be here, even with the challenges. They allowed us to see our world, here in Richmond through the lens of their experience. What a gift their friendship has been to us.

Read related stories: A little more like the kingdom of heaven by Steve Blanchard; Radical hospitality meets everyday opportunities by Carrie Larson;
A day at the beach by Franklin Hamilton.


Julie PierceJulie Pierce has been an FBC member for 23 years. She has taught preschool Sunday school and RAs/Mission Force, chaired the Pre-school and Youth teams, worked with the Divorce Recovery Workshop, and led two pastor search committees. Julie and her husband, Warren, work together at the International Mission Board and serve together at FBC showing Christ’s love to our New American friends.

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Story by Allen Cumbia. Photo by Janet Chase.

On September 7, 2014, when members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church met for worship, they stepped into a familiar, yet in many respects new, Sanctuary. Fresh coats of paint, plush new carpet and beautifully restored pews were a few of the immediately obvious changes.

Another significant change, not visible but rather audible, was installed in this renovated space. While the pews and carpet were removed, a hearing loop (also known as an induction loop) was put in place around the perimeter of the Sanctuary. The loop, a copper wire looped around the room, is connected to an amplifier fed from the existing sound console. Audio is inducted onto the wire and creates a magnetic sound field. People, situated within that loop, who have telecoils in their hearing aids or Cochlear implants will be able to access that inducted sound. Their hearing devices will not only restore volume, but also frequencies that the listeners might struggle normally to hear.

The advantages of this type of hearing assistance are many. No longer will individuals have to pick up hearing assist receivers when entering the Sanctuary and wear ear buds during the service. They will just activate their devices’ telecoil. Telecoils are also discrete; they don’t advertise to everyone else the hearing disability. And there will be no limit to the number of people who can utilize the hearing loop. Until this innovation we were limited to 16 hearing assist receivers in the Sanctuary.

One of our goals at Richmond’s First Baptist Church is to make worship a time and space where our members and visitors can encounter God both corporately and personally. When those individuals are unable to hear the Scriptures being read, or the prayers or sermon from the pulpit, their worship experience is degraded and diminished. As has been done with the creation of a Braille hymnal for our sight-impaired worshipers, we hope to create through this loop, one less stumbling block for our hearing-impaired to their encounter with the living God.

hearing loop diagram

hearing loop installation

hearing loop installation in sanctuary

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By Michael Gerace

There are about 1,400 inmates at the Richmond City Jail (RCJ). It’s not easy to meet with them. Before any visit, there’s a background check. Then at the jail there is an electronic and physical security check, then three locked doors to the hallway of tiers. Finally I’m inside and near the inmates, who walk in escorted lines, most with their heads down. If I focus, eventually one will look at me. And I wonder, “Who is this man?”

calloutPrison Ministry by Lennie Spitale suggests that inmates share certain psychological and emotional profiles. They see themselves as outlaws and gravitate to people like themselves. They seek empowerment and significance from this environment because they know how it works and fitting in gives them a sense of belonging. In prison the normative emotion is anger; tempers flare with little provocation and often between good friends. One cause of this anger begins with rejection in their families of origin, although most criminals cannot identify this source.

This anger leads visitors to be cautious, but as a student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR) and chaplain at RCJ, I cannot let fear for my safety keep me from a deeper encounter with an inmate. I cannot stop asking the question, “Who is this man?”

Who is this man?I believe that finding God in myself and others is what healing is all about, so “really seeing” the incarcerated is ultimately a spiritual process that helps them really see themselves and heal. New Testament scripture points us in this direction: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

In one-on-one counseling with inmates I see below their anger. Many times I see the wounds of abuse and trauma. Often I see a frightened little boy who has developed an identity tough enough to survive a childhood jungle. For children to grow into healthy adults, they need to have all their needs – physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual – met. Few of these were met in a typical inmate’s childhood, so beneath the surface is an immature adult who was not provided with what he needed in order to grow into a healthy adult. In this we can relate to inmates: I believe we are all in the process of fully freeing the part of us that God made like Him. Until we do, we are all incarcerated at some level.

So when I really want to know “Who is this man?,” I slow down to first connect with him, to look beyond the anger, false identity and fear. I start to look for the little boy. This requires patience, compassion, and the desire to include this person in my life. When the inmate begins to show me what is below his surface, he needs time, patience, presence, caring, and much listening on my part. The little boy comes into the light of Christ Jesus that I can provide for him. At first the light is shocking and painful but he begins to see and then to heal. Through the grace of God and with the inmate’s cooperation, something starts happening, just as in the Holy Scripture: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”
(Matthew 18:3).

Michael GeraceMichael Gerace is a Chaplain at the Richmond City Jail where he leads a regular weekly worship service and provides pastoral counseling to inmates on the drug recovery tier. Formerly he worked as a research chemist, inventor and business owner. He is currently in his final year of seminary at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

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