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Archive for February, 2015

Story by Betty Zacharias. Photos by Emily Hubbard and Aylett Lipford.

Callout-BLOGhaitiI had always envisioned myself going on a mission trip and this summer the timing was finally right. I was drawn to the Haiti mission opportunity through Richmond’s First Baptist Church and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.

Haiti missionWhen I shared my week in Haiti would be spent at an orphanage, several friends asked, “What good does a week do? What do you think you can accomplish?” I had to think about this – I wasn’t sure. But now, having been on the trip, I have the answer: we did make a difference and I know why I went. Our mission was to continue Christ’s work on earth. One week may seem like a short amount of time but when I realize that many groups are doing the same thing, it starts to make sense. We are a small piece of a big chain of caring people who provide ongoing love, hope, encouragement, and Christian values to those who otherwise may not receive them.

Haiti missionOur liaison to the orphanage was Skyler Cumbia, FBC member, who served as a Venturer with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board in 2013 and 2014. (see related stories: I Was Stuck, Something New Is Coming, The Bible and Yogurt Every Morning) She knew the children’s histories and was instrumental in helping us mesh with them. Many of the children came to the orphanage after the 2010 earthquake. They appeared independent and were used to fending for themselves, while also looking out for the younger children.

Our first day was overwhelming. Twenty-eight orphans, ages four through 16, met us at the gate, ready to play. We decided to go with the flow and let the children’s needs and wants determine our schedule of activities. We provided arts and crafts, Bible-themed puppet shows, flute and handbell lessons, and sports activities.

The children loved to express themselves by drawing and coloring. Some wrote “I love you” notes to us. Others wrote “Jesus loves me” – this affirmed to me that the mission teams were making an impact when the children shared with us about Jesus.

Haiti missionMany of us were able to make a connection with one or two specific children. For me it was with a strong-willed 12-year-old. Early in the week our relationship was challenging as she expressed displeasure if I didn’t do as she wished. I was grateful that by the end of the week we had created a bond. Mutual respect and smiles had overcome the barriers, even our language barrier.

Haiti missionGod was definitely among us all and guiding us. We went to Haiti with love and hope in our hearts. The rest fell into place. Having no expectations, I came back with more than I could have hoped for.

Editor’s note: Team members – Allen Cumbia (team leader), Ann Carter, Claire Carter, Ellie Carter, Holly Dunham, Olivia Dunham, Diana Hubbard, Emily Hubbard, Stephanie Kim, Shawnae Lacy, Darius Lacy, Aylett Lipford, Kinsey Pridgen, and Betty Zacharias.

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Story by Rachel Allee. Photos by Worthington Photography.

In 2013, eight couples exchanged vows during their wedding ceremonies at FBC. Church policy requires couples who have their weddings at the church to undergo some form of premarital counseling before the wedding day. Steve Booth, Associate Pastor, Ministry of Formation, and Lynn Turner, Senior Associate Pastor, Ministry of Community, along with other members of the pastoral staff, invest hours each year helping engaged couples (including the many who choose to have their ceremonies at other locations) dig to the bottom of vital issues that can derail marriages.

Callout-weddingsSteve and Lynn are trained and certified in Prepare/Enrich, an online relationship inventory and assessment tool. They use it to measure engaged and married couples’ strengths and weaknesses and to provide valuable feedback and teach relationship skills. Though not all the staff ministers use Prepare/Enrich, Lynn and Steve enjoy the program and consider it helpful.

bride300px“I have found it to be really thorough and a good stepping off point when we‘re starting off with couples,” Lynn says. The Prepare/Enrich online survey assesses couples in ten core relationship areas, such as finances, spiritual compatibility, and extended family relationships. The survey categorizes the couples’ separate answers into areas of compatibility and incompatibility, and then suggests exercises to shore up the weaknesses. “If they are really struggling with, let’s say, three out of the 10, then there are some suggested things they can do to work on those specific areas and it gives biblical references and scriptural background for how they can incorporate the Bible or the spiritual nature of some of those things into them,” Lynn says. She requires at least four sessions of an hour and a half each: one to introduce and discuss the material, two to work through the results, and one to discuss wedding day plans.

Time after time, Lynn has witnessed the benefits of premarital counseling in the lives of couples. Some have contacted her later and admitted that issues that popped up during counseling turned out to be sticky spots in their marriages. One couple even came to the decision to postpone their wedding and work through some issues that arose during counseling. Lynn encouraged them to get the help they needed, and after a year and a half, they contacted her to say that God was leading them back into marriage.

Steve agrees that premarital counseling has a way of uncovering bigger issues. Common topics that often present problems, like finances, intimacy, or future plans for having children, are usually symptomatic of deeper issues, such as a lack of self-awareness. If there’s time, he likes to help trace an issue back if a counselee doesn’t understand “why something gets kicked up in them every time a particular issue comes up. It might be related to the family of origin or some wound along the way, and they’re just not tuned in enough to know that’s why they get hooked and respond in a certain way to their fiancée.” Another deeper issue is communication and conflict resolution. Often, Steve says, “Couples can’t hear each other. They’re talking a lot. There’s a lot of conversation, but they are not really hearing each other.”

Couples can be fearful of counseling sessions, but Lynn likes to tell them that there are no right or wrong answers. Honesty is the best policy, and it’s best to remember that the real work comes after the vows have been said, though that doesn’t negate the value of introducing potential hot-button topics before the wedding day.

Melissa Brooks, who married her husband, Justin, at FBC in 2009, is open about the benefits and limitations of premarital counseling. “Although I appreciated the premarital counseling because it forced us to think about topics that we may not have discussed openly with each other … the real work of a marriage happens long after the wedding,” she says. “Once babies and houses and job changes and money and extended families start to work their way into the marriage, it leaves your relationship vulnerable to circumstances you never would have imagined. Marriages are hard, even for the best matched pairs. You’ve got to work at growing together and toward God in your marriage or it becomes very, very easy to grow apart.”

Steve agrees that a better support system for married couples is needed at FBC, and he hopes that Prepare/Enrich can be implemented church-wide in the future. “Think of it as a checkup program,” he says. Couples would take the Enrich part of the inventory (designed for those who are already married) and then meet together for video feedback and discussions one night a week over multiple weeks. “We are way overdue for offering something to our couples that allows them to focus in on their marriage,” he says.

In the meantime, the FBC pastoral staff does its best to provide a safe, healthy environment for couples to explore some of the unknowns of marriage. Lynn offers up a piece of advice she frequently shares with her counselees: “What if every day, every night, after you get married, before you put your head on the pillow, you turn to the other person and say, ‘How could I have made your life easier today?’ In that way you open the door and give the other person permission to say things that maybe you don’t want to hear. There’s something about that that draws you together. It keeps things open and honest.”

Editor’s note: If you or a family member was married at FBC, please share one of your memories in the Comments box below.

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Story by Hanna Zhu. Photos by Susan Brown.

On a Sunday in September 2008 I visited Richmond’s First Baptist Church (FBC) with a fellow seminarian (from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond) who kindly took me to church. I had just moved from Beijing and was without a car. What a blessing that this would not only be the church that I now call home, but also the place that offered me an internship and a post-graduate residency.

Callout-zhuBLOGFrom July 2012 to June 2014 FBC provided a space for me to learn about ministry in a congregational setting. It was not classroom learning anymore. It was now real life happenings. From paying hospital visits and leading retreats, to spearheading a task force and preaching a Sunday sermon, every opportunity led to a deeper understanding of who I am, who Christ is, and what doing church is all about.

Hanna ZhuAnd I learned that I love doing church. I love doing church because the people at FBC taught me that doing church is first of all being the church. Doing church can be mechanical, but being the church has to be organic. You can’t be church if you are not breathing together, laughing together, mourning together, and rejoicing over joys of doing ministry together. The church is a body, as Paul illustrates in 1 Corinthians 12. Not just an ordinary body, but the body of Christ. People at FBC gave me a glimpse of the vitality of that body.

Hanna ZhuWhen I look back on my experiences as an intern and a resident at FBC, my heart is full of gratitude. There are no other words that can describe it. What a blessing FBC has been to me. So many people have touched my life and made it better.

With gratitude to my supervisor Steve Booth, Jim Somerville, other ministers and staff, and many, many precious congregants and lay leaders. You have offered tremendous hospitality by welcoming me – a stranger from a foreign land – to make my home among you. And better yet, you have blessed my calling as a woman minister and selflessly invested in me. Thank you.

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