Archive for March, 2016

Story by Toni Myers. Photos by Susan Brown.

Let the sisters pray on.Women on Mission at Richmond’s First Baptist Church had its beginning in 1813. In the spring of that year the Female Missionary Society was organized to support in prayer the Baptist missionaries newly sent to India and Burma. At that time many members of FBC (then known as Richmond Baptist Church) opposed organizations of any nature so they appealed to Elder Courtney, pastor from 1788 to 1824, to forbid this innovation of a women’s prayer meeting. He settled the matter very simply by saying, “I never heard of praying doing anybody any harm. For my part, the sisters may pray on.”

Since then the women added Mission Involvement and Missions Education as part of their agenda, and the name evolved to Women on Mission (W/M).

Let the sisters pray on.When women are aware of needs, they respond. And when they faithfully pray for missionaries, souls are saved here in America and around the world. Martha Grace Washington commented, “I’m a member of the Book Club (one of seven small groups that meet monthly), and through our reading we learn so much about the men and women who faithfully serve as missionaries at home and around the world.”

Let the sisters pray on.Jeanne Hechler is involved in missions in our city: “I am happy to participate in Women on Mission and glad that we have an opportunity to serve our Richmond missionaries.” Included in that service is preparing and serving meals to the homeless at the Oregon Hill Baptist Center, purchasing children’s jeans to donate to the Christmas Store for needy families at the South Richmond Center, and preparing and hosting lunch for students at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Other mission projects focus on building relationships. Beverley Beer says, “One of the things I like most about being part of W/M is the opportunity of visiting our homebound people. Let the sisters pray on.It is enriching for me to hear their stories and experiences, as well as letting them know how much we appreciate them. A lot of times we will pray together at the end of our visit. It really grows into a nice friendship.”

While there are multiple ministry opportunities each month, there are also personal blessings. Martha Grace mentions caring for one another: “Every year we plan two socials for fun and fellowship together and at every meeting we dedicate a time for supporting each other in prayer.”

Ginny Samuel shares some of the personal benefits she has experienced: “Growing up at First Baptist Church I was a GA (formerly Girls Auxiliary, now Girls in Action), YWA (Young Women’s Auxiliary), and a YWA leader. I hope as part of W/M I can serve, pray, and share God’s love as He leads me to do. And I love getting to be with Christian ladies of all ages and having the opportunity to learn from them, and to form lasting friendships with them. I am inspired to be a better person because of the examples they set for me.”

Editor’s note: FBC W/M has seven groups that meet monthly – three on Tuesday and others on Wednesday night, Friday noon, and Saturday afternoon. For more information contact Mary Palmer (804-794-2620) or Toni Myers (804-358-9090).

Let the sisters pray on.Toni Alexander Myers grew up in Mississippi and is a graduate of Mississippi College where she met her  husband, Lewis. The Myers felt God’s call to serve as missionaries to Vietnamese people and have served Vietnamese in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the U. S.  A First Baptist member since 1977, her main ministries have been in Women on Mission, the Church Choir, and Mustard Seed Bible Class.

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Story by Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Dean Hawthorne and Janet Chase.

God sent his messenger, a man named John, who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all people (John 1:6-9, GNT).

Art has always been a beautiful means of storytelling, and stained glass windows remain a relevant way to engage and relate church history and faith’s meaning to those who view them. In the late 1940s First Baptist Church installed correlating stained glass windows around the sanctuary above and below the balcony. The upper windows depict the life of Christ; the lower windows tell stories of the life and work of the church as they relate to the panels directly above them.

One upper panel depicts John the Baptist, a nomadic Jewish preacher and a major religious figure in Christianity, Islam, Baha’i Faith, and Mandaeism. He is called a prophet by all of these traditions, and a saint by many Christians. Baptists remember him as Jesus’ cousin whose wilderness mission was to make followers ready for the coming of the Messiah through repentance of sins. At the end of his life, John was imprisoned for his beliefs.

Light the Way
The lower panel portrays the earliest Virginia Baptist preachers who were jailed for preaching the gospel without a license from the Church of England, a requirement unchanged until 1786. While incarcerated, pastors continued to spread the Good News to anyone who would gather around the jail windows to listen. Disgruntled jailers built high fences to keep the curious away, but one prisoner waved a handkerchief on a stick to draw crowds closer as he preached even louder to be heard. Many who disagreed with them cut and maimed the hands of pastors who held their hands or Bibles through the bars. Yet these men of God persisted fearlessly to instill Jesus’ words written on this window, “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Light the Way
The imprisoned pastors in the stained glass portrait never stopped reaching out to change hearts. These pastors and John the Baptist suffered to make earth a little more heavenly. For me, catching their vision and risking loss to help others find this freedom is part of our mandate as Christians. Ann Carter reflected on her recent experience as a volunteer in Croatia, “We live in a world where religion is a source of conflict, division and hatred. The Croatian police and NGOs we worked with were surprised to learn that we were abroad without an agenda other than to love people. Baptists do not have a corner on this loving-people market. All people of faith need to stand up and shine a light of compassion, justice and generosity in our world.”

Editor’s note: These two windows are located on the Mulberry Street side of the Sanctuary, the first set from the front.
Copies of the fully illustrated Memorial Windows written by Theodore F. Adams and The Open Door, the church’s history from 1780-2005, are available for checkout or purchase in the church library.

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Story by David Powers. Photos provided by Belltower Pictures, Inc.

SHOOTING THE PRODIGAL premieres.The world premiere of SHOOTING THE PRODIGAL was the red-carpet opening night feature of the Richmond International Film Festival March 3. And Richmond’s First Baptist Church can feel the pride of new parents as we watch this film take its first steps and begin to have an impact in the world.

First Baptist cultivated and nurtured the project through six years of development. We prayed, encouraged, helped raise the money, participated in the development of the script and production company, joined the cast and crew during principal photography, loaned equipment and facilities, and we turned out in force for the world premiere.

And now, as the film begins to appear in theaters, DVD players and on computer screens around the world, we can continue to pray that God will use this movie to communicate His message: “Love one another.”

Belltower Pictures, Inc., the production company, is headquartered in First Baptist’s Pusey House, across Park Avenue from the main church building. Upon retiring after 20 years on the FBC staff, I have the honor of serving as President of the non-profit company.

SHOOTING THE PRODIGAL premieres.We are partnering with Tugg, Inc. to bring the film to audiences on a cinema-on-demand basis. Individuals, groups and organizations can set up screenings in their local theaters and share a percentage of the ticket sales. We are also offering screening licenses for churches, schools and other groups who want to show the film on their campuses. You may find details at shootingtheprodigal.com/host-a-screening/.

Belltower has also signed an agreement with Virgil Films and Entertainment for North American DVD, digital, broadcast, and ancillary distribution. We anticipate the film will begin to hit the street on those platforms in late summer.

In the meantime, we will begin development of our next project… and, of course, as all non-profits must do, we will continue raising the funds to continue this mission to “entertain, inspire and tell great stories that reveal spiritual truth.”


SHOOTING THE PRODIGAL premieres.Editor’s note
Just announced: Shooting the Prodigal is a Gold Award winner for Narrative Feature in the Winter 2016 International Independent Film Awards.

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Photos by Franklin Hamilton and Shannon Harton

Jon Parks, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, Roma Ministry in Slovakia

Voices from CroatiaIt was a test case for unmet expectations. This group had come to Croatia, sacrificing their time and their own resources to volunteer at the refugee center. Of course they had expectations of what they’d be doing, who they’d be helping. In the face of uncertain events, we almost always create some idea for ourselves of what might happen, just to help us deal with the uncertainty.

I didn’t know this group ahead of time, so I didn’t get to ask them about their expectations. But I watched as they dealt with the differences in their expectations and their reality. The reality was chaotic – there was a lot of waiting, a lot of changed plans, a lot of previously unthought-of ways of serving. But as an outsider I watched as they adapted themselves – sometimes with frustration, but finally with joy – to doing the unexpected things that God had for them to do.

Voices from CroatiaTo be honest, these folks from Virginia were primed for a unique opportunity. Most everyone at the center – police, Red Cross, translators – had a specific job to do, and it was easy for them to run back and forth doing the things they perceived were important… sometimes missing deeper human needs that a simple bag of food wouldn’t address. These people came with open eyes and ears and were able to see – and meet – the needs others were missing.

• A gentle touch for mothers, frightened for their children’s safety.
• A smile for people shuffling nervously between one country and another.
• A helping hand to gather all the little packets and clothes they’d been given.
• A thanks and a cup of coffee for policewomen and men, always on edge, wondering how to respond if things got out of hand.

When we are PRESENT, when we open our eyes and hearts to what is really needed around us, we’re in a unique place to help.

Voices from Croatia
Ann Carter, First Baptist Church (FBC) staff, Youth One Associate
Voices from CroatiaThe night shift is the place to be. During the day, scores of volunteers from Croatia and NGOs are in the camps, but few work the dark and lonely hours.

At about 1 a.m., we head into sector 3 which is filled to capacity (over 1,000 people).The train will arrive sometime in the night, no one knows when. So while the police protect the sector and the Red Cross mans the supplies, our team makes friends. Often the women and the children are in the tents asleep while the men stand guard outside. Our team pairs up and walks among the tents, smiling, saying good evening, asking if they have everything they need. Sometimes, the words go from pleasantries, answering a few questions and wishing them Godspeed to deep and meaningful conversations.

Voices from CroatiaWe made some friends: Mohammad from Syria; Hamza, also from Syria, traveling alone with his 8-year-old son; Sami, from Lebanon, traveling with his wife and 5 children – three girls and two boys, ages 2-10; Osama, from Syria, traveling with his pregnant wife. We hear harrowing stories of escape and what life was like for them at home – bombs falling on houses, family and friends imprisoned, children who can’t go to school for fear they may not come home. They talk about their families left behind and the ones who have already gotten out. They talk about businesses lost, education unfinished, the lack of work, hiding from snipers in their neighborhoods, about how they would go back in a minute if Assad were defeated and Isis and Hezbollah left their countries.

Voices from CroatiaWhen we hear the train whistle in the distance, everyone immediately lines up. With the crowd pushing ahead and the police pushing back, people are crushed and panicked. Our job is to try to form a single-file line. In the confusion, I lost my new friends but finally spot Sami and his family. The beauty and absolute sweetness of his children take my breath away. I stand with their few small bags as they take the children to the bathroom one last time. The mother pulls out hats and mittens, and I help little fingers into gloves while Sami puts hats on small heads, topping each with a kiss. We say goodbye amid blowing kisses and calls of “God bless you” and “Barak Allah fik!” (May Allah bless you!) I stand there and watch the police load them onto the train. There are no seats left. They must sit in the stairwell, clutching their knees to their chests to be out of the way as the door closes. They have a 6-hour train ride to Slovenia; then to Austria and Germany. Maybe Germany will let them stay? No one knows. And since they are from Lebanon, they aren’t really “war refugees.” Will their journey be in vain? Will they be sent back? I stand with tears streaming down my face until the train leaves, praying for their future and their safety. How could I have grown to love them so in only two hours?

Shannon Harton, FBC member

Voices from CroatiaThe last train out: after two hours of “processing,” our last trainload of refugees – 1200 of them – were on their way north.

We stayed busy this week distributing packs of essentials, sorting clothes, handing out hot tea, guiding families to their temporary quarters, stooping to make friendly eye contact with kids. It’s nearly impossible though to quantify the impact we had, other than the odd opportunity to run to the warehouse to replace a kid’s tattered shoes, to get a smile from an exhausted teenager loaded down with duffle bags and trudging to keep up with his family, or to squeeze in a few moments of friendly conversation to make a worried father feel more optimistic about his kids’ future. But as the train rolled out of the camp under the dawn sky – the last train we get to serve before heading home tonight – the smiles, waves and blown kisses from the windows make it clear that we scored at least a glancing blow against misery.

Franklin Hamilton, FBC member

Voices from CroatiaThe story of the lost shoe began one day in the refugee camp. There were an unusually large number of families with small children, 100s of them. As they rushed to get on the train, the children strained to keep up and some parents ran ahead to be sure their family could all be together in the same train car. I found this shoe on the train track long after the train had left. At first I thought it was a new shoe donated by the Red Cross. But as I looked more closely at the worn straps and the national colors of Syria, I saw stamped on the sole Made In SYR.

This shoe has become a religious icon reminding me of all the little children who have been swept away from their homes by war and hate.

Team members
FBC members: Steve Blanchard, Ann Carter, Jeff Dortch, Franklin Hamilton, Shannon and Heather Harton, Lori Humrich, and Lisa Tuck. Also on the team were Brent Kimlick (Franklin Baptist Church, Franklin, VA), and Jon Parks (CBF missionary).

Related video and blogs
Praying with our Feet, Spotting Jesus–Born on the Run” blog by Jon Parks
Brief Croatian refugee train video by Shannon Harton
Holding Space… Living with Arms Wide Open blog by Ann Carter
A little more like heaven”–VA Baptists Serve in a Croatian Refugee Camp
“Living with Arms Wide Open” sermon by Ann Carter

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