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Archive for the ‘Missions’ Category

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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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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By Jeannie Dortch. Photos by  Meredith Booth and Ann Carter.

Steve and Meredith Booth, father and daughter, both traveled to Manila, Philippines, to work with indigent families and with inmates of a women’s correctional facility. But not together, nor at the same time!

Callout-heartRecently they compared their trips’ impacts on those they served and the difference it has made in their own lives as Christians. When the purpose of a mission trip is to share with others that everyone is worthy of God’s attention, always loved, never forgotten, time and place become immaterial. And Steve and Meredith’s stories become amazingly similar.

Meredith with Filipino children

Meredith with Filipino children

In August, 2012, Meredith traveled to Manila to serve with a mission team that ministered to displaced families in the aftermath of a devastating monsoon season. They spread God’s love through song, crafts and puppets in over crowded government evacuation centers, as well as through simple worship services inside a maximum security women’s prison.

Steve visited the same correctional facility when he arrived in Manila in July, 2013, but his group spent the majority of its time in Quezon City’s Payatas. Sixty-thousand people live around this large, open dumpsite, sorting and selling whatever they can find. The sheer number of people in need was overwhelming in both settings, something that might foster discouragement, but for one fact. In Manila, Americans are revered. As Steve said, “They knew we were Christians, loved God, and cared enough to spend time with them. They listened attentively to our presentations (of songs, crafts, and pantomimed Bible stories), but getting to know us was more pertinent to them.”

Steve with Filipino children

Steve with Filipino children

Filipinos view visits from American Christians as a sign of hope. They were awestruck that Christians would travel so far to just be with them, listen to their stories and share Bible stories with them. One person told Meredith, “Your being here helps us believe that God knows we still exist! And we know He exists because you came!”

Meredith explained, “I was at home praying that I wouldn’t forget to pack what was needed for the lessons that our group had planned to teach, but the people with whom we worked told us that just our being there was an answer to their prayers. Our presence was that important to them! The props we brought paled in comparison to that.”

Meredith and Steve were struck by the happiness exuding from the people they met in Manila. Steve commented, “They’re so free. We place value on the accumulation of things, but they are not bogged down in trying to protect stuff. They know from experience that what they have today can be gone tomorrow.”

no tables-improvise-MBooth“Yes,” Meredith continued, “even while their shanties were being wiped away by flood waters, people would stand on bridges watching their homes wash away and laugh. Because they have nothing, nothing holds them back in their faith. They understand the transitory value of things and the eternal value of God. Having nothing frees them to put their faith in Him 1,000% and they do.”

Both concurred that the only qualification needed to join a mission team going to this part of the world is just a willingness to go. “The setting equips you,” said Meredith, “and the people pull out of you just what they need.”

Steve added, “Giving yourself is a job anyone can do. Though we had an agenda, leaders and interpreters, the only thing necessary was a listening and loving heart. God provided that for both of us.”

2012 team members: Meredith Booth, Allen Cumbia (Team Leader), Hope Cumbia, Jensine Cumbia, Gladys Johnson, Ralph Starling, Matthew Szucs, Ruth Szucs, Cathy Tankersley, Lynn Turner.

2013 team members: Steve Booth, Ann Carter (Team Leader), Allen Cumbia, Elise Cumbia, Diana Hubbard, Emily Hubbard, Madison Brown, Andrea Culotta, Madeline Surles, Melissa Johnson, Claire Johnson, and Jonathan Kim.

Editor’s note: Since August 2013 we have published three stories of father-daughter mission journeys – a trend reflecting another way our church is blessed and is a blessing. See related stories: Letting Go and Ministering to the Zulu People in South Africa

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Story by Ellen and Michael Lipford. Photos by Charlotte McLaughlin and Debbie Boykin.

calloutMountains graced the horizon as we passed through villages of small huts with thatched roofs. Zulu women carried water and firewood on their heads. Sheep, goats and chickens roamed the streets. We were on our way to our first health clinic in South Africa.

crowd at medical clinicEight mission team members in a van and eight suitcases of medicine in a pickup truck approached two empty buildings devoid of electricity and running water (like most of this part of the country). With nearly 200 people lined up for medical help, Debbie Boykin, team leader, quickly set up the clinic. Anne Carey Roane and Jory SAF-pharmacy_DBoykinChristenson performed triage and organized patients. Dr. Van Williams, Dr. Rod Haithcock and Debbie set up three patient stations. We arranged and stocked a makeshift pharmacy. Charlotte McLaughlin documented our work with her cameras. And we saw patients, that day and every other, until we ran out of light.

Many had HIV, some had tuberculosis. One boy with distorted legs had rickets. And a man carried his dying friend on his back for miles to see us. Most thought American doctors could heal any disease, even blindness. We ministered to their physical needs as best we could, sometimes needing to refer them to hospitals in the country for further treatment.

kids1But what touched us most was the way we were able to minister to their spiritual and emotional needs. Through interpreters, we prayed with them, gave encouraging words, and smiled a lot. Big brown eyes of young children and old men and women smiled back, saying thank you without speaking a word.

While the crowds waited for us to set up each health clinic, we told them stories from the Bible. For some, it was the first gospel message they had ever heard. Both the landscape and the numbers of people were constant reminders of how the crowds followed Jesus to be healed, both physically and spiritually. We felt privileged to model our mission trip on His work.

medical clinicWe also felt privileged to work alongside missionaries we have supported through our offerings, Mark and Sara Williams. (See related stories: Working with them and SKEINS knits for South African children) We led worship through music, testimonies and storytelling at the Emmaus church they helped start, and extended their ministry through six health clinics.

Gogo NtombeThough we had the joy of bringing the good news of the gospel to the people of South Africa, God used them to teach us too. Gogo Ntombe, a member of the Emmaus church, was old and not able to walk the miles to the building. We visited her one afternoon in her small hut; we sang and read chapters from the Psalms. Gogo Ntombe had only been a Christian for three years, but when she pulled out her Bible, written in Zulu, the pages were worn and tattered and the binding was coming undone. She not only read this book, she lived by it. Clearly it was her dearest, most-used possession. From an American perspective, she had nothing. But she was satisfied – her soul was rich with the Lord.

kids2We were reminded that the God working in Gogo Ntombe is the same God that is working in us. He lives inside His people whether in Richmond, Virginia or in Emmaus, South Africa. He is our healer of mind, spirit and body. The people of South Africa inspired us to be better stewards of the Lord’s gifts here in our own community, and to share the good news of a God ready to heal, no matter how broken the surroundings.

Editor’s note: October 2013 mission team members: Debbie Boykin, leader; Jory Christenson, Dr. Rod Haithcock, Michael and Ellen Lipford, Charlotte McLaughlin, Anne Carey Roane, and Dr. Van Williams.

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By Kathy Rock. Photos by Kathy Rock and Skyler Cumbia.

I never thought Christians being compared to sheep very flattering. I think of them as dumb, unable to care for themselves, always needing to travel in a group, and not very clean.

On a recent trip to the Middle East I had an experience that changed my point of view.

sheep

photo by Kathy Rock

calloutDuring our first evening our translator explained that often several shepherds would combine their flocks at night so they could take turns keeping watch. Being a city girl, I asked the obvious question – how do the shepherds separate their sheep in the morning? Are sheep marked with a brand like cattle or do the shepherds just count off the correct number? He explained that each shepherd makes a unique sound in his throat and his sheep recognize their master’s voice and follow him. That’s very biblical, right?

shepherd's flock

photo by Kathy Rock

While traveling to a nomad’s desert site the next morning we stopped while a shepherd and his flock crossed the road. Using my best Arabic hand signs, I asked the shepherd if I could take pictures of him and his sheep. He agreed. As I snapped away, a car door slammed behind me and the sheep encircled their shepherd for protection. But while I continued to take photos, the sheep began to spread out again, away from their shepherd.

It was then that I heard it! At first I didn’t know from where this low cooing sound came, but the sheep knew. They came back to where the shepherd stood; they knew their shepherd’s voice.

camp

photo by Skyler Cumbia

For me the Bible came to life that day: “His sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  John 10:4, NIV

So, do I still think sheep are dumb, dirty, and need someone to take care of them? Honestly? Sure I do. Do I still think it is unflattering, as a Christian, to be compared to a sheep? Not at all. How fortunate I am to be a dumb, dirty sheep in our Lord’s flock! How blessed am I that my Shepherd knows my name, and I know His voice!

Lord,
Thank you for being my Shepherd, a Shepherd who willingly
gave His life for me, His poor, dumb sheep.

In the fullness of my life, when my ears are filled with the harsh sounds
of the world, help me listen for Your voice. Help me hear Your words,
for I know that when You speak life changes. I know that You are truly
the Shepherd who “supplies my needs.”
Amen.

Editor’s note: Debbie Boykin, Skyler Cumbia, Rod Haithcock, and Kathy Rock visited the Middle East in September 2012. They provided medical clinics to open doors for relationships with Bedouins. To participate in a similar trip contact Debbie Boykin.


Kathy RockKathy Rock and her husband, Bill, have four sons and five grandchildren. Kathy is an Exceptional Education Teacher at J. R. Tucker High School. She is a deacon and enjoys working with the Youth II Sunday School Department, leading the Music Makers choir for FBC’s first and second graders, singing in the Church Choir, and playing handbells with the FirstRingers.

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By Ruth Bass, Kim Long, Mary Massie, and Gwen Smith. Photos by Ruth Bass, Kim Long and Mary Massie.

Callout-crayolasEditor’s Note: In August 2012, Ruth Bass from Edenton Baptist Church in Edenton, NC, and Kim Long, Mary Massie and Gwen Smith from Richmond’s First Baptist Church volunteered in Johannesburg and in Emmaus, a small town in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa.

Working with them

Group arrives at Johannesburg airport.
(L-R) Ruth Bass, Kim Long, Mary Massie, airport employee, Gwen Smith

SAF-Crafts-kids“Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom shall I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Lord, I’ll go! Send me.’” (Isaiah 6:8, New Living Translation)

Reaching the village of Emmaus, South Africa, is an adventure. The road, either dusty or muddy, but always long, includes the Prayer Bridge – a prayer being needed to cross it safely.

SAFteaching-kidsThe adventure continues in Emmaus Church, one small room used for literally everything – worship, weekday preschool, Women’s Bible Study, and all other activities. Here, for ten days, our mission team taught Bible school, prayed, sang, danced to the Lord, studied scriptures, gave testimony, enjoyed fellowship, ate wonderful Zulu food, laughed, and felt God’s presence.

Mary Massie remembers: “The thing that touched my heart was the feeling I had upon seeing the children. My apprehension faded when I saw their sweet faces. For me, I was home.” The children were apprehensive too, and at first were frightened by the new white faces. But they soon responded, as all children do, to the universal language of smiles, love, good will, CrayolasTM, and soccer balls.

SAFEnjoying-Tootsie-PopsOur team’s focus was not on what we could do for the children and adult members of Emmaus Church, but on what we could do with them. We helped with Vacation Bible School, supplied resources to teachers, participated in Women’s Bible Study, visited in homes, and provided 10 fruit trees to be planted in the village. Gwen Smith found “spending time with the women in the church and building relationships with them was a gift.”

We were also gifted with coworkers Mark and Sara Williams, field personnel with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. (Sara is Gwen’s daughter.) Their assignment in South Africa includes working with community leaders in Emmaus to start kitchen gardens, build storage houses, and dig a well for safe drinking water.

SAFbabiesSara uses her social work training in the care of abandoned babies and children. This work touched Kim Long deeply: “My highlight was visiting the Door of Hope Baby Houses in Johannesburg where I was able to hold, feed and love the abandoned babies.” These babies also felt the love of hand-knitted hats and scarves from the SKEINS group of Richmond’s First Baptist Church [See related story, “SKEINS knits for South African children”], the Prayer Shawl Ministry of Edenton (North Carolina) United Methodist Church, and Rosemary Baptist Church (Roanoke Rapids, NC).

Loving children, becoming friends with other Christian women, sharing work to make a town better – these are the essentials of mission trips. These and the joy Ruth Bass describes – “joyful praise in song and dance and learning a praise song in Zulu!”

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By Gwen Smith. Photos by Mary Massie.

SKEINS-hatsThe winter of 2011 was colder than usual in South Africa. Sara and Mark Williams, who serve in South Africa with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, sent out a plea to friends in Virginia, Illinois and North Carolina for warm, knitted hats for children. At First Baptist, SKEINS (Sewers, Knitters & Embroiderers Involved in Needlework & Service) responded enthusiastically, as did some of FBC’s youths.

SAFkids-in-hatsSara’s parents (FBC members and former missionaries Gwen and Truman Smith) got calls to pick up bags of hats at the church library and at the Mulberry Avenue reception desk. They found more bags of hats hanging on their front door. There were beautiful hats of purple, white, green, yellow, blue, brown, and pink. They eventually sent more than 100 to the children that Mark and Sara work with at the preschool in Emmaus and the Door of Hope in Johannesburg [See related story, “Working with them”].

SAFChildren-TeachersSKEINS and other groups continue to knit hats for the children of Emmaus and The Door of Hope. Gwen and other members of the FBC South African mission team delivered another 100 hats in the summer of 2012.

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

For information on SKEINS contact Linn Kreckman, 804-355-4551.

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Enough

By Meredith Booth. Photos by Allen Cumbia.

calloutAs one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Manila, the Philippines, is far from serene. At all hours of the day, streets teem with buses, cars and tricycles (see first photo) pumping thick, black exhaust into the sultry sky. An endless stream of people wade through murky flood waters, their clothes saturated from the monsoon rains. Piles of discarded trash litter the ground, spilling into the scrap-metal shanty homes that line the road. The poverty is all-consuming.

philippines-flooded

In early August, our 10-member team of volunteers served families and children living in evacuation centers in Metro Manila. Many of these centers exist to support the thousands of families displaced by the recent flooding, while others serve as temporary government housing for impoverished families.

PhilippinesArmed with a spirit of adventure (and a few essential craft supplies), we left Richmond with anxious excitement for how God would change us and use us during this trip. We were prepared to sing and tell stories, ring chimes and play games, and do just about anything God placed in our path. And that He did.

He placed us in gymnasiums swarming with crying babies and smiling children. He took us to open-air awnings packed with hungry children. He drove us through neighborhoods built upon landfills and inside the walls of a women’s prison. We sang songs with their children, painted butterflies on their faces, and rejoiced with them until our shirts were drenched in sweat.

In the midst of such deep physical poverty, gratitude abounded. Children splashed in the waters that washed away their homes, smiled for our cameras, held umbrellas to keep us dry, and joyfully honored us with their finest hospitality.

And still our team was left reeling, consumed with the devastating need all around us. In one of our conversations with Elmer, the missionary we partnered with in the Philippines, we asked, “How do you deal with the overwhelming need here?” And his reply was quite simple, “Because it is my joy. You see, you are the answer to these people’s prayers. You are what they’ve been praying for.”

And so, in a place that seems somewhat forgotten, God has not forgotten His people. He answered with face paint and with puppets. He answered with enough. Enough rice for a thousand hungry bellies. Enough hope for a city under water. Enough crayons for a sea of tiny eager hands. Enough faith to believe God is still present. He has answered with enough in a place that has not nearly enough. He has answered with us.

“I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess … I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4:11-13, The Message).

Team members: Meredith Booth, Allen Cumbia, Hope Cumbia, Jensine Cumbia, Gladys Johnson, Ralph Starling, Matthew Szucs, Ruth Szucs, Cathy Tankersley, Lynn Turner

See Related Story: How are mission trips funded?


Meredith BoothMeredith Booth is a fourth grade teacher for Chesterfield County. At FBC Richmond, she enjoys serving as a small group leader for youth on Sunday nights and taking part in local and international mission projects. She loves traveling, being outdoors and spending time with her family, especially her nephews, Jackson and Wesley. God has given her more than enough.

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By Jeannie Dortch.

“Do you still love me even though I’m not a Christian?”

Chinese proverbThat was the blunt question a Chinese university student asked FBC Associate Pastor Steve Blanchard during a mission trip to China in October. The encounter between the two took place in Nanjing, where the team of six retired teachers from Virginia, Louisiana, and Texas, and two ministers from Richmond’s First Baptist Church went to work with Virginia Baptist Ambassador Lynn Yarborough.

Students in Nanjing, China

Fourth grade students at Red Mountain Primary School in Nanjing, China.
Photo by Sue Meador.

Lynn invited the team to work with an Amity Foundation project to introduce the Chinese to the outside world through foreign churches. Our goal was not so much to teach English, as to be a loving presence of Christ.

Part of our assignment was to teach in migrant schools – poorly funded elementary schools for children whose parents are not permanent citizens of Nanjing. We became very close to the teacher education students who translated for us. They made it possible for us to implement our lesson plans by translating directions and information specific to each activity in which we engaged the children. Their classrooms held an average of 60 children with desks and nothing but chalkboards on the walls. Despite their lack of resources, these children were focused, well-behaved, and extremely appreciative of our long trip to work with them – so appreciative they even wanted our autographs!

Team with university students

Students at Jiangsu Institute of Education in Nanjing, China, with team members Jeannie Dortch (center) and Sue Meador (right). Photo by Lynn Yarborough.

In the afternoons, we joined our translators and other university students in conversational English using photos of our lives in America to generate questions. These students were not Christians, but our sharing inevitably led to questions, and answers, about our faith.

Steve Blanchard recalls a conversation with one of the students. “He asked, ‘Are you from a Christian church?’” The question surprised Steve because we had not said anything about our church affiliation. He replied, “Yes, I am.” The student followed up, “So, you love God?” “Yes,” Steve affirmed. The student pressed further: “I am Buddhist. So do you still love me even though I am not Christian?” “Of course I do!” Steve answered. A huge smile came across the student’s face. He jumped up and gave Steve a big hug. That exchange sparked an hour-long discussion with the Chinese students. Steve recalls, “We talked about how important it is to love people not because of where they come from or what they look like. We love people because God created all of us.”

Amity Foundation welcomes FBC.

Amity Foundation welcomes FBC team. Standing from left: Steve Blanchard, Sherry Goff, Gwen Garrett, Pat Pierson, and Carol Hall; Seated from left: Sue Meador, Jeannie Dortch and Candi Brown. Photo by Lynn Yarborough.

A few of the students had been assigned an essay about the one word that had changed the world. “Science, cooperation and Apple” were words that they had chosen, but they wanted to know what we would pick.

My choice was “love”; another of our team said “Jesus.” When my translator asked my motivation for being a good teacher, I had an opportunity to make the connection between those two words. In one way or another, we made that same connection with drivers, tour guides, translators, students, and even among ourselves, touching the lives of over 1,200 children and young adults in just four days.

Candi Brown, FBC’s Minister to Children and mission team member, commented on our interactions with students: “The culture of China does not welcome open evangelism, but we agreed to enter each situation with a spirit of love and let the Holy Spirit do His work. We were amazed at how many opportunities arose in which we were given opportunities to answer questions about our faith.”

For more information about the Amity Foundation, go to http://www.amityfoundation.org.


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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By Matthew Brown. Photos by Allen Cumbia.

You might not realize it, but your eyes have seen some amazing things.

You might not be aware yet that you have heard something wonderful.

Costa Rica 2011You might not know it but your hands have touched the people of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

On November 5, 2011 a handful of First Baptist Church members, Jeanne and Ed Hechler, Allen and Elise Cumbia, and I set out to be your ears, your eyes and your hands on the mission field. Our contact in Costa Rica is Ruth Clowater, a missionary serving through SIGA (Servants in Grace Abounding) Ministry Partners. The six of us have each contributed a perspective of our mission, so that you realize the difference you made as you were out there with us.

Jeanne Hechler:

Costa Rica 2011Life in Arbolitos, a small town of 180 people, is a challenge:
• The town has had electricity for only about eight years. There are no paved roads yet.
• Women wash their clothes at the riverbank.
• There is no hot water to wash dishes or take a shower, nor air conditioning to escape from the heat.
• Dinner most likely will be cooked on an open fire or a small hot plate.
• Bats and lizards come into the house at night to catch the mosquitoes. Chickens wander throughout the town.
• There are no stores – only two small snack/convenience counters. The nearest town with a grocery store and a hospital is two hours down river.
• With only one or two exceptions, there are no TVs. The school has the only satellite-internet connection.

One of my jobs was to help the women make a craft. It was obvious they were enjoying the break from their daily chores and were so glad that Ruth had arranged something special for them. Meeting them gave me a good perspective to better pray for their future.

Ed Hechler:

Costa Rica 2011There was so much that I could share about our trip to Costa Rica, but I want to focus on what I consider to be a very important part of mission endeavors – our mission team. All mission projects have tasks that they wish to accomplish. However, without a cohesive, compatible, and well-prepared group, success in meeting these objectives would be difficult if not impossible. It was most interesting to see how our team grew together during our week. The team members lived together in a small four room guesthouse. We transitioned from being merely a team to almost a family. We shared meals, took care of housekeeping chores, laughed and prayed together – just like a family would. Actually there was one more in that guesthouse: God was surely among us.

Allen Cumbia:

Costa Rica 2011Many times those who go on mission trips feel they’ve received more blessing than they’ve given. Such was the experience that I had in Costa Rica, and such is the paradox of service to others. Our team in many ways had a physically demanding trip – few of the everyday conveniences that we take for granted; heat, humidity and insects to contend with; isolation from the rest of the world. We went with only a general idea of how we would serve, open to the reality that plans would likely change. That forced me to live into the moment and not get upset if things didn’t go according to plan. What I found in letting go of my personal agenda was a restfulness and peace. There was such a simple joy in living that way, really a peace that passes understanding. Our Costa Rican friends told us that we had an impact and made a difference to those we worked with. I pray that we did; however I do know that I came back changed, more at peace with my circumstances and myself and ready to more unconditionally love others.

Elise Cumbia:

Costa Rica 2011This was my second mission trip and I always learn something new about the language or culture of the people around me. This trip to Costa Rica helped me to see how people in other parts of the world live. We all really take things for granted so much; we don’t realize how other people are suffering. I know that if we all help, we can make a difference anywhere we go, whether at home or thousands of miles away from home, with God’s help. Take the time every day to pray for the people of Costa Rica and around the world and pray that they would know God and trust in Him.

Matthew Brown:

I took a deep breath and said yes. This was my first mission trip as the leader.

I had prayed about it, so I knew that is what I would say to Steve Blanchard. After I told him yes, I really had to start praying in earnest. Steve had a leader for his Costa Rica mission, but I had no mission team!

I knew that God would provide. I prayed for each member of our team, even though I had no idea who they would be. I kept praying for each member of our team, and all of those around us, each day. I still pray and praise God for each member of our team. I was truly blessed by each one and I believe we truly were a blessing.

Ruth Clowater:

Costa Rica 2011Ministry can be difficult at times. Not just on the mission field, of course. Just ask pastors and other ministry leaders. Sometimes, when in His divine wisdom God realizes we need a little extra encouragement, He sends some of His angels our way. I am not saying that Allen, Elise, Jeanne, Ed, and Matthew are angels, but they were a big encouragement. In the things we did, the places we went, and even in the plans that fell through, we could see God’s involvement in it all. A school group suddenly canceled, which left the door open for a very special time of fellowship with the women of Arbolitos. Armed soldiers questioned us at every turn on our trip to worship and fellowship with our friends, the Rama Indians. God’s hand was in all this. I believe that this simple, compassionate act of solidarity will someday yield spiritual fruits.

We are one body. Thank you for allowing us to be your eyes, ears and hands.


Matthew BrownMatthew met his wife Candi at First Baptist Church, where she is the Children’s Minister. They have three children, Madison (12), in Youth One, Adam (10), in 4th grade, and Jonathan (7), in 2nd grade. Matthew has taught 1st and 2nd grade Missions Force four years, served as a deacon, volunteered with the Television Ministry since 2002, and attends New Beginnings Sunday school class. He works as a paralegal. In his free time Matthew enjoys cooking for his friends and family, photography, and playing with his growing children.

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