Posts Tagged ‘hospitality’

Thirty years ago, Ralph Starling began his career at Richmond’s First Baptist Church as Minister of Single Adults. Over the years, he had several roles, but today he is most remembered as Associate Minister of Christian Invitation, and his work as the guidance and facilitation of the Divorce Recovery Ministry and his connecting with international students attending Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The Ministry of Christian Invitation, which is rooted in the practice of Christian hospitality, is an expression of love we practice within the church and extend to the world around us.

Ralph Starling and leadership staffWe asked several people involved in the singles ministry, the Divorce Recovery ministry and the international student ministry to speak to the power of Christian invitation as shown by Ralph over the years.

Richard Ellis

My first visit to FBC was in the fall of 1994 and when I arrived, I was met by a greeter who introduced me to a gentleman who the greeter said could help me find a Sunday School class to attend. That gentleman was Ralph Starling. We talked all the way to the class and even after I had gone in and began getting settled, I noticed that Ralph had lingered to make sure I was comfortable. I had mentioned to him that I was new to Richmond and he checked in with me frequently to make sure I was okay. He also made sure to introduce me to others in the church so I felt more comfortable and welcome. Ralph made my transition to Richmond much easier and for that I am grateful. In large part because of Ralph, I never visited any other churches in Richmond.

Over the years Ralph “volunteered” or “drafted” me to participate in many activities and committees including driving Mission Teams to and from the airport, participating in leadership teams for Metro Richmond Singles, and leading a mission team to Nicaragua. Because of Ralph I have been introduced to many wonderful people and blessed with many rewarding experiences. My life has been so much richer because of him.

As Ralph’s role changed to one of Christian Invitation and I left the singles group for the married adults’ group, we have remained friends. My wife Bobbie has also become friends with Ralph. We still get together for lunch or a cup of coffee now and then. I still look forward to seeing Ralph each Sunday. Ralph once told me I have the gift of hospitality, but if ANYONE has the gift of hospitality, it is Ralph. He just has a way of making people feel comfortable in his presence. I will miss my friend when he retires.

Steve Booth

In 1990, only months after beginning his service as Minister of Single Adults, Ralph Starling began the Divorce Recovery Workshop (DRW). Over the years, more than 3,000 individuals have found support and encouragement to begin again. DRW has been affirmed by counselors and lawyers as a trusted resource for individuals navigating the devastating and life-changing turmoil of divorce. I know this from personal experience. In 2013, with the encouragement of my counselor, Richard, and the support of my friend and colleague, Ralph, I participated in DRW. It was a welcoming and safe place with a community of mentors and fellow strugglers to experience God’s grace and healing.

I believe that any system – church, ministry, organization or institution – has in its DNA the heart and character of its founder(s). In other words, the values, beliefs and actions of those who birth a ministry imprint and guide the ministry and promote its effectiveness. The guiding objectives of DRW – a ministry dedicated to accompanying wounded and broken individuals, providing a place of radical hospitality and communicating God’s healing love and forgiveness – are truths and reflections of the life and ministry of Ralph Starling.

Thank you, Ralph, for your courage and compassion. Thank you for coming alongside so many walking through dark and fearful times. Thank you, for birthing and shaping DRW into a safe haven for healing and rebirth to take place. Thank you, Ralph, for being a companion, guide and fellow struggler on the journey. Thanks be to God!

Brenda Gibson

Ralph Starling has been a mentor and friend since 2007. He is a man of high moral character, is inclusive and displays grace and love to all. Throughout the DRW ministry, he offers hope, love and community to the participants and volunteers. Recovery is a journey and each participant is encouraged to find healing along the way.

I have participated with Ralph in welcoming the international students at VCU. He believes in the importance of helping them find acceptance and friendship. He has taken these groups on trips and many activities. He is a man with a big heart. God bless Ralph.

Ralph Starling outings

Louis Watts, Linda Watts, Sandra Saunders

I met Ralph in 2010 when Linda and I were searching for a new church and began attending Richmond’s First Baptist Church. He was holding Small Group Bible Studies in his home specifically for “newcomers” to help them get connected. During those studies, Ralph often spoke passionately about his welcoming ministry with international students at VCU. He invited and encouraged us to “come and see” and to join him in this ministry.

Ralph was already connecting with VCU international students through various activities. He regularly attended monthly Global Cafes hosted by the VCU Global Education Office. As he met students and understood some of their needs, he organized shopping trips to Walmart and Short Pump Town Center. Xiaomin Wu from China said the first time she met Ralph at a Global Café he said, “Hi. I’m Ralph. Here’s my phone number. Call me if you need anything!” She knew he was sincere.

To provide breaks from studies, Ralph organized weekend trips to Virginia Beach, Eagle Eyrie (the Baptist Conference Center in Lynchburg, VA) and Washington DC. Semester breaks and holidays were perfect opportunities to plan exciting adventures to New York City and San Francisco. Some students remember having the privilege of travelling to Ralph’s hometown in Georgia to visit his family. I remember when Ralph’s Mother passed away; Alena (Slovakia), Khaled (Egypt), Sanjay (Nepal) and Xiaomin (China) drove from Richmond to Georgia to attend her funeral. That is how much these students loved and cared about Ralph.

Ralph frequently included students in church activities such as One Sunday, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas services as well as Tuesday night volleyball. Over the last year, with the help of Tom and Zena Harvley-Felder, Sandra Saunders, Doug Duke and others, Ralph initiated English language classes at the church on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. These classes help build their proficiency in the English language which is key to their success.

international student groupsRalph was always disturbed by the statistic that 80% of international students studying in the US are never invited into an American home. To address this concern, he often hosted pot-luck dinners in his home and he encouraged church families to host events in their homes. Mark and Carrie Larson often hosted Thanksgiving dinners, Easter lunches and July 4th celebrations. Linda and I hosted Super Bowl parties as well as Indian, Chinese and Persian dinners prepared by students. Sandra Saunders was especially connected to Sri Lankan students and hosted dinners and birthday celebrations. Rob Reinstein and Jeff and Jeannie Dortch hosted summer cookouts at their farms. Attendance at these gatherings often ranged from 20-60 students providing them a chance to visit in American homes and to experience genuine hospitality and love.

Ralph is a big guy with a big heart who is passionate about this ministry to internationals. He has met thousands of international students over his years of ministry. Those who know him well generally describe Ralph as kind, generous, hospitable, always willing to listen, a true friend and always making those around him feel loved and valued. More specifically, some have said:

“Ralph has been a great help to VCU International students. He will be loved and missed by everyone.”

“It was important to me to have people like Ralph around me. A guy who was always there for us.”

“Ralph helps guide us in the right direction so we can learn and grow from it.”

“Ralph, you have given your life to a great cause. Even though you are retiring, your teaching lives on in us to make our lives better.”

“Ralph, the seeds of service, love, and caring you have sown will continue to bear fruit.”

“Ralph makes God look good in my eyes.”

“You hung out with my parents when they visited Richmond and made them feel comfortable despite the language barrier. That’s how you are with all those who know you.”

“Ralph is one of our best friends in Richmond. We are blessed to know him and have him as part of our Richmond family.”

retirement wishesFor those of us who have served alongside Ralph in this ministry to international students over the years, we thank you for inviting, encouraging and mentoring us in this ministry. It is everything you said it would be and more! The relationships we have developed with people from all over the world have blessed our lives and made us more loving and caring people. This ministry is transformational and radical—the things you have taught us best! Well done good and faithful servant!

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Story by Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Sean Cook, Jeannie Dortch and Allison Maxwell.

They have the gift of hospitality at its finest.Vanessa Carter and Doris Pittman may be unfamiliar names to some First Baptist Church members, but they form the backbone of an organization where food and fellowship are central to its core. Having begun their service on the kitchen staff with retired Food Services Director LaVora Sprinkle, Vanessa and Doris have been feeding and nurturing FBC members for over 25 years.

Lynn Turner, Minister of Christian Community, summed up their importance this way, “This church would fall apart without these two ladies because at the center of who we are, other than our gospel message, is our fellowship, and Doris and Vanessa epitomize that!”

LaVora, Vanessa and Doris began their association with each other at the Windsor Nursing Home in the 1980s where LaVora worked as the home’s dietician. When LaVora joined FBC’s staff under Dr. Jim Flamming, not only did she encourage the hiring of both Vanessa and Doris but she also enrolled them in culinary classes at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College. Both began their tenures as part of FBC’s housekeeping team, but joined the kitchen staff as openings became available. Now, they work like a well-oiled machine with Beanie Brooks, current Food Services Director.

Before moving into the elegant Flamming Hall in 1996, food preparation and dining on Wednesday nights occurred in the Fellowship Hall, currently the Choir Suite, in the basement of the church. The kitchen was much smaller and located in the present choir robe storage area. Limited space did not hinder the camaraderie of the 400 to 500 adults and children who would gather each week for supper. A dumbwaiter was used to send food upstairs where the children gathered. Volunteers helped the kitchen staff serve adults on 12-foot folding tables that filled the hall.

Much of the same equipment that was located downstairs is still used in conjunction with newer and more efficient appliances to help the staff serve about 200 on Wednesday nights. Fewer young families attend now due to demands on their weeknight schedules.

Doris and Vanessa still work a busy five-day week, Wednesday evenings, and every other Sunday. They accommodate a range of groups including Women on Mission’s regular monthly luncheons, new member luncheons, and funeral receptions. When not cooking, serving, or teaching others how to serve, they are cleaning the kitchen and making sure that supplies are stored properly.

Each Monday, Vanessa and Doris meet with Beanie to plan for the week, making lists of tasks that need to be done. Beanie orders the food from suppliers, but all three plan the meals by taking suggestions from ministers, as well as from members who ask for repeat favorites or special dishes. The menus have become more varied over the years with options for gluten-, salt- or sugar-free substitutes.

One thing that Doris and Vanessa agree on is how much love there is in FBC’s congregation. They have met and loved so many families over the years and those same families, “greet and embrace us as part of their families too!” exuded Vanessa. Doris added, “When the congregation gave me my 25-year celebration party, I was surprised to see how many people came to honor me. That felt so good and showed me how much I am appreciated. I knew it was my calling to be here and I love it.”

Ann Carter summed up how many feel about Vanessa and Doris. “They are the heart and soul of ministry at FBC because they notice things. At my daddy’s memorial service, they served chocolate chip cookies in memory of his sneaking into the kitchen after Wednesday night dinners to ask for extra cookies, with an added request not to tell my mother! Hospitality is a form of love, and these ladies have the gift of hospitality at its finest.”

They have the gift of hospitality at its finest.

First Helpers volunteers give hearty thumbs up to Doris Pittman (L) and Vanessa Carter (R).

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Story by Charles Tilley. Photos by Paul Bickford.

Welcoming the WorldFor ten days in September our city hosted the UCI World Road Championships. The professional cycling event drew riders and fans from more than 70 countries. The international bicycle race was more than three years in planning by the city, as well as groups in our neighborhood.

Last spring a group of FBC members began to plan the Church’s response to the event, given the main races included our block of Monument Avenue Welcoming the Worldand in fact passed right in front of our Church. After much discussion about who would attend the race and what the likely impact would be on our neighborhood, we determined that our best response would be offering Christian hospitality in our own front yard with the message that “God so loved the world.” Our goal was to plan how we could use this opportunity to show the love of Christ to the visiting world and also to our neighbors, the world around us.

Welcoming the WorldWith our mission clear, we set about planning, reviewing and coordinating all the logistics required for the event that would show the world the Christian hospitality of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Our plan included sharing bottles of cold water, popcorn, American flags, and cow bells, as well as friendly smiles and a welcoming spirit, with the visitors. We wanted the world to know, especially the neighbors who passed our doors, that FBC cared about them.

Welcoming the WorldGiven our location there was a lot of foot traffic by our church, particularly during the last weekend of the race. Many neighbors streamed by our front door as they made their way to the race course. One of those, who was not a member, thanked us for the water, and with heartfelt emotion, thanked our church for the divorce recovery ministry that had helped her more than five years ago. We had a group of cyclists stop by who were from Minnesota and enjoyed a refill for their water bottles and neighborly conversation about our church’s history in Richmond. Several members from sister Baptist churches in the area stopped by and commented how wonderful it was that we had the opportunity to serve the community in this way. There were even several requests placed in the prayer request box we had located in one of our tents.

Welcoming the WorldWhile we may not see another world cycling event in front of our church again, it was clear that FBC made an impact on the world when it came to the corner of Monument and  Boulevard. In Mark 9:37, Jesus reminds His disciples: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” For ten days in September 2015, FBC welcomed visitors from the world and from our neighborhood with Christian hospitality, helping to bring heaven to earth.

Welcoming the WorldAuthor’s note: The members of the 2015 Bike Race Team thank all who volunteered to hand out water and spirit items and to move tents and staging each day. A special thanks to Bonnie Wilmoth, Janet Chase, Allen Cumbia, and all our church staff for their extra efforts during this event.


Watch a wrap-up of the UCI Road World Bike race produced by Allen Cumbia and Sean Cook.

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Story by Chris Hillman. Photos provided by Chris Hillman, Mark Larson and Louis Watts.

If you recall Disney’s “It’s a Small World,” you might feel its theme of joyous international unity and world peace may be in the only place it works – the dream world of an amusement park. But at First Baptist there is a place where such lofty themes are being lived out.

calloutThrough FBC’s Ministry of Invitation, very special relationships are nurtured with Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) more than 1500 international students, from some 96 countries. Volunteer opportunities include being a conversation partner once or twice a month, temporarily hosting a student in your home, and building lasting relationships.

Ministry with InternationalsMy family now enjoys one of those relationships. Pamela Haney, VCU’s Student Engagement Coordinator, introduced me to Aso Quadir from Iraq. We began with brief telephone conversations, then lunch meetings, and ultimately family gatherings with my wife and six-year-old son, and Aso’s wife and two small children.

Pam’s guidance also led us to a different kind of hosting. Last year my wife, Resa, and I shared our home with 20-year-old Abdullah Alhumaid from Saudi Arabia. He was excited about living with a real American family while at school. Abdulla warmed our hearts and quickly became a welcomed addition to our family. We met his parents via Skype and will always remember Abdulla’s mother looking at Resa and with tears in her eyes, whispering, “May God bless your heart for opening your loving home and being an American mother to my son while he is away from us.” Then Abdullah introduced her to our son, Chasen, “Please meet my new American little brother.” Our family and theirs have grown in so many ways!

Ministry with InternationalsWonderful friendships continue to grow through FBC’s relationship with VCU’s international students. Ralph Starling, FBC’s Associate Pastor for the Ministry of Invitation, and members Louis and Linda Watts and Mark and Carrie Larson led summer activities including meals, trips to Virginia Beach, and a 4th of July picnic. Varied events are planned for the fall.

Ministry with InternationalsWhen a very appreciative international student asked Ralph why he shared his time and energy, he replied, “We’re just here to love you the same way that God loves you. We want you to feel welcomed in America, to help you have lots of fun, and make great friends!”

We can’t know all the results of these conversations and dinners, of sharing our homes and our lives. But we can be sure that the world is indeed smaller for us, for First Baptist, and for a number of VCU’s international students.

InternationalsSee related story:  A little more like the Kingdom of Heaven

Author’s note: Aso recently graduated and returned home to the Kurdish city of Irbil. Numerous atrocities have been committed in that city with the intent of driving out the Christian community. This distresses Aso, who is a devout Muslim, because he has many Christian friends in his home town. Please pray for the safety of both the Christians and Aso’s family.

Editor’s note: To be involved in this ministry, contact any of the following:
Louis and Linda Watts (804-794-9630)
Mark and Carrie Larson (804-658-4972)
Ralph Starling (804-307-4376)

Chris HillmanChris Hillman is in his third year at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He, his wife, Resa, and son, Chasen, have been part of Richmond’s First Baptist Church since 2011; he is currently serving as an intern in FBC’s Ministry of Invitation. Chris previously worked with the National Geographic Society, so ministering to international students comes naturally to him.

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By Katie Smith. Photos by Paul Bickford and Win Grant.

“First Connection” is the jazzy new moniker for the revamped membership process at First Baptist Church. My husband and I took our time joining the church—around two years. By the time we decided to take the leap, we luckily got to be in one of the first groups to go through First Connection.

callout-BLOG-luncheonIn some ways, we were expecting to need an extra cup of coffee to make it through a church history lesson mixed in with membership requirements. However, our real experience was delightfully different. First Connection is a four-part process, plus attendance at one membership luncheon (offered three times a year). All sessions are offered during the Sunday school hour and after the 11 a.m. service, conveniently.

(1) On the first and fifth Sundays of the month, prospective members can attend an “In-House Coffee” to get to know others who are also new to the church, in a casual setting, in the Adams Room. In this way, a sense of community begins.

(2) On the second Sunday of the month, prospective members have the chance to mingle with the ministers. (In our case, we skipped the mingling, and found the opportunity to corner two ministers and ask them some of the tough questions on our minds about being Baptists. The ministers handled it very gracefully.)

firstconnection13) The third Sunday was arguably my favorite — The “Tour de First Baptist.” Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine our church had so many floors, so many nooks and crannies, and so much SPACE. We toured everything from the choir room to the middle school hangout to the beautiful chapel used by our deaf congregants, and I was astounded.

(4) On the fourth Sunday, prospective members are encouraged to “Jump into the Pool” by listening to an overview of FBC’s myriad Sunday Bible study offerings. Due to the size of the church, these groups are typically arranged around age, giving people a sense of belonging in a large congregation.

firstconnection2Finally, the luncheon. Baptists love a good luncheon, and I can confirm the food was excellent. More importantly, the speakers were quite impactful. Surrounded by portraits of First Baptist pastors from the church’s rich history, we were welcomed by Sharon Brittle, learned about the history and mission of the church from Steve Booth and Lynn Turner, and heard a bit about the membership process from Louis and Linda Watts, and Hanna Zhu. These speakers did not use note cards – they spoke from their hearts. They believe in FBC, and they made us feel welcomed again into a warm and loving community.

firstconnection3The decision to join a church seems monumental to me. There are so many churches to choose from in Richmond, so many programs and offerings, so much doctrine. Therefore, the process of becoming a member of any church must be informative; more importantly, though, it must connect the visitor to the spirit of the church. When the spirit is engaged, the visitor can transition into a committed congregant, a caring volunteer, and a loving member of a community. “First Connection” touches on both – the objective aspects of our church, and the spiritual ties that bind us together and welcome others in.

The spirit of First Baptist Church is clear. FBC is essentially a diverse group of individuals who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for our sins, and rose again, giving us the hope of eternal life. In First Connection, visitors come to understand this essential truth through the experience of community, conversation, hospitality, and teaching.

See related story: A grand tour returns to Monument and Boulevard.

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Story and photos by Stephanie Kim.

“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13, NIV)

Recently FBC’s youth ministry requested volunteers for host homes for DiscipleNow (DNow) weekend. I very hesitantly agreed, secretly hoping they would have enough other volunteers so that my home wouldn’t be needed. But I soon heard from them how much they appreciated my offer.
As the weekend approached, I became nervous. I can play flute in front of thousands but don’t ask me to host a few teenagers. After all, I’m a single mom with no one to help me through the weekend. But the youth ministry assigned a group leader to stay in my home.

I have to care for my 10-year-old daughter, who is intellectually disabled and requires lots of sleep. To honor this, the youth ministry arranged rides for the late nights so I could get her to bed early.

I don’t know how to cook anything that doesn’t come out of the freezer, and to my relief, the youth ministry provided Saturday night dinner – lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and bread for me to simply heat and serve.

I don’t have a large house that is beautifully decorated and meticulously clean and organized, but God did bless me with a home that seems to be “just right.”

As I prayed about DNow weekend, I opened my heart to God:

May this weekend have an everlasting impact on these youths as they discover their spiritual gifts; help them to grow spiritually, becoming one body in Christ as they have a memorable and fun time together; may the youths who stay in my home feel welcome and blessed; please help me not to burn the lasagna; may there be no tantrums, drama, or escapes by my daughter or the teens; Lord, help me because I really don’t know what I have committed myself to!

DNow girlsAt last, Friday night came, and I vaguely recognized a few of the five 10th-grade girls I would be hosting. But I couldn’t imagine the blessing I would receive as I got to know them and their leader, Kelly Joyner, over the weekend. Though these girls had diverse backgrounds and interests, they joined together as one Body of Christ and blessed me with their grateful hearts and sweet spirits. It was not at all what I had expected from teenage girls. I now have built relationships with them and pray for each of them by name.

The passion of the youth leaders inspired me. As I worked with them and other volunteers, I discovered connections with people outside of my usual groups at church. The DNow message challenged me to discover my own spiritual gifts, find my passion, figure out what I’m good at, and use all of it for God’s glory. So if my small contribution to this amazing event is to provide a place for some youths to escape to for a weekend, I would joyfully do it again.

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By Billy Davis. Photos by Sharon McCauley.


Puppet team at RIR

We have all heard the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed – try and try and try again!” This certainly was true for those of us on the Richmond Baptist Association (RBA) team who started a ministry among the thousands of raceway fans coming to Richmond International Raceway (RIR) for the two big spring and fall NASCAR weekends.

We first focused on a Sunday morning worship service. Seeking approval to begin such an outreach effort, we received a “Yes,” but when the NASCAR Daytona executives changed the RIR venue from Sunday to Saturday night, our ministry was no longer needed.

Opportunities did not close to us, however. Motor Racing Outreach of Charlotte, NC, which provided worship, counseling and a children’s ministry for NASCAR drivers and crew member families on Saturdays, invited the RBA team to join them in their work at the Richmond track.

racetrack team SMcCauley

Ministry volunteers at RIR

Early in 2000, Dover and Middle District Associations joined RBA’s team in a broad-based ministry effort at RIR. Then the RIR was purchased by the International Speedway Corporation (ISC). The new ISC president and many of his staff are Christians who knew the value of a raceway ministry. These two changes began a significant time in the development of the ministry now known as Central Virginia Raceway Ministries (CVRM).

CVRM provides chaplains for each race weekend at RIR. These chaplains minister to families in many situations, including when injuries and deaths occur. Our volunteers, both lay persons and clergy, work in four-hour shifts. In addition to counseling, they distribute between two and four thousand pieces of Christian literature, Bibles, driver picture cards, and hospitality packets each weekend. The Virginia Baptist Disaster Relief Unit joins us in handing out cookies, lemonade and cups of water to fans. The Puppet Ministry from FBC has entertained children with their message of God’s love.

Raceway weekends bring to Richmond enough fans to make up a city as large as the fifth or sixth largest in our state. They come with all the needs of any city this size. One fan, a recent Christian, asked if he could hang out with us each day. He said, “I’m a former alcoholic. If I go back to be with the guys and gals I’ve come with, I could fall off the wagon.”

We believe there is a need for the ministry among the 100,000 plus fans coming to RIR for each race weekend. As Dean Kurtz, Executive Officer for Guest Services, ISC Daytona, said, “Everything under the sun is found at a race track and the steeple ought to be also!!”

ICON-billy-davisBilly Davis served as the RBA Consultant for church programs, strategic planning, partnership missions, and deacon, youth and senior adult ministries. Since retiring, he has followed his great passion for Raceway Ministries at RIR where he has served as a chaplain and volunteer coordinator since 2000. Billy and his wife, Linda, have two children, Barry and Susan, and three grandchildren.

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Story by Franklin Hamilton. Photos by Susan Brown.

Richmond’s First Baptist Church assists in the resettlement of Bhutanese refugees.

calloutI first became involved with Richmond’s Bhutanese American community by helping them with job searches. Their response was always to invite me into their homes for conversation and food, because they so highly value hospitality. That became my impetus to introduce these recent immigrants to more of their new culture.

A Day at the BeachFirst, I invited some of the New Americans to a Thanksgiving dinner at my house. Next we had a day of window shopping, pizza and a movie at the Byrd Theatre in Carytown. Other outings included the Metro Richmond Zoo and Halloween “trick or treating” in Carytown.

Then I thought about my childhood time at the ocean and wanted to share that magical experience with the New Americans. In August, Siyano Prach, FBC’s Refugee Outreach Worker, and I organized our second annual trip to Virginia Beach for more than 40 Bhutanese Americans. While they had encountered many facets of American culture, until last year, none of them had been to the beach.

Although most could not swim, the New Americans mA Day at the Beachade a beeline for the surf. Sellina Limby and Smrit Roi said they “liked the taste of salt on the water foam.” With total joy and abandon, the children body surfed, buried each other in the sand, and made sand castles. Deepan Rimal, Shara Mangar and Bibas Gurung declared the trip “was more fun this year because there were more children” and they had learned to swim since the last trip.

A Day at the BeachThe parents did what all American parents do. They enjoyed the water, watched over their children, sat on the sand and chatted, made sure everyone had enough to eat – fragrant rice, curry chicken and homemade humus and pita bread, and thought about next year’s trip to the beach.

Om Adhikari told me about another kind of trip he is planning. He wants to go back to the refugee camp in Nepal where there are family members afraid to come to America because they don’t understand the culture here. Om plans to tell them about his life and that of others on the beach that day. He wants to give these people courage. Maybe he should tell them about Sangay and Thinley Dorji who thought “we saw a whale and were scared but then they showed us that it was a porpoise and we laughed.” These New Americans have learned that fears are more easily overcome when they’re faced in a community of family and friends.

A Day at the Beach

Editor’s note: If you want to introduce New Americans to a cultural experience, call Franklin to help you get started (938 4264). Find more information on the Bhutanese at http://www.bhutaneserefugees.com/.

See related story: Green, Not Concrete

Franklin Hamilton

Franklin Hamilton is a third-generation member of First Baptist. As a father of five children and grandfather to three he is always active in their lives. He has a passion for the active and contemplative dimension of spiritual development in everyday life. He enjoys reading, and all outdoor activities including sailing on his new “old” sail boat. Franklin is a real estate broker with Hamilton Realty and Development. He and his wife, Linda, live in Carytown in a 110-year-old house with their two teenage daughters and a menagerie of pets.

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By Shawnee Hansen. Photos by Chris Hillman.

Have you ever wondered what a small group study is all about?

calloutOn Monday evenings Ralph Starling, Minister of Christian Invitation, opens his home to visitors and both new and long-time members for Bible study.

small groupRalph explains, “I believe we are here to practice hospitality everywhere: in Sunday school, the marketplace, anywhere in the community we may find ourselves. A simple way to do this is to welcome people attending our church, new members or guests, and make sure they have the opportunity to make friends and build connections. When people develop relationships, they hang around. This is energizing for a church. I like to use my home for people.”

small groupAnd people have been responding to this invitation.

Lewis and Linda Watts had been visiting First Baptist for a year and a half. “We wanted to connect and meet people and were happy to hear that a small group was forming. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and we ended up officially transferring our membership. We have made some wonderful friends and really look forward to our Monday nights together.”

Chris and Resa Hillman drive from Saluda to attend the group. As new members, it has given them the opportunity to engage with other newcomers and visitors. Resa explains: “It’s a meaningful way to start our week. Chris and I feel like part of the First Baptist family now.”

small groupIn addition to the social benefits of meeting other new members, small groups also provide a setting to study the Bible more deeply. Past small groups used the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) to examine “The Way of Forgiveness” and “The Way of Blessedness,” intensive studies which look at everyday problems and how to handle them in a Christ-like manner.

Julie Pierce, who attends with her husband, Warren, says “I really look forward to coming together in a small group and discussing the topic and studying together the biblical perspective. It’s fascinating hearing everyone’s opinions on each lesson. We have a lot more time than in a Sunday school setting for intensive study.”

Small group members include people with diverse backgrounds, representing all areas of Richmond and beyond: stay-at-home parents, students, doctors, business people, the retired, and those beginning their careers. They find the relaxed atmosphere, casual attire, and refreshments conducive to beginning new friendships.

small groupSmall groups start at various times throughout the year and usually last eight to ten weeks. The next one, “The Way of Prayer,” September 10 through November 5, will journey into the heart of prayer. Contact Ralph Starling at 804-358-5458, ext 134 to join.

Shawnee Hansen Shawnee Weitzel Hansen is founder and President of Richmond Friends of the Homeless, a non-profit which has been providing nourishing meals and services to the disadvantaged in our community for twenty six years. She enjoys bringing the inner city children she works with to First Baptist to experience the love of Christ, often for the first time. Shawnee was recently named the YWCA Woman of the Year in Human Relations and Living the Faith.

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