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Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of Heaven’

By Steve Blanchard. Photos by Steve Blanchard and Susan Brown.

Imagine you’re told without warning to leave your home. No time to do more than fill a bag with whatever possessions you can carry. You walk miles, perhaps hundreds of miles, to find a place that will take you in. This new home will likely be in a camp in another country. There will be all sorts of challenges – shortages of food, healthcare, sanitation, and safety. Or, maybe you are fortunate and find a better place but you know few people; you live in fear and worry about what happened to your friends and family back home.

After a while, you are given the chance to uproot again and move to a more permanent home but the problem is the wait can be long, maybe years. Finally, you are accepted by another country you’ve heard about almost all your life, some things positive, others negative. You gather your few belongings, borrow money from your host country to get there, and then land in a place where everything is foreign – the language, the culture, the people – the whole way of life. Now, it’s time to start your life again.

New AmericansThis is the background for most New Americans. Their old lives, professions, culture, and general way of life have been left behind. They find themselves dependent on the kindness and hospitality of a people they don’t know and of a government they don’t understand. Usually they receive three to six months of assistance from the government and resettlement agencies before they are left to fend for themselves. Imagine the worries, fears, obstacles, and isolation these New Americans feel. They have left familiar places, friends and family; they’ve often given up careers or success in school. Starting over is extremely difficult.

Richmond hosts approximately 300 refugees each year. This doesn’t include the hundreds, maybe thousands, of immigrants and international students who also call Richmond home. These immigrants may have been forced to leave home as well, but they journeyed here on their own accord. International students certainly do not have the challenges refugees and many immigrants deal with, but as immigrants, they may face loneliness, culture shock and homesickness.

New AmericansFirst Baptist, through the Ministry of Christian Compassion, reaches out to these refugees, immigrants and students with the love of Jesus Christ by helping them find not only basic necessities to begin their new lives but also support, friendship and guidance. In some cases, our church may be the only lifeline that an individual or family has or trusts. FBC takes this privilege seriously and encourages others to join us as we express our faith in God by loving the stranger in our land (Leviticus 19:33). And we rejoice in knowing that these are no longer strangers but are now our neighbors and friends.

As we celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, we acknowledge and pray for the more than 10.2 million refugees worldwide. (This figure from the United Nations Refugee Agency does not include a full accounting of those in exile from recent conflicts in Syria and Africa.) At the same time, we give thanks for our new neighbors who bring their rich cultures and diverse backgrounds to our communities, making Richmond look a little more like the Kingdom of Heaven.


Steve BlanchardSteve Blanchard serves as FBC’s Associate Pastor for Compassion. He has a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and a Master of Arts in Christian Education from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and has served churches in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. Steve enjoys traveling and watching sports, especially the Duke Blue Devils. Steve and his wife, Susan, have two daughters, Molly and Menley, who are on top of his list of greatest joys and passions.

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By Jeannie Dortch. Photo by Janet Chase.

Most people think of the kingdom of heaven as something above us, but many are beginning to believe that the kingdom of heaven can be all around us as well. Jim Somerville is one of those who has been putting this theory to the test since he launched KOH2RVA (Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia), a year-long, every member mission trip to Richmond in September 2012. Since then, Jim has been driving a metaphorical bus full of passengers encouraging them not to get too comfortable in their seats.

“Look out the window for something that doesn’t look like heaven,” he says as he steers us in one direction or the other. “If everyone looks through his or her own eyes to see what is least like heaven, we will all see something different. The next step is to get off the bus, roll up your sleeves, and begin to work.” With that encouragement, the FBC family has been traveling to every corner of Richmond learning, volunteering, and making a difference.

As the head cheerleader for the mission, Jim has expanded his blog (http://jimsomerville.wordpress.com/) to include a KOH2RVA story nearly every day. He links the stories on Facebook and Twitter. He tells of people’s experiences, reports results, and presents new ideas. “It’s just a matter of sharing your gifts, no matter how small,” he says.

Jim Somerville

Senior Pastor, Dr. James G. Somerville

The success of KOH2RVA has been overwhelming, and being the bus driver is a demanding job. This is why Jim is inviting other bloggers to weigh in on his day off.

In a bus with seemingly unlimited seating, others have caught the spirit of KOH2RVA and want to travel along too. Jim will be asking non-profit organizations and interested church leaders all over the city to contribute to a new KOH2RVA blog next year.

As more congregations become engaged with this mission, Jim hopes to build a strong coalition of people working together for a common cause that is bigger than any one church. The message is as old as Jesus, who prayed that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, but as a license plate, it seems to be going viral! At a meeting of large Baptist churches around the country recently, Jim was asked if the concept of KOH2RVA was copyrighted or could any of those present borrow it to use with their congregations? Of course they could.

“Are you bringing the kingdom a little closer to Richmond, Virginia?” Jim asks again and again. With such a clear sense of purpose, it won’t be long before all citizens of Richmond, Virginia and beyond will be speaking with one voice – that of bringing the kingdom of heaven to every corner where there are God’s people. And that’s everywhere!

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By Nancy Mairs. Photos by Susan Brown.

While most folks were looking forward to a day off from school and maybe even work, callouta group from Richmond’s First Baptist Church decided to use that day to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond Virginia (KOH2RVA). It all started with one member’s question to the administrator of the Anna Julia Cooper School a few months ago. The school, located in Church Hill, is an independent, tuition-free, faith-based middle school for students of limited resources.

Martin Luther King day of serviceMelissa Brooks, a member at First Baptist since 2009, discovered the school through an article in a community newspaper. Wanting to be part of the church-wide effort to bring KOH2RVA, Melissa decided to ask if there was anything she could do for them. As Melissa puts it, “This is a great question to ask when you’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, VA, or at least it’s a great place to start.” Melissa began helping out each week at the school. As she explains, “I fell in love with the mission and vision of the school, the kids, their stories, and the faculty.”

Martin Luther King day of serviceAs Melissa was dropping off her son, Sawyer, at his class in the FBC Weekday Preschool, she approached Mary Hiteman, Minister of Weekday School, with the idea of the preschool sponsoring the Anna Julia Cooper School as one of its monthly community mission projects. From this conversation, FBC’s involvement in the Martin Luther King Day of Service Project began.

Martin Luther King day of serviceWhy was Martin Luther King Day selected? Dr. King spoke often about love being the way to overcome the problems of the world. What better way to honor Dr. King’s vision than to help a school that is committed to the academic, social and spiritual development of children who might otherwise live a life unfulfilled and in despair? And as the school’s namesake, Anna Julia Cooper, said, “Jesus believed in the infinite possibilities of an individual soul.” 

Mary Hiteman facilitated the FBC Staff’s involvement. Others heard about the project and by the third Monday in January, not only had most of the First Baptist ministers agreed to participate, but other members of the church and several of the families of children who attend the FBC preschool had joined in. Their work started in the morning at the Anna Julia Cooper School with painting; putting up bulletin boards where more than 500 photographs were displayed; sanitizing tables, chairs, and door knobs; and even climbing up on the roof to sweep out the gutters.

Martin Luther King day of serviceThe group then traveled to the Essex Village Apartments, a public housing project in the East End of Richmond, for the second part of their King Day Service Project. Through an invitation from FBC member Len Morrow, a special guest provided a dramatic portrayal of Dr. King. This guest, Rev. James D. Daniely, a dynamic and inspirational speaker who is also the Director of the Pace Center for Campus Ministry at VCU, helped bring Dr. King to life for the children.

Martin Luther King day of serviceAs Mary Hiteman explained, “Most of the children do not know why they have the day off – our intent was to change that through Dr. Daniely, and then follow-up with art activities and, of course, birthday cake to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.” The final activity of the day was picking up trash throughout the area.

And how does Melissa, whose question started this project day at First Baptist, sum up the activities? “My hope is always to continue to shine the bright light of Jesus to our community so that others will see good and glorify God. It’s not a ‘me’ thing or a ‘First Baptist Church thing’ or even a ‘Martin Luther King Day thing’. This is a God thing. All we have to do is show up!”


Watch a video about the project. Produced by David Powers.


Nancy MairsNancy Mairs joined Richmond’s First Baptist Church more than 20 years ago and is a member of the WebClass. She works in the Regulatory Affairs group at Dominion Virginia Power, and enjoys hiking, canoeing, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Jim, and son, Jack.

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By Nancy Mairs.

Lynn Turner

It all started at the 2012 spring staff retreat when the discussion turned to bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia (KOH2RVA). Lynn Turner, First Baptist’s Senior Associate Pastor, wondered what it would be like if everyone at FBC went on a mission trip – not to a distant location, but here, to Richmond.

Jim Somerville

Jim Somerville

Jim Somerville, FBC’s Senior Pastor, explains the initiative that has grown from that conversation: “In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches His disciples to pray that God’s Kingdom would come, and God’s will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It is my conviction that Jesus wanted His disciples not only to pray for that, but to work for that.” [More details at KOH2RVA.org]. And maybe the idea of working for the Kingdom of Heaven to come on earth means to Richmond, Virginia too.

Steve Blanchard

Steve Blanchard

Steve Blanchard, Associate Pastor, explains, “After all, when Jesus walked on earth, He saw the same people we see, saw the same sort of needs we do, but He paid attention. He saw beyond the external and took an interest in people. Are the folks in the Richmond Metro area really that much different than the folks Jesus came in contact with? Maybe in the past, the church has focused too much on converting folks to the faith, but what Christ really meant was for us to learn to approach people as He did – loving them right where they are.”

calloutMaybe bringing heaven to earth is nothing more than looking at our everyday lives to see how we can show Jesus to those in the world who do not know Him. In Richmond we come in contact with the sick, the lonely, the hurting, and with those who are lost in the pursuit of their own ambitions. And, maybe what Jesus meant for us to learn from the Lord’s Prayer is that we need to love those around us, just as He did. Isn’t that really what a mission trip is all about? Learning from Jesus how to show and tell people what the world would be like if God were completely in charge. And, learning that will lead us to go out and do the work of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the mission field where God has put us – Richmond, Virginia.

What will the church-wide mission trip look like? The staff at First Baptist has provided a few tools to help us prepare. These tools are available on the website: KOH2RVA.org.

Lynn shares a prayer of discernment to use in seeking the connection between the kind of work we love to do and the work the world needs.

Steve Booth

Three video discussions address some of the issues of making our faith practical. Jim and Lynn provide the context for the year-long, every-member mission trip. Steve Booth, Associate Pastor, helps us connect our daily life with the life of faith. Steve Blanchard explains how to practice compassion in a Christ-like way.

A list of current Richmond-based mission “trips” offers opportunities for children, adults and families.

The year-long mission trip begins with the One Sunday celebration on September 9, 2012. Imagine a bus with a KOH2RVA license plate pulling up to the corner of Monument and The Boulevard that day. Jump on the bus, find a seat, and begin an adventure that will make the license plate a reality, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia!


Nancy Mairs Nancy Mairs joined Richmond’s First Baptist Church more than 20 years ago and is a member of the Disciples class. She works in the Regulatory Affairs group at Dominion Virginia Power, and enjoys hiking, canoeing, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Jim, and son, Jack.

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