Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Baptist Mission Board’

By Sarah E. Amick AlZubi

Have you ever walked somewhere and known that, from this point on, your steps along life’s path would be forever changed? (God can work through our feet.)

Have you ever touched something, and in reaching out, realized that you were what was being moved? (God can work through our hands.)

Have you ever seen someone’s face, really looked into their eyes, and felt a soul connection that you knew you would always remember? (God can work in and through our heads and hearts.)

We experienced these types of encounters, and more, throughout our week in Bosnia and Herzegovina last fall. International travel often results in life-changing moments, and mission trips tend to affect us in unexpected ways. We hear and follow God’s call to go and serve, end up receiving much more than we could ever give, and afterward try to express our gratitude for that as much as possible.

Our team of four (Steve Blanchard, Candi Brown and Sarah Amick AlZubi, from Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and Kenny Davis, pastor of Bybee’s Road Baptist Church) all left Richmond together on September 27 and arrived safely in Zagreb, Croatia on September 28. However, shortly after landing, we discovered that our entire plane’s luggage had been left behind at our previous layover stop in Germany! After our initial shock, our minds were quickly put at ease when we were met at the airport by the welcoming face of Elvis, our amazing and experienced host and guide for this trip who has worked with several Virginia Baptist mission teams over the past few years and Tiha, who provided much needed support, advice and a wealth of knowledge and experience regarding humanitarian aid. We made a few minor schedule adjustments, including a stop to buy some additional clothing and necessities, and arrived in Bihac, Bosnia on September 29. It was not lost on us that we had the resources to adapt and purchase new items as needed and that we should not take that for granted. Most of the time when someone is forced to leave their home as a refugee and travel on foot for hundreds of miles all they have are the clothes on their backs and a “carry-on.” If they can survive with that for months or years, we could certainly do so for a week.

Our first morning in Bosnia was beautiful and sunny and we were ready to get to work! Our team was led and accompanied by Elvis, Tiha and Vlad, another experienced humanitarian aid worker with a truly Christ-like, compassionate heart who joined us in Bihac. We traveled together that morning to the infamous Vučjak camp. Prior to our arrival, we had heard about the inhumane and unsanitary conditions in this “unofficial” camp, but actually being there on the site of a former landfill where people were now being forced to live among rubbish with no running water or toilets, was not something for which we could have fully prepared ourselves. (Plus, there were landmines left over from Balkan wars throughout the countryside and mountains surrounding the camp.) There were no permanent structures for shelter or medical care, just tents of various sizes and conditions. The hundreds of inhabitants of this “tent city” were making the best of a terrible situation, though, and welcomed us to their “home” with kind greetings and curiosity.

Throughout the week we also visited three other camps in Bihac, all filled and overflowing. We received informative tours, saw and experienced incredible hospitality and good work being done by the International Organization for Migration staff and other partners in those camps. It was encouraging to know that not every camp was as troubling as Vučjak. Since that is where the need was greatest, we returned there for the rest of that week. Every day we met new people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq and Syria, and heard more stories of why they had to leave home, the family members they dearly missed, what their journey had been like so far and where they planned to go next, God willing. We heard horrifying stories of danger and injury, heartbreaking stories of loss and illness, as well as heartfelt stories of hopes and dreams for the future.

Incredibly hardworking and committed Red Cross volunteers were also there every day trying to make the camp as livable, safe and healthy as possible. They oversaw distributing food, and we were happy to help them with this task. We also distributed hygiene kits, snacks, blankets and clothing items. Hardworking refugees residing in the camp were always happy to lend a hand, helping to maintain orderly lines, serving food, distributing supplies and assisting with translation when needed. Every day we worked alongside our new friends, picking up trash and repairing leaky tents blown down by gusts of wind and rain. There was also time for meaningful conversations and a few games, accompanied by genuine smiles and laughter. It was a blessing to be used by God to meet these physical, emotional and spiritual needs all around us, through our hands, feet, heads and hearts.

By the end of the week, a place that no one would choose to call home had begun to feel comfortable in some ways. This was not because of the physical conditions (which were still miserable), but because of the humanity, hospitality and compassion shared by everyone, including refugees, migrants, Red Cross volunteers, our team and even the dedicated police officers standing guard at the camp entrance. It was surprisingly difficult to say goodbye. I found myself blinking back tears as I promised to pray, raise awareness and most of all never forget the wonderful people I had met, all of whom are beautiful children of God, deserving of love, dignity and respect. We all have this in common and truly are connected, whether we realize it or not. If only we can remember that our actions here and around the world impact more people in more ways than we could ever imagine.

Now when I walk outside on a cold, windy evening, I look up at the sky and see the bright moon and stars. I quickly calculate in my head that if it’s 8:00 p.m. here in Virginia, then it’s 2:00 a.m. in the Balkans. I wonder if anyone there is awake and looking up at the same night sky, perhaps one of the many people we met last fall. I wonder how cold it is there now and what the snow looks like in the mountains. I wonder if they are safe and warm inside a building or huddled under a raggedy blanket in a drafty tent or, even worse, camping in the forest, completely unsheltered and unprotected from the freezing temperatures and harsh wind. I know the needs there are still overwhelming and the overall situation is very unstable. I say a prayer for them, that they may experience some comfort wherever they are, feel peace during struggles and uncertainty and, most of all, know they are not alone and not forgotten.

Author’s note: Thankfully, in mid-December, the Vučjak camp was closed and dismantled and those currently staying there were relocated to a more humane, sustainable location near Sarajevo. Thousands of refugees and migrants are continuing to arrive in Bosnia and Herzegovina on their way to the European Union and additional support and long-term solutions to the refugee crisis are still needed.

Editor’s note: On March 22, 2020 Croatia was hit by a series of earthquakes. At the same time, Croatia has been fighting to flatten the curve on the spreading of the Coronavirus. Strict measures have been put in place, asking people to stay at home and avoid social contact. Donate to Croatian Baptist Aid.

See Ann Carter’s previous post and another on Virginia Baptist mission teams going to Bosnia.

Story on the former Vučjak camp.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, October 5, 2019 – CBAid partners from Virginia (USA) visit refugee camps Sedra, Bira, Boriće and Vučjak in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We saw parts of this BBC video being filmed while in Vucjak.

This is another news video filmed in Vucjak while we were there.

Sarah E. Amick AlZubi

Sarah E. Amick AlZubi joined FBC in 2015. She rings handbells, sings in Church Choir and One Accord, and serves on the Compassion Ministry Board. She participated in mission trips to China, Toronto, Romania and Bosnia. Sarah met her husband, who is from Jordan, at VCU, where she worked almost 12 years. She loves to travel and get to know people (and food!) from around the world.

Read Full Post »

 by Mary Ann Delano

As the daughter and granddaughter of Baptist ministers, Shirley Robertson followed in their footsteps by devoting her life to Christian service. Born in King William County, Virginia, she moved to Richmond as a young child under sad circumstances. Her grandfather, the pastor of Park View Baptist Church in Richmond, died while returning from the funeral of her great-grandmother. As a result, her dad was called as pastor of his dad’s church and served there for 43 years.

100% Involved

Shirley Robertson in Mars Hill cheering squad; with Mission Board co-workers; at last Eagle Eyrie retreat she led in 1992

Shirley attended Mars Hill College and then transferred to Westhampton College at the University of Richmond where she completed her undergraduate degree. She worked at the Baptist Goodwill Centers at House of Happiness and Cary Street Baptist Center during the summers while in college. Upon graduation, she began her work with Richmond area churches at Broadus Memorial Baptist Church with the goal of starting a preschool. In one year she did just that when five students began attending the preschool. By the end of the year, the enrollment increased to 20 students.

Shirley then moved to Branch’s Baptist Church where she served as the Education Director, and later began working at Second Baptist Church as the Education Secretary. At the time, Second Baptist Church was located downtown at 7 West Franklin Street, near the Jefferson Hotel.

In late 1950s, she began working at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board as Director of Junior and Intermediate Youth, which in today’s terms refers to youth ministry. She was thrilled when the Board decided to address education for youth with special needs, and she was selected to lead the effort. Shirley’s favorite aunt, Margie, who was adored by all who knew her, had special needs.

100% Involved

FBC Eagle Eyrie retreat participants, October 2019

During her 35 years at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, Shirley also went back to school and completed a master’s degree in education. She continued traveling to conduct training conferences, leading retreats, providing education on special education needs, serving on the faculty at state conferences and at Ridgecrest Baptist Retreat Center near Asheville, North Carolina. In fact, Shirley developed the annual Retreat for Youth and Adults with Special Needs and led the retreat for 17 years during which time she met many members of First Baptist Church’s Lambs Sunday school class. The Lambs Class continues to go to the conference at Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center every year.

100% InvolvedShirley retired in 1992, and soon after that she joined First Baptist and, as she put it, “plunged into everything as usual and was 100% involved.” She always loved children and became a third grade Sunday school teacher in addition to joining the choir. Shirley had taught children and sung in a choir since her teenage days. So, it was only natural that she would find a place teaching children in Sunday school and singing in the choir. Shirley has also participated in First Baptist’s Prayer Ministry and has served as a deacon.

She loves family, children and being active. Shirley is always thrilled to encounter the many, many children and youth she has worked with over the years and loves to find out how those who were once her students are doing as adults. As a 40-year breast cancer survivor, she feels “very blessed” as she acknowledges October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Shirley has lived at Lakewood for 13 years and enjoys the fellowship of many FBC members who also live there.

Shirley Robertson has truly given her life to Christian service and is a shining example of what it means to live a life that is 100% involved in that service.


Mary Ann Delano joined FBC in 1982 and married her husband Chip here. Their grown sons grew up in church, both portraying Joseph in the Christmas pageant. She has been active in Women on Mission and teaching missions to all ages, serving on many church teams and as deacon chair. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spending time with family.


Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Story and photos by Allen Cumbia.

During 2013 and 2014 we will publish a series of articles written by Skyler Cumbia as she reports on her mission experiences in Ghana, Romania and Haiti. She is currently serving as a Venturer (long-term mission volunteer) with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. The first article however, is being written by her father, Allen Cumbia, as he reflects on the beginning of Skyler’s year abroad.

Letting Go?Last night we embraced, a few tears were shed, and then she was gone. Today I am alone. I’ve just finished some coffee, the plane is cruising at 35,000 feet somewhere over central Africa, and I’m returning home without her.

As a young girl she used to say “I want to be a missionary,” but that talk faded as she blossomed into a teen. As the time grew near to complete high school, she struggled with what she wanted to do next. College was definitely something she was interested in, but what to study? Talented, smart and hard working, she could do anything she put her mind to, but what? How was God calling her? The idea of a gap year between high school and college became a possibility: a time to do some volunteer work or an internship, and in the process see a little clearer what it was she is called to do and be; a discerning time to grow some more, see the world with new eyes, and better understand herself and her passion in life.

So now, as Ghana recedes in the distance, I sit here and ponder how I have just let her go. She was such a precious little girl – quiet, observant and stoic. Hers was a tough shell to penetrate, yet underneath we could glimpse signs of the comic, the musician, the wit, and the artist. She has a compassionate and tender heart, a love for animals and a perceptive eye that saw what most missed. So many little things that add up to a wonderful mosaic, all wrapped into a tall and lanky body.

Letting Go?Leaving her as a young woman by herself in West Africa has been hard. She is not the first of our daughters to leave the nest. Two preceded her, but they were still relatively close. We could see them some weekends, get a package to them and just feel connected. But a small town in northern Ghana? That’s not so close! How can I still be a dad to her? How can I hold her and do for her the things that I want to do?

We knew when she was born that our job was to raise her up for a day such as this, yet how did it get here so quickly? A first tooth and then a step, that first day of school, a two wheeler at last, and all of a sudden – a drivers license. In each of these steps and more, we were slowly releasing her, allowing her to become independent, to become the woman that God has planned for her to be.

Letting Go?And now she’s gone, she’s beyond my embrace. It hurts, but also somehow it is right. I don’t want to hold her back, and really I can’t hold her back. Now is the time for this delicate bud to blossom into the beautiful and fragrant flower that she was created to be. To hold too tight now would be to crush and destroy that unique and precious creation that God has given to us. So here I sit, having released her less than 24 hours ago. But have I really released her? Physically we are going to be separated by more than 5,100 miles. In just about every other aspect we are as close as ever, perhaps closer.

I journeyed with her to Ghana for a variety of reasons. Of course as a dad I had some big reservations about her going off by herself and wanted to be with her and help her navigate a strange and distant land as she settled in. But more than that, this trip was a time to share some condensed one-on-one time. I had taken individual mission trips with my other three girls to foreign lands, but this was the first one for just the two of us. In making this trip we shared some unique experiences that bonded us closer than ever. I now understand so much better the daily things she will be doing, the people she will be with, and the physical environment in which she will be living. Now I know better than most how to pray for and support her.

Last night I gave her a last caress across her hair, a last squeeze of the hand and then I let go, but in the process of letting go she has in fact been embraced. Embraced by the new roommate she will have, embraced by the people with whom she will be working, and most importantly, embraced by the One who created such a lovely and fragrant flower of a child in the first place. She was ours to hold for a short while, and we will continue to do so on occasion, but now we give her to God and to the world in which she will work and serve and love … and at least in my mind, that is a good way of letting go.

Editor’s note: Check out Skyler’s blog, Skyler’s Scribbles.

Read Full Post »