Wrong Reasons…and Good News

Kyle LaFerriere of City Church, Richmond, shares his thoughts on City Church’s trip to Chattanooga back in July–why he *thought* he went and why he *really* ended up there (re-blogged from the City Church website).

About two years ago I moved to Manchester–away from the VCU college world and across the river. I ended up about three blocks from Hull Street. Soon my eyes were opened to the amount of different people around Richmond. There were black people, white people, Hispanic people, wealthy people, and poor people.

I quickly learned that I had a problem. And though I saw my problem, I thought I was good at hiding my problem.

In March of this year I had an argument with my roommate. It didn’t end well, and I saw that my problem wasn’t hidden anymore. Jesus showed me that I needed to work on my problem, and He wanted to help.

I struggle with racism. I do a great job at judging, mistreating, and sometimes hating people who look different than I do, people who don’t have it all together, or people who are simply just less fortunate that I am.

I went to Chattanooga back in July to serve these people. The only problem was: I went for the wrong reason. I went so I could feel better about myself and try to fix them.

While we were there we got to hear from a college student doing a study on poverty. We often think about poverty as a lack of material things. This student, Blake, explained it much differently. He used an example from his mentor, Dr. Brian Fikkert. Dr. Fikkert says, “When we ask the poor around the world what poverty is, they don’t just reply with a lack of material things. To them, it is far more psychological. They may speak of being poor as feeling shame, embarrassment, humiliation, and sometimes unhuman-like.”

This came to me as a shock. He was describing me. My life is full of sin. My sin creates those same feelings of shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. These feelings haunt me daily. I learned that I am no different than the people I have so desperately tried to avoid for the past few years. I created a life where I would drive an extra 10 minutes just to go to the really nice Kroger in Carytown–the one where people are pretty and don’t wear their “poverty” on their sleeves. I got really good at hiding my poverty and even surrounding myself with people who also hide their poverty well.

I thought I was going to Chattanooga to fix poverty. I went so Jesus could tell me that I can’t. If I can’t even fix my own problems, how could I possibly fix the problems of other people?

There is good news though. Jesus can fix me and Jesus can fix those surrounded by poverty.

After Chattanooga, I saw that my job as a Christian isn’t to fix poverty. My job is grab poverty by the hand say, “You are so broken… but I am just as broken. Lets go see my friend Jesus. He promises to fix us if we are willing.”

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Taking Action at Rudd’s Trailer Park

53b00f07b01a8.imageby Nicole Zingaro

In October of 2012, during KOH2RVA, Jim Somerville mentioned a tour taken by our church staff and volunteers to Rudd’s Trailer Park in Richmond. Compassion met with the desire to help this community, and First Baptist is doing just that. Fast forward to 2014, and the families within this park are facing serious challenges in maintaining their homes and community. Over the past few years, following a fire at Rudds, the City of Richmond has been performing inspections and issuing code violations to the trailer park itself, as well as to all of the individual trailers and their owners. Within the park, there are over 700 safety violations that need to be addressed. Most of the residents need assistance to complete these updates and repairs, from hiring licensed contractors, electricians, and engineers to perform the work, to purchasing materials. Residents that have not been able to comply with these repairs in the allotted amount of time have been evicted, and left homeless, as their trailers are their only home and assets. The residents, volunteers, and organizations working within the community requested help from area congregations and nonprofits to join the effort to help this neighborhood stay intact, and to stop the homelessness that has become a result of these issues.

Rudd’s Trailer Park consists of 100 trailers, occupied by low-income families, the majority of whom are immigrants from the Mixtec Tribe of Mexico. These families and residents comprise a hardworking, tight knit community that serves to make their neighborhood a special place to be. First Baptist Church has been involved with Rudd’s Trailer Park for some time, we have congregation members that volunteer to help owners with repairs, while others assist families with transportation and children’s’ services. We also hold an International Christmas Party and Store each December in which refugee and immigrant families can celebrate the holiday and purchase affordable Christmas gifts for their families. Many of our attendees are members of the community that live in Rudds.

When we received word that Rudd’s Trailer Park was in danger of being dismantled, we stepped in to answer this call, as we believe that it is our responsibility to protect, serve, and empower our neighbors, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. First Baptist is now a member of a Coalition that is advocating on behalf of the residents to save this neighborhood. We have formed a tight-knit team several entities within Richmond, including Sacred Heart Cathedral, Sacred Heart Center, Legal Aid Justice Center of Richmond, Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Virginia Supportive Housing, HOME, Habitat for Humanity, Commonwealth Catholic Charities, and Virginia Poverty Law Center, to name some of our partners. From the end of May to the present we have accomplished so much, though there is much further to go. First Baptist’s role in this coalition is vital; as the Social Worker here, I am responsible for finding and advocating for those groups that are oppressed, whose voices are often ignored in society, these residents fall into that category. FBC is heading up all Community Organizing efforts within the neighborhood, including planning and running all community meetings for residents and coalition members to coordinate efforts, canvassing the homes door-to-door to collect information on families, units, and repair work to be done, as well as acting as a Representative of the families themselves before the City.

Since the end of May, our Coalition has not only worked in the neighborhood itself, we have sent a letter to the Mayor, which has been acknowledged, visited City Council to present the situation as it stands, submitted proposals and plans to the city of Richmond and Inspectors detailing our repair plans, and are exploring funding options to support this project. Condemnations at this point have been stalled due to our efforts, and we are awaiting a scheduled meeting with the Mayor’s office and staff, hopefully to reach a viable and holistic solution to this problem.

The most indescribable result of all these efforts up to this point though has been the time spent with the residents and families in Rudd’s Trailer Park; we have formed close relationships with so many kind and inspiring individuals that we will be forever grateful for the opportunity to work and serve within this community. From Olivia, the official spokesperson of the residents, who is an 18 year old high school student, from the families that provide childcare to each other while they work varying shifts, and the children outside playing soccer and cards, we praise them and give thanks that they have allowed us to be a part of their lives, and to carry out God’s work as allies, and family. Though it may have officially ended, KOH2RVA is ongoing for First Baptist Church.

Please keep these ongoing efforts as well as the families affected in your hearts and prayers, and we will continue to narrate our foray into this community service and organizing project.

Nicole Zingaro
Social Worker, First Baptist Church

Times Dispatch Article

Video of presentations at city council

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Prisoners Are People, Too

imprisoned-and-faithful.jpg.crop_displayHere’s a guest blog from Michael Gerace, who is interning at Richmond’s First Baptist Church this spring as a prison minister.  I hope you will read it and remember the many who are incarcerated in the Richmond City Jail, as well as the multiple prisons in the Central Virginia region.  Michael’s post will give you a better understanding of what those prisoners are dealing with.


“I was in prison, and you visited me.” 

When I first started to minister to the incarcerated I was aware of Matthew 25: 37 (above) and 44-45 (below) which says:

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

This verse was a confirmation of some internal and external prompting I was receiving about prison ministry, but I had questions. For the first six months I worked almost exclusively in the high security tier or what is called “the hole” or solitary confinement. I had contact with inmates serving time for many types of crimes including the biggies like murder, rape, and child molestation. In those early days I wondered if God was really in a prison and if so how do I find him. I wondered if God was working there and if so who was he working in and how? I also wondered if I was really being invited by God to help Him with His work in the jail and if so what should I do.? After nearly three years of jail and prison Chaplaincy, I can report that I now truly believe the following: God is everywhere including in a prison; God gives me one inmate at a time to work with and I leave the rest to Him; God wants me help Him in prison by being who I really am (in Christ) and help guide others to do the same. The following is an account of one such attempt at carrying out my ministry.

The conversation below was part of a second counseling session with a middle aged Caucasian male inmate named John. John is a clean, bright, articulate, and executive looking type who has a heroin addiction. He has been in and out of rehab and has done work in and for a Christian outreach in drug rehabilitation ministry. He has attended a well-known Christian University and is very bible literate. In the last session we established that John was suffering from anxiety and depression and claims he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He has a supportive significant other and a four month old baby and feels that he blew a great opportunity to live a sober life with a woman and child he loves.

It was our second session together, and his countenance was one of tenseness and anxiety. Before we began, I tried to relax with the intention of mirroring calmness to him. I did this by pulling my chair closer to the table and assuming a relaxed posture while leaning back in my chair. He assumed a position opposite me leaning forward towards the table. At first we looked directly at each other as the conversation (which was part of the session) began.

C. John, how are you? Good to see you again.
J. (Put’s his head down) I just finished a visit with Connie and she brought the baby. (He looks up and hands me over pictures of the baby, and puts his head back down.

C. She’s beautiful.
J. I feel like such a piece of s—.

C. Really?
J. I am a lowlife and worthless.

C. John, I hear you judging yourself. Tell me more about your feelings.
J. I am ashamed, I feel guilty for what I have done.

C. Are you sad?
J. I am depressed and hate myself.

C. John, I can see why you feel that way, you have suffered great loss and are grieving.
J. Yeah my job, my life with Connie, my life with Cayla, my family, my ministry, my hobbies, my life!

C. Wow. (Pause) That is an incredible amount of loss for man.
J. Yes, and I have myself to blame (Starts to weep, and then is sobbing).

C. John what did we talk about last week? What do you remember?
J. (Stops crying and looks up, pauses and says): I am using my guilt, shame and condemnation as a wedge between me and God.

C. Great that you remember that.
J. But it is not helping me now. I threw away the best thing I have ever had.

C John, are you willing to dig into some scripture right now to see if it can be of help for where you are at?
J. Scripture? Ah, ok.

C. (Open up my bible and hand to him) I want you to turn to Romans 8 and read out loud verses 1 and 2.
J. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”

C. So how much condemnation is there in Christ Jesus?
J. None.

C. Is there some condemnation in Christ Jesus?
J. No, none.

C. Maybe just a little condemnation in Christ Jesus?
J. No, none. (He looks up and smiles).

C. So why are you condemning yourself? You must not be in Christ Jesus! Is it time to come home to Jesus?
J. (Starts to cry again)

C. John Jesus loves you even when you don’t love you. Why go against the nature of the God of the universe? It is time to join him in loving you!

John had now softened up significantly. For now, the self-hate had abated and he is a new person in Christ Jesus. Change is difficult and complex. The Chinese written character for change has two components: danger and opportunity. Humans are individual systems (physical, emotional, thinking, and spiritual) coupled into their context (political, economic, social, familial, and religious). If you change one element of a system, then all elements experience the change and have a potential to adjust to the change. So where does one begin the process of change? And how does a Pastoral Care counseling help in that process?

One goal of Pastoral Care is to help alter the counselee’s self-concept through the development of a relationship with God. This is done by coaching people to move
closer to their God so that they can be healed through the presence of His grace, love, power and forgiveness. This first requires that they become their own person (differentiated) in a life that exercises power of decision and accepts consequences resulting from those decisions. I believe achieving this kind of emotional, psychological, and spiritual maturity requires that we first become acquainted with, accept and even love ones true self (the self that God created you to be). One Pastoral Care route to this end may be for the counselor to mirror the acceptance he feels from Christ to his counselee. This may begin a process where the counselee can begin to feel God’s love for his own person.
I like to call this the ministry of “Personhood”. I believe that every person regardless of what they have done or bad choices they have made possesses a beautiful center within themselves, which was created by God. One goal of pastoral counseling is help the counselee see that he was always loved by God, and is still loved by God today. It is from this point that all else proceeds, including the work later down the road of healing relationship breaches of all kinds caused by others and ourselves.


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Happy RVA!

Love this happy video shot on location in Richmond, Virginia, by people who love this city.  Watch out…your toes are tapping, your fingers are snapping, the Kingdom is coming!

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The Rides of March II


I finished up a seven-mile run on Friday with a cool-down walk on my street.  I found a woman waiting at the bus stop on the corner and I said, “Thanks for riding public transportation.  Do you do it because you want to or because you have to?”  She shrugged her shoulders as if she hadn’t really thought about it and then said, “I like the company.”

So, there’s a reason to ride the bus you might not have thought of.

There are other reasons.  I saw a short slide show recently (above) that showed a street jammed with cars, and then the same street without the cars, and the drivers sitting in chairs where their cars had been, and then all those chairs pushed together in one lane, and then a bus in that lane that easily held all those drivers.  The point was clear: you could get rid of most of the cars on the road if people would simply ride the bus.

But most of them don’t and they don’t because they have cars, and their cars will take them where they want to go when they want to go there.  They value convenience over almost everything else, even when they know that taking the bus would save money and cut down on pollution.

But what if they tried it, even once?

Andrew Terry and his colleagues at RVA Rapid Transit are challenging us once again to take “The Rides of March”: to get on a bus on March 15 and see where it will take us.  It shouldn’t be hard.  It’s a Saturday.  It’s not like most of us will be trying to get to work.  But maybe we could take Andrew up on his challenge and give it a try.  Who knows?  Like my neighbor up the street we may discover that we enjoy the company.

Hope to see you on a bus on Saturday, March 15.

–Jim Somerville

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Looks Like It’s Almost Here!

Looks Like It's Almost Here!

Someone forwarded this picture of the James River in Richmond. It looks as if it’s been significantly PhotoShopped, but it also looks as if the Kingdom is coming, and getting closer every second! I like it.

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Don Coleman is Bringing It in the East End

East End

I’ve been exploring the East End of our city recently, and learning a lot about the good work that’s going on there at East End Christian Fellowship and at CHAT (Church Hill Activities and Tutoring).  While I was at CHAT I learned that Don Coleman, Richmond’s new school board superintendent and co-pastor at East End Fellowship, has been featured in a video produced by Christianity Today.  Take a look by clicking on the picture above, and then think about how you can bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, or wherever you are.

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