As we put 2013 to rest, I find myself pondering the nature of life. Of course, we understand that not all of life is good and not all of life is hard. We know that truth, but 2013 seemed to drive the point home, didn’t it?

For instance, in 2013 the church sent six of its members to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for several days. It was a life-giving trip for those of us who went, in which we were given the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, learn about refugee resettlement from the other side of things, and offer encouragement to those who have fled Burma in search of safety for themselves and their families.

Of course, refugee resettlement is a story with which we have become quite familiar, but it took on flesh and became incarnate for me in new ways while in Malaysia. The divide that resettlement creates between families became much more real to me as I watched Wint Wint Zaw slide her arm into her father’s for the first time since she left Malaysia for Richmond those several years ago. God’s kind of hospitality was made tangible when Samuel Lian’s family filled much more than our stomachs before worship one Sunday morning. The towel and basin — the symbols of that day when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet — were made visible in the person of Say Wah Htoo when she gave up her opportunity to visit some of tallest towers in the world, so that she could spend her morning teaching the children songs about God. And, finally, when Bawkja Mahka and Harrison Lahpai approached me after worship one Sunday to introduce themselves and to tell me that they would soon be arriving in Richmond as permanent residents, I was reminded that there is no place we can go where God is not already there waiting to meet us.

Such experiences and memories are treasures, and the six of us remain grateful for your trust and your generosity. We believe we better understand the heart of God because of our journey to Malaysia

This year also marked an evolution in the way we approach discipleship and spiritual formation as a church body. Not only have we continued to do Sunday school and Wednesday evening programming well, but have taken it a step further.

As we moved into a season with the Narrative Lectionary (, we also moved deliberately toward a more unified approach in regards to Bible study and reflection. It began with a simple question: “What if in any given week, everyone, from our youngest to our eldest, focused on the same passage? How might our conversations around dinner tables and in church hallways be different?”

Out of that question stemmed a full-fledged effort to tie all of us to the same Bible passage each week. Beginning this past fall and with that desire in mind, our three small groups, the Tuesday Brown Bag Bible study group, Worship Explorers, Godly Play, both of our middle and high school youth D-teams, our Wednesday evening adult program, and our Sunday morning worship services all focused on the same passage of scripture each week. Our hope has been that it has helped you not only engage each passage at a deeper and more meaningful level, but that it has also helped you see the arch of Israel’s story on a more comprehensive level.

We have had numerous guides throughout that journey, and I would be at fault if I didn’t pause to offer a word of gratitude to  all of those who have played such a vital role in this effort. My most sincere thanks to the following for how wonderfully you have cared for this congregation by being good and faithful teachers:

Small group hosts and facilitators: Chris and Kate Ayers, Tim and Naomi Reddish, Christen Schumacher, Joel Ingram, Megan Johnson, Kathryn Hall, and Lauren Weaver

Brown Bag Bible study facilitator: Sterling Severns

Worship Explorers coordinator (Megan Strollo) and  the numerous volunteers that make that ministry possible

Godly Play facilitators: Anna Tuckwiller, Christen Schumacher, Ryan Corbitt, Kristen Koger, Joe Perdue, and Megan Strollo

Youth D-Team facilitators: Julie Sisson, Khan Naw, Kate Ayers, David Wolf, and Julie Gaines

Wednesday evening facilitators: Dr. Mark Biddle (BTSR), Dr. Melissa Jackson (BTSR), Dr. Sam Adams (UPS), Joshua T. Andrzejewski (VCU Patient Counseling), Joseph Perdue, and Megan Strollo

On top of all of this, we have found new and exciting ways to have the Burmese-born among us serve as leaders, teaching us about their own culture in both a “Burma 101” series and once a month during our Sunday school hour. So, when I look back at how committed this church has been to scripture study and the hard work of discipleship, I find myself filled with a deep sense of gratitude.

Life this year, however, hasn’t been solely been good. At times, it has just been hard.

Over the past twelve months, many of us have found ourselves shouldering more responsibility than is fair to be asked of any individual. Many of us have been diagnosed and poked and prodded and quarantined until we felt more like a lab experiment than a human being bearing the very image of God. And many of us have found ourselves grieving the loss of significant loved ones. Expected or tragic, death is no respecter of human emotions.

There are, perhaps, many ways to look at what 2013 had to offer and to come to some conclusions about the nature of life. I have heard more than one of you say, “I can’t wait for 2013 to be over. It’s just been too rough.” But what I have witnessed and experienced firsthand from you this past year is that we do not walk those hard, lonely roads alone.

Tabernacle Baptist Church family, there is something worse than grief, and it is feeling abandoned in the midst of grief. You may not fully realize it, but you have walked some treacherous lengths of road with your fellow church members these past months and you may very well be the reason some did not find themselves feeling stranded in the wilderness places of life. I offer thanks on behalf of all of us who found ourselves in those hard seasons. You have loved us, and that has been enough.

Now, as we cast our eyes ahead, I am confident that whatever 2014 brings, it will be full — full of goodness and happiness and opportunities to seize life in all its glory. And it will be full of hardship and struggle and probably some pain. But the love that we share for one another will be enough to get us through. I know this to be true, because it has been what has kept us thus far.

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