Embracing God-Sized Vision: Harrison Lahpai

Even before I came to this country, God had already introduced me about TBC. God’s plan for me and my family is unbelievable. His timing is always on time. I met Pastor Dan along with his friends from TBC on Judson Sunday at Kuala Lumpur Baptist Church in 2013; it was the day before we came to Richmond. I could feel the warmth and kindness of TBC through Pastor Dan even before I actually came to Richmond and participate in TBC. I introduced myself and told Pastor Dan that my family and I will come to Richmond the next day. He gave me his phone number and asked me to call him when I reach Richmond. Before I got the chance to meet with Pastor Dan and fellows, our first departure date to come to U.S was postponed and; at that time, I was so upset about it. I could not understand why God let it happened. However, later I could see God’s preparation for my family to be part of this Church because if it wasn’t postponed, I would not get the opportunity to meet with Pastor Dan and TBC.  

On our first Sunday, I could feel the peace in the church when I enter the church’s sanctuary. I have never felt like this before in my life. I can see the love of God when I look at the faces of TBC’s church members. Rev. Sterling welcomed us warmly and introduced to the congregation. I was surprised when I saw different ethnic groups from Burma and I felt this church is the right place for me to worship to God. Even though TBC has congregation of different ethnicities, skin colors, languages, and cultures, they welcomed everyone including our family with bright smiles regardless of differences.

I could still remember my experience of the very first Sunday at TBC that I discovered this church is filled with God’s love, peace, and praises. The church’s program is also similar to the way we worshiped in my church back in Burma. Especially when I listen to the choir, the words give me strength for my faith in God. Sterling’s sermons guide me the way of a Christian life. I don’t know how to express well but every time I attend TBC, I can get full sense of worship to God and fellowship with God. Here I testify that TBC has drawn me nearer to God. I am very grateful to be part of TBC. I love Tabernacle Baptist Church!

– Harrison Lahpai


I pray for the success in ministering different ethnicities.

Embracing A God-Sized Dream: Brynne

I see God at work at Tabernacle through the adults in the way they work with the children. Many adults have helped me to use my God-given gifts to serve Jesus. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the choirs, including the All-State Choir. We get to help lead in worship in all kinds of ways. On Easter Sunday, we brought in the Christ Candle. Each kid was paired up with an adult. We read scripture in worship and help to collect the offering on second Sundays. Worship bags have been created for the children to help us understand who Jesus is and help us participate in worship.  The Sunday School, Worship Explorer, Nursery, and Godly Play teachers help us learn about the Bible and create fun activities to help us learn. I’ve made lots of friends at church. We help each other in lots of ways and love each other as family.

I was baptized two years ago on June 6. It was a very special day for me and my family. Mrs. Spain stood in the water with me to represent the entire congregation. I asked her to do this because she has always been a role model to me and is an important part of my life. Tabernacle is full of adults like Mrs. Spain who have been good examples to the children. They serve the church lovingly and help us to become the people God wants us to be. They encourage us to be leaders.


A Prayer for Tabernacle Baptist Church

  • I pray that Tabernacle will always be a place where children are welcome.
  • I pray that Tabernacle will help families spend more time together.
  • I pray that Tabernacle will never doubt the things God can do through the lives of children.

A God-Sized Vision: Anna Tuckwiller

Tabernacle was the third place that I visited when I started looking for a church home.  I liked the Wednesday night lectures and visiting with BTSR and Camp Alkulana friends.  I appreciated that Tabernacle was a ministry simulator for seminary students.  I was charmed by the way it honored the coming and going of its members with bread for the journey.  I loved that the leadership of Sunday services reflected the diversity in the pews.  And, as I get distracted as easily as I get tearful during worship, I was glad that I could sit by myself on Sundays.

You know those people at the pool, the ones that go from dry to underwater with one cannon ball or dive?  I’m not one of them.  I’m one of those “toe test people.”  It takes me a while unless there’s an audience, in which case it takes an eternity.  That’s just me in part but also my church experience.  Like most people with ministry experience, I know about going through the wringer.  Every minister I know has been disappointed or burnt at some point in the course of their ministerial service. Every church goer I know has stories of being both loved and wounded by the community entrusted with Christ’s message.

It wasn’t long before Sterling and Judy were on to me.  He did his recon with my church friends and asked if I’d like to go for “coffee.”  Naturally, I braced myself for the “how are you going to plug in deeper here?” bit.  Judy, I knew from our BTSR days, where I sang in the school choir.  Between those two the jig was up, dashing my plans of hiding out barefoot in the balcony.

I’ve lived long enough to learn that risk and love are traveling buddies.  I knew it was time to put my shoes on and walk the aisle one Sunday morning to join Tabernacle.  It’s that aisle walking bit that I don’t like.  Apparently, there’s no backdoor membership plan void of that front-and-center-while-the-pastor-talks-about-you part.  Believe me, I asked. So I stood there embracing the awkward as Sterling welcomed me.  As he did so, hand on my shoulder, he said, “we thank you for your trust.”

Trust.  Love.  They are always risks.  They are the courageous vehicles that open us up to the deep joys and sorrows of ourselves and of life together with God.  And here’s the kicker: we’re gonna mess up.  From the pulpit to the taco casserole I’ve heard us share our stories of following and flailing as disciples of Christ.  This is one of the brightest lights that I find in this place: people striving to show up, just as they are, daring to be blessed and broken together.

I’m thankful.  I’m grateful for the solidarity in this crazy story of a God who puts skin on, loves, dies, and lives again, to make all things new.  Our efforts to love and understand things in light of that story will be fraught with: failure and success, joy and sorrow, rest and struggle, frustration and calm, annoyance and laughter…  But Christ’s were too.  That gives me hope that we are bumbling in the right direction and gladness to be doing so together.

God, please help us find the courage to receive and accept love, affirmation, and gifts from you and from our neighbors.  It can be scary.  In that receiving, may we risk being known, being givers and friends, when it’s tempting to hide as benefactors.


God, may your grace inspire us to courageously “show up” with you and with one another.  Please be our strength when we find ourselves being changed, blessed, challenged, or grieved from doing so.
God, please lend your wisdom and bless us with a vision that serves you and your children.  Show us how to listen and how to speak up in the visioning process.


And gracious God, thank you for loving us and letting us share in this kingdom of yours, toes, cannon balls, bumbling, and all.



A God-Sized Vision: Charlotte Wright

I found my Tabernacle home on a rainy weekday morning in 2002.  My children were grown, my husband had recently died, and I had sold the large home I couldn’t afford to keep.  I moved to an apartment in the city and was looking for a new church.  I was walking on Grove Avenue when I saw the beautiful old stone building at the intersection of Meadow and Grove.  As I crossed Meadow, a car pulled over to the curb in front of the church and stopped.  A man jumped out of the car, grabbed an armload of envelopes and packages, and hurried through the sprinkling rain, precariously balancing his load as he rushed up a ramp and stopped to unlock the door.  On impulse, I followed him and caught up with him as he finally got the door open.  I introduced myself to Byron LePere and asked if I could come and see the church.  He led me inside, gave me a brief tour of the Sanctuary, gave me a handout about the church and invited me to come to church the next Sunday.  He hurried off, leaving me to sit there a little while soaking up a feeling of permanence and safety and a strange feeling of home.

The next Sunday, I attended the morning service and got my first dose of Tabernacle family.  Ladies from the church greeted me warmly following the service and invited me to attend Sunday School the following week.  When I returned the next week, early enough for Sunday School, I was steered by one of the ladies to the WWW class.  After class I found I had annoyed a member of the Ruth Class because she said she had asked me to her class first.  I was embarrassed, but my apology was accepted, and I felt welcomed by all.

When I heard about refugees coming to Richmond, being the nosy person I am, I attended a meeting to learn more this opportunity.  By then, I had brought my daughter, Alicia, and her family to visit Tabernacle, and we both wanted to help.  Alicia helped with transportation, job applications, school enrollment, lots of important things.  I got the fun part—making sure the younger children of one family had someone to meet them when they got home from school and stay with them until the older sisters came home from their school.  Meanwhile, the mother of the family was able to work.  We have been blessed to know this family and many others who have so much to teach us.

One of the things I love most about Tabernacle is its diversity–not only the people from other countries, but the long-time members who keep the golden days in the life of the church fresh in our minds, while constantly looking toward the future; the college students who worship with us while they learn and grow into their place in God’s plan; those who are served by the food pantry and clothes closet ministries and those who make those ministries possible; the young families with all the promise they hold for the future; the retirees, the musicians, the kitchen crew, the church staff, the strangers who wander in.  There is a place for everyone and everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and talents (everyone has some).

– Charlotte Wright


My prayer for Tabernacle: 

My hope is that we will retain our family atmosphere and that we continue to laugh and love each other as we make better use of our physical space and that we strengthen our spiritual space.  My prayer is for the leaders who will guide us in this journey, that God will grant them wisdom.

Embracing a God-Sized Vision: Laura Jones

Welcome Home

I’ve moved 20+ times in the past 25 years, so being settled here now gives me a sense of immense relief. All that successive putting down roots and pulling them up again has left me emotionally exhausted. Shredded. Fragmented. One of the most comforting things to me about Tabernacle is the acceptance I feel here. I am welcome just as I am, fragments and all. I’m not expected to have it all together or to fit a certain mold. Even our children are allowed to be themselves and to be present, not sequestered away in a separate part of the building but welcome in the mix, like a real family. Tabernacle feels authentic to me. I love the honesty, the focus on each person as someone of incomparable worth – the whole person with all their good, bad and broken bits.

Every place I’ve lived, God has brought me the most amazing, heart-level friendships with local women. Through these beautiful friends, I’ve been challenged to see things from different cultural viewpoints. I’ve realized that some of my beliefs about God reflected my own culture rather than scripture, and as a result I’ve learned that God is even bigger than I had given Him credit for being. One of my favorite things about Tabernacle is the desire to see God in bigger ways and the willingness to live with the tension and mystery of not having Him completely figured out.

I cherish the diversity at Tabernacle, and as the church family continues to reach out and expand, I hope that people from even more ethnic, color and language backgrounds will find their home among us. I would especially love to see genuine friendships develop across the cultures. Logistics make this more of a challenge in the U.S. than it is overseas. I’m still finding my feet here, struggling to find the time and energy needed to make meaningful connections, but I’ve experienced firsthand what a lifeline it can be so I’m motivated to work toward it. I look forward to getting to know people beyond the surface of “how-are-you?-fine” and discovering together how our unique experiences and perspectives will contribute to our collective understanding and expression of God’s amazing love for the world.


My Prayer for Tabernacle:

  • May Tabernacle continue to be a place of welcome, hope and healing for broken people, and may Jesus continue to be the center of everything we do, the source of all we are.
  •  May we lean together into the mystery of life, unafraid to wrestle with hard questions and okay with not having all the answers.
  •  May we find practical ways to truly connect with one another, developing soul-friendships across cultures.
  •  May Tabernacle become more and more a full reflection of God’s kingdom, a blended family of people from every culture and every background.


Epiphany 7 Worship 2014


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Content goes here “Welcome home!” These were Sterling’s first words to our family when we joined Tabernacle Baptist Church in February. Actually, I felt at home at Tabernacle as soon as our family started attending last September. This was a huge surprise to me. For 16 years we served in Kenya, Cyprus and England, countries where I had felt profoundly at home. I especially loved worshipping alongside people from multiple nationalities, and I had thought we were giving that up when we moved back to the States last year. Then we found Tabernacle! I’m so glad that God’s ways are higher than ours. I remember sitting at the church-wide picnic at the home of Ler Htoo and Lay Htoo, tears streaming down my face while listening to the gentle harmonies of worship songs in various Burmese languages. I didn’t yet know anyone, and I didn’t understand a word, but my heart basked in a fresh wave of God’s grace to me as I thought: “These Tabernacle people are my tribe.” I was raised in a cross-cultural American home: my mom is from Kentucky and my dad is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I loved visiting both sets of grandparents and early on came to appreciate the beauty of diversity. I grew up in a Salvation Army church in Michigan, graduated from a conservative Christian college in Kentucky and was baptized by a Methodist minister in New Jersey. I went to Bible College in Detroit, lived among the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of Nairobi and taught at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya. After meeting Matt in Kenya, we lived in the Fan early on in our marriage (two different apartments, each within three blocks of Tabernacle!) before serving with the International Mission Board in Cyprus and England. Now we live in Bon Air with our two children, Jack and Sophie, a fluffy cat called Luna and a chirpy cockatiel named Pearl. I’m an introvert who loves people. I cry easily but always because I feel deeply. I need strong tea, good books, spicy food and fresh air. I dream of peace and quiet. And seriously: I’m done moving.[/author_info] [/author]

Embracing A God-Sized Dream: Bya Wann


Even though sometimes we do not know exactly what God’s will is for us individually and as a group, we do know from our lived experiences as refugees that God is with us and showers us with uncountable blessings.  We came from northern Burma as refugees.  We also belong to Lisu tribe.  Lisu people are believed to have originated from the area of Mongolia, and by 400 BC, they were believed to have dispersed from that area.

One of the greatest blessings we have received from God is the Tabernacle Baptist Church.  Regardless of differences in culture and language. Tabernacle has embraced us as one of its own in Christ Jesus in the spirit of brotherhood.  Individuals and families at Tabernacle have extended their warm welcome which helps us experience God’s love and presence in the community.  Moreover, they are teaching us English at our homes, giving us bakery training every week, providing us with transportation to attend church services and also a great space to worship in our own language.  These are only just a few, but everything about Tabernacle tells God’s love and how much he cares for us.

We pray that Tabernacle will continue to be a light and salt in the world.

Bya Wann

TBC Family Photo - World Communion Sunday-  October 2013

Embracing A God-Sized Vision: Beth Reddish Wright

“What’s Next?”

In the first email correspondence I had with Sterling after my husband Art and I began visiting in 2007 I told Sterling I felt that Tabernacle was “uniquely warm congregation to walk into.” That was my immediate sense, and it has remained true for us to this day.

As young adults feeling a little bit lost in the post-college worlds of graduate school and  new careers, we were looking for a community in which we could feel rooted.  We were looking for a pastor who spoke to our concerns within the Church and the world, and one who challenged us to search more deeply.  We were also hoping to find some place to serve.  We found those things at Tabernacle Baptist.  At that time there was just a handful of young adults, mostly seminary students, and a wonderful community of people who were my parents ages and older.  Together, we found community, practiced service, and worshipped together as we looked for ways to be Church.

Not long after we arrived, a growing number of families who were refugees began filling our pews too.  At that time, our families from Burma had great needs.  I saw God at work in this transitional moment for them and for our congregation.  God turned our attention as a church away from concerns about church growth or finances or committee structure.  We knew simply that there was a community that needed family, and we moved immediately to welcome them.  It was not easy, but as we embraced new sisters and brothers in the faith, we found God making us whole.  It was in service to each other (not just those in our congregation, but those in our greater community) that I experienced God creating a new energy, a new vision, and a new people at Tabernacle.

Since then we have seen the church grow in so many ways. Besides the beautiful cultural diversity that we enjoy, we have grown to include thriving children and youth ministries and a large number of young adults who participate in all areas of  the church.    Young families are filling our sanctuary, while at the same time, we have also maintained and expanded a wonderful community of older adults who so deeply enrich the church through their commitment, insight, wisdom, and ability to nurture.  In my experience, church growth rarely happens in such an inclusive way.  So often, churches take a one dimensional approach to church growth aimed at bringing in a specific “type” of people.  I believe that we have grown in such a diverse manner because our growth was incidental to our vision, which was simply to serve God by serving each other.  While many of us came looking for a church home, we’ve learned that Church is not a building with four walls, but a family of people with whom we serve and worship.

As we move forward, my hope and challenge is that we continue our journey together looking outward.  I hope that as we see the beautiful things happening amongst us we will pause and pray the question: “What’s next?”  Where are there other communities that need support? Who else can we come along side and call family? Where is the Church needed most in our city?

In asking that question we may find our ministry focus turning right here to our Fan neighborhood.  Or we might find that, as an urban church, we need to be Church more wholly to the children and families who live in the most depressed of Richmond’s neighborhoods.  Perhaps we need to be Church better to those experiencing homelessness or depression or addiction.  I don’t know.  But, my hunch is that when we begin asking God together, “What’s next?” we will start to find the answers.

                                                                                                                                                                – Beth Wright

Let us Pray

  •  For wisdom as we discern “what’s next?” in serving each other and our city.
  •  For our leaders—the church staff, deacons, administrative board, and team leaders—that we will grow a common vision as we move forward.
  •  For our children and youth ministries and the volunteers who have stepped up to lead and disciple our young people.
  •  That, as we grow, we will maintain that welcoming and warm sense of family in our congregation.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://tbcrichmond.org/tbc/?attachment_id=3177 Ge[/author_image] [author_info]Beth Reddish Wright is the Director of Camp Alkulana, a year round ministry of the Richmond Baptist Association with a targeted summer ministry to inner city children. The camp has been in continuous operation since it began in 1915. The kerosene lanterns, which shone from the windows of the first cottage, appeared as bright eyes shining through the forest. Thus, the Indian word, “Alkulana,” meaning “bright eyes” became the official camp name. Camp Alkulana is located in Millboro Springs, Va, deep in the Alleghenies. The proximity of the camp to the George Washington National Forest provides it with boundless space and endless program resources. Some of the activities offered during the summer are hiking, cave exploring, camping out, cooking out, rock climbing, rappelling, ropes course, swimming, crafts, Bible study and worship. Though the camp is in Millboro Springs, we consider our ministry in Richmond because we serve the children and youth of Central Virginia. Throughout the year in Alkulana offers ongoing supports in Richmond to its campers through large group gatherings, a mentoring program for older campers, and a targeted leadership program for its junior counselors.[/author_info] [/author]

A God-Sized Vision: Kate Ayers

From the first moment I walked into Tabernacle I knew it was a special place. I knew that this place was much more than a beautiful historical building. It is the people in this place that made it so special. You could tell the people were intentional about being in this space together. The people were genuine in their desire to know you. The people had so much love to give, and were determined NOT to focus it all in on themselves. It’s through the people at Tabernacle that I see God’s work at hand.

As I look around the sanctuary, I am amazed at the diversity that I see. I see diversity not just in culture, but also profession, faith background, and spiritual gifts. The extraordinary talents that are represented by our  congregation astound me each week. I am constantly asking myself how could God bring such an amazing group of people together and not expect big things?

While I sing Tabernacle’s praises to anyone and everyone who will listen, I am fully aware that it is NOT an easy place to worship. Every time I walk in the door I am challenged. I am challenged to get out of my comfort zone. I am challenged to love those who may be difficult to love. I am challenged by the diversity of people that I see sitting in the pew next to me. I see God’s work in bringing so many people together who are not scared away by these challenges.

I am excited about what the future will bring at Tabernacle. I believe that the journey has only begun and that people will continue to arrive at our doorstep to carry out our plans to continue to be a light in the world.

   – Kate Ayers


My Prayer for Tabernacle: 

  •  I pray for the integration of our congregation so that when I look out into the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, the American born and the Burmese born are sitting side by side.
  •  I pray for the Youth of Tabernacle. I pray for more people who want to be a mentor to our youth.
  •  I pray for the leadership of Tabernacle. As a teaching church, the leadership changes. I pray for smooth transitions as leaders move in and out of our midst.




[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://reestablishrichmond.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/kate-pic-e1375988102916.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Kate Ayers, Outreach Coordinator,  joined ReEstablish Richmond in 2013. She began working with the refugee population after she participated in the ”Just Faith” program, a semester long class on social justice issues around the world. She spent the last 11 years working as a special education teacher and department chair in Hanover County.  Kate is a graduate of the University of Virginia and holds a Masters Degree in Teaching. Years of mentoring youth and adults made her aware of the many issues that refugees face on a daily basis, which motivated her to pursue ReEstablish Richmond. Kate lives in Richmond with her husband, Chris, and 2 young daughters, Maya and Clara. Visit www.reestablishrichmond.org for more information. [/author_info] [/author]

A Word of Encouragement and Challenge from Doug Coppage

Doug CoppageEmbracing a God-Sized Vision

I started to see God at work in Tabernacle Church when my family arrived in Richmond  in 2004 after two years of missions among the Deaf in Hungary. All logic said that we should go to another church with a large children’s ministry, a Deaf congregation, and hundreds and hundreds in attendance every Sunday. Instead, he called us to Tabernacle, where there was a huge building, a couple hundred people, lots of memories, and a few bright hopes.

I distinctly remember an evening meeting when Sterling stood in front of the group and explained how the church was beginning to do all kinds of new, unexpected things. He said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but God knows.” This exactly reflected my experience in Hungary: I didn’t exactly know what I was doing, but God knew. Sterling credits us with awakening the church’s sense of mission—meaning going and doing, not just giving money. If we were instruments in that way, then I am grateful; it was not intentional. Tabernacle revived my hope that the church could be more than a religious club. I was looking for dynamic discipleship, movement,

We were touched when Tabernacle embraced our return to Hungary in 2005. The church sent a missions team to us in 2010, and that seemed a natural consequence. In recent years, though, God has brought the world to Tabernacle with the arrival of many brothers and sisters from Burma. I hope that this causes everyone to grow, because, while America offers great political and economic freedom to those from other countries, Americans need to learn that money and power offer few spiritual advantages.

It is my hope that Tabernacle grows in ministry to the poor. Not just to apply band-aids to make them feel better (and to make us feel better at being such good people), but to bring hope in the Gospel of Jesus, and support in the strength of Jesus, and eternal life in the sacrificial love of Jesus to those who lose out in a winner-worshiping world. And I hope that the church can speak to those (including ourselves) who might feel superior because of our relative success—and who are not aware of their complicity in a system that often neglects those who cannot fend for themselves.

The body of Jesus Christ in America suffers from an extreme case of hyper-politicism. Everything seems to be relegated to labeling someone conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, capitalist or socialist, etc. This is a symptom of a worse problem: oversimplification. If the solutions were as easy as the political mouths say they are, then why aren’t they so simply fixed? The reason is that one or two (or ten) simple steps will not do. The world suffers from many problems, and shouting louder will not bring us any closer to blessing others. If each of us shut our mouths, got in touch with God (the One True God, not the one someone invented for us), and resolved to follow him in his continuing work of redeeming the world, then the name of Jesus would not be so scorned among non-believers.

  • May God the holy Spirit bless you with a message and a mission to the world that transcends nationality, politics, language, and economics.
  • May God lead you into all truth, so that you do not fall for political propaganda or religious “trends” or economic principles that would distract you from the Gospel.
  • May God bless you with the courage, the unity, and the resolve to take concrete steps to be a blessing to others in the life and ministry that Jesus gives you.

I live far away. I am not aware of the daily situation there. But I know that you all work beside us with your prayers, and you help out with money, and you give us words of encouragement. I am glad to return those favors in this way. May God visit you and empower you to do the work of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus taught us to pray: Your will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.


Grace and peace to you and yours,

Doug Coppage

[author imageurl=”http://www.coppages.org”]