April 27, 2016
LEAGUE CITY, TEXAS: Ice cream bars and hundreds of sticky fingers. Matching t-shirts and big smiles. Unforgettable music and silly hand motions. Bible stories and elaborate decorations. Crazy games and an army of committed, patient, costume-wearing leaders. Construction paper, popsicle sticks, and glitter galore! For many churches in America, summer consistently means a big, crazy, wonderful, all-consuming week of Vacation Bible School.
Church leaders and volunteers prepare for months in advance for a week they hope will be life-changing for children and their families. They prayerfully consider the truths they want little minds and hearts to take home at the end of five, fun-filled days. They consider impact. As they plan for all the sticky, silly, sing-a-long details, their hopes and desires are big and eternal. At least, that’s what could be said of the team of volunteers and staff at Bay Area First Baptist Church in League City, Texas as they carefully hammered out the details of VBS 2015 last spring.
Hundreds of children gather at a VBS opening assembly at BAFBC. (Photo: BAFBC Staff)
Fast forward to June, and the months of preparation have culminated in 755 children and 209 volunteers singing songs about a “Journey Off the Map” and making their way through the jungle foliage in the foyer on their way to craft time, Bible stories, or water games. But as they duck under foam board branches and construction paper vines, a few surprising words are noticeably buzzing: “Lebanon.” “Refugee kids.” “Offering.” The week’s fun and excitement included a goal related to another group of kids far away, a group of kids hanging out at a Child Friendly Space in Lebanon who had experienced tragedies of a war that most of these American kids were oblivious to. But last June, they were learning a little bit. They were beginning to understand more about real kids with real needs on the other side of the world, and also that there was a real, tangible way they could help them.
BAFBC Kids Minister Cherie Niscavits shared, “When we cast the vision to families that others are in need when we have plenty, their hearts were stirred to give.” The children who participated in VBS that week “were anxious to share what they had,” she explained. And the challenge to come together and give an offering that would impact other children far away provided parents with opportunities for valuable conversations at home.
How does a six year old or an eleven year old in suburban America process the realities faced by kids their age who have fled the war in Syria? As they were given age-appropriate details about the suffering experienced by refugee children, they were shocked. But they also got to see pictures of the kids they were bringing their pennies and wrinkled dollar bills to help, and they saw big smiles. They connected emotionally with kids they’d never met, and their hearts responded with extravagant, sacrificial generosity. Allowances were brought and put in the bucket. Piggy banks were broken. And parents and grandparents sent their contributions, too.
Syrian refugee children find reasons to smile despite the difficulties of their lives in Lebanon. (Photo: John Bowen)
Cherie and other church leaders and volunteers knew that the impact of this offering would not only benefit the refugee kids at the Child Friendly Space in Lebanon. The young givers, the suburban American kids gaining God’s big heart for the world and the many, diverse people in it, would be deeply impacted by the opportunity to give. “Hopefully, their minds, attitudes and hearts were changed to have compassion for others, no matter their people group or religion,” Cherie shared. “Jesus set the perfect example for us!”
Bay Area First Baptist Church has been leading its children to see and imitate God’s heart for people, and to meet real, tangible needs, for many summers of Vacation Bible Schools. They’ve raised money to buy bunk beds for an orphanage in India, and given toward the purchase of shoes and socks for African children who’ve lost parents to AIDS. “That’s the Body of Christ in action,” Cherie explained with enthusiasm. And with characteristic passion for the church’s youngest members and confidence in their ability to participate in God-sized things, she emphasized, “our children should be part of it.”
Syrian children engage happily in a silly game at a Child Friendly Space. (Photo: LSESD Staff)
Would you like to empower the children at your church to show love to refugee children through a Vacation Bible School or other program? Contact us to find out more about specific needs and compelling opportunities to give that kids can understand and respond to this summer. We’d love to partner with you to help your children’s ministry influence kids to gain God’s global heart, and to make something as wonderful as VBS even more beautifully impactful than ever!