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 | By Donna Friedman

Other ‘Schools’ Bring Our Beautifully Diverse Community Together

At our newly formed Parish Pastoral Council meeting at Divine Redeemer Church, our pastor asked us to think about how we could meet the needs outlined in a recent parish survey. Father Raynier Dabu, CRM, wanted us to truly think and pray about serving our very diverse parishioners of all ages as well as our community.

I had been praying for ways to bring our English and Spanish parishioners together, then one day when I was reading Matthew 18, I found the answer, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That was my “aha” moment, when it seemed so clear that a children’s program like Vacation Bible School (VBS) could be the answer to my prayer.

But bringing our diverse parish together is just one part of this great program. Another aspect is that VBS fosters community awareness. It is an easy way to get kids involved in church while giving them the opportunity to meet other kids from the parish they might never see. Children can create new friends who share their beliefs and learn life lessons on how to be good Christians.

The messages and Bible lessons are directed to the kids, yet I have seen firsthand how God uses those messages for adult and teen volunteers. I can’t tell you how many times a volunteer would come up to me and say that God was speaking to them through our VBS. It’s amazing to sit back and watch God work in everyone's lives.

I think one of the highlights of VBS was watching and listening to the kids sing praises to God. Some kids are shy and not singing much on that first day, but as the week progresses they open up more, sing louder and even want to run up front to sing on the stage. It brought tears to my eyes to listen to their sweet voices praise God. 

The program we used in 2023 was called “Rocky Railway” and was lent to us by St. John the Beloved Church in Summerville. It had an outdoor theme with powerful railroad points that remind us that God’s power will pull us through, help us do hard things and remember that he loves us unconditionally. 

Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Divine Redeemer Church in Hanahan will be June 17-21 this year, with a “stellar” theme as they explore space and faith!

God’s Word was experienced with memorable Bible points that were reinforced throughout each of the five railway stations the kids rotated through daily. There were Bible “memory buddies” like Lawrence Elk and Ramsey the Mountain Ram, and the lessons at each station worked together to make this a powerful educational tool. For example, the Bible point on the first day was that Jesus’ power helps us do hard things using the verse, “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phil 4:13). Then, our Bible story was of Ananias helping Saul (Acts 9:1-19).

Another exciting experience was our Kids-to-Kids Program. The VBS attendees did a few extra chores at home during the week to earn money that was used to purchase flip-flops for children in the Philippines. We learned about the Philippines and its culture as the week progressed to help our kids understand that we are all God’s children, no matter where we live. The kids had raised enough money to ship 55 pairs of flip-flops by the end of the VBS week. To our surprise, one parent matched the children’s efforts, and we were able to ship 110 pairs of flip-flops to orphanages in the Philippines — the shipment arrived in Sorsogon City at the beginning of October — and the children were overjoyed that they made a difference.

We have the Great Commission to share the Gospel all over the world, but we also must talk about the Good News of Jesus Christ in our towns, homes and ballparks! Vacation Bible School gives us an amazing venue for reaching and making disciples of the kids in our community. VBS helped us experience the joy of obeying Jesus’ call to mission.

There are many resources available to find the program that’s right for your parish. We used Group Publishing’s website, and we reached out to neighboring churches for ideas and resources. If you are thinking and praying about hosting your own VBS, it’s best to get started early. We began in February for a June event, but it’s not too late to gather your team of volunteers and plan your summer event. Many of these are held at the beginning of the summer, and then wane as August comes around.

God is good, and these memories last a lifetime. I guarantee you will hold them in your heart forever.

Donna Maria Friedman moved to South Carolina from Maryland in 2019. She and husband Scott live with their son and daughter-in-law and their six grandchildren in Hanahan.