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Congregation's financial support saves VBS series

   

Mennonite Church Canada/MCUSA/ Mennonite Publishing Network joint release
March 12, 2003
-by Cynthia Linscheid with Laurie Oswald

SCOTTDALE, Pa. (MPN) – Even when it seemed impossible to keep Mennonite Publishing Network’s vacation Bible school series alive because of budget constraints, congregations have shown their children how faith in God’s purposes can work miracles.

After MPN (formerly Mennonite Publishing House) circulated news of cutting The Bible Then & Now series early in 2002 because of budget concerns, Mennonite congregations donated more than $30,000 to keep the series alive. Because of this generosity, the series is flourishing, despite the fact that MPN has endured other staff and project cuts.

The congregations’ faith in God’s purposes is exemplified in the theme of this year’s unit – God’s Nomads: Stars & Promises, said Levi Miller, MPN’s editorial director. The theme focuses on waiting for and trusting in God, even when things seem impossible. The unit uses activities to help children connect with the daily lives and faith of Abraham and Sarah.

“Psalm 27:14 – Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord – pinpoints God’s call to remain faithful no matter what happens,” Miller said. “In a time of great uncertainty, my prayer is that God’s Nomads: Stars & Promises will serve as a sure reminder of God’s constant presence for many children and adults this summer.”

Ron Blough and members of Beech Mennonite Church and Stoner Heights Mennonite Church in Louisville, Ohio said the series strong Anabaptist focus and biblical substance make it stand out from other curriculums.. They plan a joint VBS week each year and have been impressed with the curriculum’s content.

“We have been using Then & Now materials since they were first available and we appreciate them very much,” Blough said. “In our opinion, they are consistently the best resources on the market. The units are relevant, inspirational, and adaptable.”

The series originally grew out of a need for hands-on experiential VBS that was also firmly Bible centred. Mennonite churches asked MPH for materials with greater substance than other curriculums on the market, written from an Anabaptist Mennonite understanding of the gospel. They also wanted materials that could be used effectively in church outreach and which were adaptable to many settings.

Elsie Rempel, director of Christian Education and Nurture for Mennonite Church Canada Formation, believes the curriculum fosters biblical literacy by capturing learners’ imaginations.

“Then & Now activities and the Travel Journal bring children into Bible times and really connect the ‘then’ to the ‘now,’” Rempel said. “This year’s unit offers an enjoyable, creative plunge into the lifestyle of ancient Nomads. The tent building idea made me wonder how a church might be transformed into a desert scene of tents, sand dunes, and the occasional Oasis!”

Doug Amstutz, pastor of Grace Mennonite Church in St. Catharine’s, Ont., highlights the interactive nature of the materials, with a flexible structure that spreads leadership responsibilities over a larger group of adults.

“Then & Now activities give children hands-on experience with the daily Biblical lesson, while adult helpers prepare only once and then teach again and again,” Amstutz said. “From a coordinator's point of view, it’s easier to get volunteers once they understand that they are not responsible for a group all morning long for five days. I get excited and enthusiastic when I see how much the children and adults enjoy this way of learning.”

Amstutz said that the first time his congregation used this VBS, attendance for grades seven and eight rose as the week went on.

“Some adults who reluctantly participated were aglow with positive comments by week’s end,” he said. “And one child asked if we were going to have a second week! It's comments like these that inspire one to continue hosting VBS. It's a great way to do mission in the neighborhood.”

Then & Now materials are designed to foster a “community of learners.” Each day begins with a worship time, when children and adults experience a Bible drama and sing together. Next, students and leaders move to smaller groups to share a snack and respond to the Bible content.

Two activity periods follow. Groups participate in activities focused on building understanding of Bible times and making connections to contemporary situations and needs, including mission and service opportunities. By week’s end, children have rotated to 10 different activity sessions, each led by a different adult.

Five of the six Bible Then & Now units planned have now been published: Exodus: The Great Escape; Jesus: The Upside-Down Mission; The Bible: Digging for Treasure; Paul: Shipwreck & Dreams; and the current year’s unit, God’s Nomads: Stars & Promises. The series will conclude in 2004 with Jesus Christ: Mission Accomplished.

God’s Nomads: Stars & Promises includes activities such as building a tent shelter, learning cuneiform writing, practicing Old Testament-style hospitality as children host a feast for “strangers” and planning a party to celebrate the birth of Isaac. Ordering information has been sent to congregations through Equipping Canada.

Photo: Alex Shepherd works with yarn on a spindle during last summer’s VBS sessions at College Mennonite in Goshen, IN.

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Contact: Cynthia Linscheid (316) 283-5100, E-mail: cynthial@mph.org