By David Dawson
MEMPHIS — Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created a large number of obstacles for Vacation Bible School leaders, the upside has been that this summer’s unusual circumstances have enabled many churches to connect with children that they might not have otherwise been able to reach.
At Union Avenue Baptist Church, Memphis, this year’s VBS is not only engaging with children from the community, but with kids from around the country.
Like many churches in Tennessee, Union Avenue elected not to host its traditional on-campus VBS this summer, but the church leaders and the church body were determined to do something to make an impact for the Lord. This led to some creative thinking, which, in turn, led the church to find a fresh and exciting way to expand its ministry.
It started with the idea of hosting “Virtual Bible School” — and then grew into something even larger from there.
“We looked at how we could best reach out and share Jesus,” said Brock Wherry, families director at Union Avenue. “We decided to do a ‘tool box’ for each child to have at home.”
The VBS team then made the decision to ship the boxes directly to the home of each child. But rather than just limiting their reach to the Memphis area, the church opened up the ministry to anyone who was interested.
“VBS is such a huge outreach ministry that we didn’t want to limit what God can do,” said Wherry. “So we left it open to anyone, anywhere.”
In addition to the boxes being shipped to various places in Tennessee, children are also receiving the packages in Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Illinois, Arizona, Ohio, Massachusetts and Washington.
“We went in front of our congregation and asked them to sponsor a box (just) like they have sponsored children to go to camp in past summers,” said Wherry. “We have been blessed to receive over 200 requests for a ‘tool box’ from all over the USA.”
Vicki Hulsey, childhood specialist at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said Union Avenue’s unwavering determination to have VBS — even though it looked quite differently from years past — was an attitude that was adopted by a large number of churches across the state.
“It has been so exciting to see leaders willing to step out of their comfort zones,” said Hulsey, “And they’ve done so because they were not willing to let a summer go by without giving children opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel.”
Hulsey said she has been especially excited to see churches, like Union Avenue, that have used this summer’s challenges as a means of exploring new ways to make VBS effective. “Virtual VBS is a huge undertaking in itself,” she said, “and to see churches embrace this as a missions opportunity has been incredible.”
Wherry said he hopes the effectiveness of VBS at Union Avenue will be an encouragement to other churches to try new things.
“God (is doing) amazing things through Virtual Bible School,” he said, “and kids will hear about Jesus all over the world this summer.”
Hulsey said she and the other VBS leaders at the TBMB have had to get creative, time and time again, this summer while trying to help churches navigate through the uncharted waters of the pandemic.
“Our state VBS Team first began to encounter obstacles early in the year as we prepared for training,” she said.
Hulsey said the list of challenges and obstacles was lengthy. But she said her team, along with VBS teams from across the state, viewed these problems as opportunities.
“With Concrete and Cranes being the theme this year, we began to use the word ‘boulders’ to identify these new obstacles we encountered. Each time someone on our team encountered a boulder, we stopped to ‘Celebrate the Boulders’ because it became clear to us that God was up to something big — otherwise, satan wouldn’t be working so hard to stop it.”
Hulsey said the stories that are emerging from this summer’s VBS are a testament to how God can use even the most trying of circumstances to reveal His glory.
“I often pray, asking God to do ‘immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine,’ said Hulsey, referring to Ephesians 3:20. “VBS 2020 is truly an example of Him answering those prayers.” B&R