“I’m so sad that it’s over!” said one young participant after a week of high-energy Vacation Bible School (VBS) activities at First Mennonite Church in Kitchener last month.
That is just what the eight-member intercultural planning committee wanted to hear after its first joint venture of leading VBS for children aged 2 to 11 each morning from Aug. 12 to 16.
First Hmong Mennonite and First Mennonite, both located in Kitchener, have a special 40-year relationship, but this was the first time they teamed up to offer VBS. Seventy-eight children attended, three-quarters of whom were from First Hmong.
The result, according to the planners, was “beyond expectations,” a fitting sentiment since the theme of the week was “To Mars and beyond,” a mission of learning to do “far more than we can ask or imagine” through God’s power “at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Each lesson focused on one way to live out God’s call, using biblical stories to illustrate five attributes over the five days: faith, boldness, thankfulness, kindness and hope.
At the final assembly, children danced and sang along to music videos projected on the screen. “We are on a mission. . . . We will learn to trust God’s power at work in us.” When it was over, many of them clambered for the props, posters and other mementos to take home, along with their arts and crafts projects.
Tina Heu, planning committee chair, provided breakfast for all the volunteers each morning, and led a devotional to help the team focus on the theme for the day. This became an important time for friendship, fellowship and encouragement.
For the First Hmong congregation, VBS is a big deal their children look forward to every year. But it struggles to find enough space in the building it has owned since 1996. Prior to that, the Hmong Christians worshipped on Sunday afternoons at First Mennonite, one of the sponsoring churches, when they arrived in Kitchener 40 years ago.
With fewer young children, First Mennonite hasn’t hosted VBS for years but has the space to do it.
With the well-developed plans and experience of the First Hmong leaders, volunteers from First Mennonite were happy to provide the facility and “come alongside the plans already in place,” according to René Baergen, lead pastor of First Mennonite. The joint VBS venture came about after conversations this spring between pastors Chung Vang and Baergen about ways their congregations might deepen their relationship.
The VBS experience was a “wonderful week of making new friends and discovering old connections . . . learning that we are not so different after all,” said Baergen.
Gao Hlee Vang, one of the planners, said that VBS is an important way to draw in First Hmong teens and young adults who may not always attend church anymore, but she was also encouraged by some of the retirees from First Mennonite who helped out. She enjoyed how all the generations worked together.
Griselda Bevenborn of First Mennonite was inspired by the leaders from First Hmong, who gave so generously of their time and their gifts out of a genuine love of Christ and a love of children, even when their lives are busy.
A common refrain was, “We can’t wait until next year!”
'Won't you be my neighbour?'
Children make planets at the VBS craft station, on the theme of ‘To Mars and beyond.’ (Photo by Barb Burkhard)