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India church hosts 700 kids for VBS despite upheaval

Around 700 children and 200 volunteers participated in Lifeway's "Destination Dig" VBS last June at TMG Bible Church* in Manipur, India. Leaders said Lifeway’s VBS provided a message of stability in Christ during a time when children and adults were facing a political crisis marked by violence and an uncertain future. | Lifeway photo

MANIPUR, India (BP) – Pulling off Vacation Bible School (VBS) for 700 children is a daunting challenge for most churches. Pulling off VBS for 700 children during community upheaval is not just challenging, it is practically impossible.

But Anna Yumnam* and her team from TMG Bible Church* in Manipur, a state in northeast India, managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible in June 2023.

This was Yumnam’s first year as the church’s children’s ministry director. She expected hurdles of course, but perhaps not trials of this intensity.

Just one month before the VBS, community conflicts had begun to erupt between two ethnic groups in the state of Manipur. While the situation was fairly contained in early June, people in the area were on edge. The government suspended the internet in the entire state, leaving everyone in a communications dark hole. Colleges and schools in the state capital were closed. In some regions, neighbors began turning against each other.

In the town where TMG Bible Church is located, the situation remained relatively peaceful, but not having access to the internet was a huge obstacle for the team organizing the VBS.

“We had requested Lifeway India for copies of the ‘Destination Dig’ VBS material. But because of the internet ban in the state, it was very difficult to get access to it,” Yumnam recalled.

This was the church’s fourth year running the Lifeway VBS program. They said they didn’t want the year to pass without the children learning solid biblical truths through VBS.

With the help of contacts at government offices – where internet connections were still functional – the organizing team was able to download the syllabus and teaching material just in time. But the challenges didn’t end there.

With 200 volunteers and 50 teachers across three church campuses, communicating without internet access proved an uphill task. But the organizers took a traditional route and began making phone calls so the entire team could be on the same page.

Next came the printing of VBS-themed T-shirts. Again, they encountered roadblocks – literally. Stores had pulled down their shutters for fear of impending violence. Normally volunteers only had to travel a mile or two to print T-shirts, now they needed to go to the neighboring state of Nagaland for the same task.

The only aspect of VBS that seemed to go according to schedule was the music. “We were able to download the music from the ‘Destination Dig’ VBS early, before the internet ban,” Yumnam said. A team of 40 musicians, singers and choreographers spent a month preparing before VBS began.

Despite the detours, Yumnam believes God used the curriculum, the stories, the music and the games to bless not only the 700 children but the 200 volunteers as well.

As it happened, many volunteers were college students home for the summer. Because of the political crisis, these students couldn’t return to their campuses. “Many college-going students helped with music, games, refreshments and getting things that were needed. Volunteering at VBS definitely helped get them out of the cycle of depression they found themselves in,” Yumnam said.

The efforts of the team paid off. For one week, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 700 children across three church campuses braved monsoons to unearth the truth about Jesus at “Destination Dig.”

In the months that followed, the tensions in Manipur escalated. By mid-August 2023, an estimated 160 people had been killed, mostly from the primarily Christian Kuki ethnic community. Thousands had been displaced. More than 200 churches had been burned.

Yet, during this chaos, leaders said there was hope in knowing that 700 young hearts had already been grounded in truth thanks to what they learned at “Destination Dig” VBS.

Lifeway continues to serve churches worldwide through VBS. This year, a collaborative team from the Global Innovation Office, Lifeway India and the Lifeway Kids team is working together to release a Global VBS along with VBS in the U.S.

A. Thomas, director of the Global Innovation Office, expressed his enthusiasm about the upcoming project. “We are so excited that the ‘Breaker Rock Beach’ VBS will be released this year,” he said. “This is not a pared-down VBS. It is a VBS contextualized for global markets. We are thrilled to see VBS reach even more people across various nations.”

For those involved, the VBS at TMG Bible Church demonstrated that the impact of VBS on a community can never truly be grasped. In their challenging situation, the students, teachers and volunteers said they discovered they could stand firm on the solid truths uncovered during “Destination Dig.” The Lifeway Global team said they can’t wait to see how “Breaker Rock Beach” VBS will impact children across the world in the years ahead.

For more information about Lifeway VBS, visit Lifeway.com/VBS.

*Names changed for security purposes.

Susan Narjala is a freelance writer.

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  • Susan Narjala