NASHVILLE (BP) — When Zoraida Godoy attended a Vacation Bible School (VBS) at a Southern Baptist church in her community of Sabana Basora, Aruba, in 2013, she got emotional.
“Some of our children went to another local church for VBS and we saw the concept for the first time,” she said. “Watching the children dance, sing and express the biblical truths they learned just moved me. And I thought: Why couldn’t we do this at our church?”
The next year she attended a VBS preview event so she could launch the first-ever VBS week at her church. Since 2014 Iglesia Bon Nobo — the 50-member church where she serves as VBS director — has hosted VBS every other year.
“It takes a lot of volunteers and not everyone is available every year,” she said. But this year, eight people from Iglesia Bon Nobo, including Godoy, traveled to the final stop of the 2020 VBS preview tour at First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, Tenn., on Jan. 30-31.
More than 4,000 VBS directors, volunteers and church leaders from nearly every state have attended a VBS preview event so far this year. A few even traveled from outside the continental U.S., including places like Nicaragua, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
LifeWay Mexico will host their preview event Feb. 8 in Mexico City. Around 1,000 pastors and church leaders are expected to attend.
Building a foundation for churches and communities
Throughout January, participants gathered for the two-day conferences in Ridgecrest, N.C., Houston and Fort Worth to interact with “Concrete & Cranes” resources and decorations, get stage set-up ideas, network with other church leaders to exchange ideas and attend equipping breakout sessions.
Breakout session topics included: curriculum overviews for each age group’s Bible studies and rotation, music and motions tutorials for the “Concrete & Cranes” music, sharing the Gospel with kids, making VBS a safe place for children, enlisting volunteers, VBS participants with special needs and an interactive crafts overview.
Preview participants also got a sneak peek at “Concrete & Cranes”-themed games, crafts and decorations in an interactive creative zone. Additionally, they had access to an onsite LifeWay store that carried all 2020 VBS resources.
In addition to the thousands who attended the preview events, 564 Southern Baptist state association leaders attended VBS Institutes at Ridgecrest Conference Center in N.C. and Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugarland, Texas.
LifeWay VBS Ministry Specialist Melita Thomas says those trained at the institutes will multiply to around 40,000 reached once those associational leaders train people in their regions.
During the first main session of the Hendersonville VBS preview event, Thomas walked through the daily foundations for the “Concrete & Cranes” theme for the year: love, forgiveness, worth, promise and life.
“There will be kids who come to VBS who will need to hear that Jesus thinks they’re worth dying for,” she said.
“They’re growing up in a world that says their value is determined by what they can do or what they can offer to people. Our aim is to teach kids where their true value lies — in Christ.”
‘Special Friends’ training returns
After a several-years-long hiatus, “Special Friends” training made a comeback. “Special Friends” is an adaptation to VBS resourcing that empowers leaders to more effectively serve children, students and adults with special needs.
Lisa Sessions, a 21-year special education veteran in a Dallas-area public school system, led the breakout sessions for “Special Friends.” She’s a pastor’s wife and children’s ministry leader at Shiloh Church in Garland, Texas.
“I take the same resources and tools I use to train teachers and principals on the different things they need to know about serving special needs children and implement it on the church level,” she said.
Sessions said training VBS directors and volunteers to accommodate people with special needs has a far-reaching impact — one that extends beyond VBS week and outside the church walls.
“Once a family knows there’s a safe place for their child to go and learn about Jesus, not only are they going to bring them back, but they’ll also share with their special needs community that the local church is a place for their family,” Sessions said.
“Having those avenues for families with special needs children or adults is critical to reaching communities with the Gospel.”
Likewise, Godoy’s team that came to Hendersonville from Aruba want to reach their community with the Gospel — and grow as a church in the process.
“The people at Iglesia Bon Nobo are enthusiastic,” she said.
“They give everything they can to help us. This is truly a church-wide effort, since there are only around 50 of us and it takes everyone. The people in the church grow closer to one another every time we host VBS.”
But just because Iglesia Bon Nobo is a small congregation doesn’t mean they can’t have a big impact on their community, added Godoy.
“We’re praying for 100 kids this summer. That’s more than we’ve ever had. We’re not a big church, but that’s our aim.”