CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When Hilldale Baptist Church started planning for Vacation Bible School this year, Tim Munoz wanted to find some way their students could reach out to children in need. And when VBS week seemed headed toward leaving the kids short of their goal, Munoz was worried. Then the Lord did something totally unexpected.
“I had been researching how I can have children relating directly to children in a Vacation Bible School missions project,” said Munoz, who has been children’s minister at the Clarksville, Tenn., church for more than three years. “I wanted a project where our children could minister to other children. I wanted something that would directly affect children.”
Munoz and the VBS leadership team eventually decided on a project with Baptist Global Response that would improve children’s lives in a desperately poor area of Colombia by helping parents start their own egg-production microbusinesses. Southern Baptist missionaries Stan and Debra Owens-Hughes designed the project to help a dozen pastors shift from time-consuming farming activities to livelihoods that would provide better nutrition and finances for their families — and give the pastors more time for ministry activities.
The project called for building chicken coops and stocking them with laying hens, at a cost of about $517 per family. The pastors would be trained to care for the poultry, with some of the eggs produced used by the family and the rest sold in the community to provide income. The new business would allow the pastors to spend less time with their town’s traditional ways of making a living: fishing and raising yucca.
Munoz and the VBS team thought the children would readily understand the need to help hungry children and the cost per family broke the project down into goals the kids could achieve. At $6,200, covering the cost of the entire project wasn’t impossible either.
“Last year, our Vacation Bible School raised more than $4,300 to help missions volunteers from Hilldale go out from Clarksville to the world,” Munoz said. “This was a goal I knew we could come real close to meeting all the way. We set our basic goal at $4500, then added a ‘Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!’ goal of $6,200 that would do the entire project of 12 pastors. Not only are we spreading chicken, like good Southern Baptists, but we’re also spreading the Word!”
Ramona Ambrose, who directed the first- through sixth-grade division of the VBS, said the project appealed to them because it had a tangible goal and obviously made a big difference in people’s lives.
“We liked the idea of giving them something they know they are shooting for, instead of just saying we are collecting this money. We felt it helped them feel more a part of what we were doing,” Ambrose said. “I liked the idea that it gave these pastors the ability to help the village people, teaching them to help themselves by raising the chickens and helping their family and giving them income, versus maybe helping one or two people. This was a ‘pay it forward’ kind of thing.”
Each day of the VBS, the children watched a video or saw pictures of the people they would be helping and heard a little bit more about the project. They set up a boys vs. girls challenge and added some incentive with the promise that, depending on which team won, one of the VBS leaders would get a pie in the face.
The very first day, the children brought in $100.21. On Wednesday, the total reached $1,159.45 and on Thursday the offering reached $1,818. Friday — the last day of VBS — was coming and they were almost $4,400 short of their goal.
Munoz was concerned how the children would react to not reaching even their basic goal.
“I told the group of leaders on Wednesday night, ‘I don’t think we’re going to meet our goal,'” Munoz said. “I know the economy’s bad. I know these families are hit hard. So I want to be able to let our children down easy but also let them know, ‘You made a difference. You fought hard and you fought a good fight. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.’
“Then, Friday morning, we have our worship time and at the end we take up our offering. And those children are coming up with big smiles. They are excited,” Munoz said. “We’re supposed to give cheerfully — hilariously — and that’s exactly what our children did. We went from $1,818 to $6,262.68. We made it!”
As promised, Munoz took a pie in the face from both the children’s and preschool VBS directors. On Sunday, he kept another promise he had made and spent the entire afternoon perched on a dunking tank while children streamed through for a chance to drop him in the water.
“Our kids were excited to know that we made that goal. I think it’s awesome to know that in a time of economic crisis, our children are willing to go that extra mile,” Munoz said. “I had parents who told me these children had been saving money and broke open their piggy banks and poured everything out. I had several dads who said, ‘The ashtray in my car is as clean as could be. They found every nickel and dime and quarter they could.'”
With their city struggling with a full-on recession and families from nearby Fort Campbell facing the added challenge of overseas deployments, Hilldale also is reaching out to meet local needs too, Munoz added.
“Here in Montgomery County, we have tent cities beginning to pop up. We have families living in their cars. We’re realizing how many children in our state are needing to be adopted or children in our country or in our world who are needing things,” Munoz said. “We’re growing a community garden to raise money to help feed these families. We have a fuel ministry going in Clarksville/Montgomery County. We’re raising money and getting food to help feed children who don’t eat from Friday afternoon until Monday morning.”
Children need to see themselves as being able to help others for God’s sake, Munoz said.
“It’s not about us; it’s about Him. Well, if it’s about Him, it’s about us reaching out to them -– and our children can do that. It’s time we quit telling them they’re too young to do things,” Munoz said. “Children can do mission projects and I can prove that with 532 kids who gave $6,262. Southern Baptists are giving now about 50 cents a person when it comes to world hunger. Do the math on this one and it’s around $10 a person.”
An experience like this can help children understand that missions isn’t just for adults, said Misty Gould, who directed the preschool division of the Vacation Bible School.
“It does become empowering to them to feel they can be used in the process of reaching others for Jesus, even though they are children,” Gould said. “A lot of times we discount what children can do in furthering the kingdom but when they are involved in smaller projects like this, they learn they can be used just like adults can.”
Gould had to be absent from the Friday assembly because her aunt had died, but her husband, Thomas, found a way to let her participate anyway.
“I got to listen on his cell phone as they announced it. It was overwhelming. I had tears streaming from my eyes,” Gould said. “It was just the most amazing thing to see how God can move. It was humbling to be part of that.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.