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VBS volunteers find receptive hearts among Katrina survivors

BILOXI, Miss. (BP)–Biloxi Pointe Mobile Home Park has had a national audience. It was featured on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition –- After the Storm, Mississippi” March 22. The residents were given washers and dryers and a Sears’ gift card by the ABC show.

On May 19-21, the FEMA mobile home park was visited by a different “makeover” group. The six-member team from First Baptist Church of Madison, Miss., was on a spiritual makeover mission. They were there to conduct a Vacation Bible School event.

One Friday afternoon, the team conducted a carnival-type event and handed out fliers to every unit about a Saturday five-hour Bible club. The weekend event concluded on Sunday with a worship service.

The Madison efforts resulted in 13 children coming out for the Saturday event under the shade trees adjacent to the park and six returned for the Sunday morning service. Parents and other adults wandered in and out of the activities.

This scene was repeated eight other times by churches in Mississippi on May 5-7 and May 19-21. The clubs were sponsored by a grant from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and coordinated by Linda Reeves, preschool/children’s Sunday school consultant with the Mississippi Baptist Convention. LifeWay donated curriculum from last year’s Ramblin’ Road Trip-themed VBS to use during the clubs.

The nine clubs drew 132 preschoolers, children and youth and resulted in 10 professions of faith. Gulf Coast Baptist Association will coordinate follow-up with all of the families.

All of the Bible clubs were held in FEMA mobile home parks that have sprung up since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi coastline last August. The parks are filled with hundreds of families who are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

“The weekend experiences were a great encouragement to the families, especially the children,” Reeves said. “These children need our love and support as they are living this disaster daily. Our teams were able to share Jesus through VBS.”

Several of the preschool and children’s ministers who led the nine teams talked about the children being “like sponges.”

“The children were so needy,” said Delayne Morris, director of preschool ministries at Carriage Hills Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss. “They soaked up the attention we gave them. We just had too little time with them.”

Stacey Covey from First Baptist Church of Richland, Miss., agreed.

“These children were very hungry for attention and love,” she said. “And they were not hard to love, considering how easy it is to love children.

“It was truly amazing to see the bond that can form between strangers in such a short time. It was very hard leaving them. Some of our team members sent pictures to the families we met within days of returning home. We do hope to go for another daytrip to check up on the families in the park.”

Cindy Sansing also noted the hunger for spiritual things.

“The children soaked up the stories we shared,” said Sansing, minister to preschoolers and children at Liberty Baptist Church in Flowood, Miss. “Our group had little knowledge of the Bible or things we expect children in Mississippi to know –- some of them had never heard the song ‘Jesus Loves Me.’”

One of the Madison volunteers noted the resilience of the children.

“I was reminded of the way tiny flowers push through the cracks in concrete walls as I saw the faces of the children at our site,” said Faira Bishop of First Baptist, Madison. “These children had been through such a horrendous time in the storm. Yet their ability to have fun and to see life as a joyful experience persisted and came through.”

Like any missions experience, the team’s plans were often changed, adjusted and sometimes eliminated. While this caused disappointment and frustration, in the end the volunteers concluded that God’s plans were accomplished at the sites.

“We went to share our best -– the love of Jesus for these kids -– and they were receptive,” Bishop said. “At Bible story time, they listened and responded to my questions. They enthusiastically sang along with our guitarist; they created VBS necklaces and other crafts with studious intent; and they giggled delightedly during hide-and-go-seek at recreation time.

“Through it all, we wanted to let them know that we loved them and that Jesus cares for them. From the expressions on their faces and their reluctance to see us go, this is what I feel we accomplished with these children.”
*Name changed for security concerns.

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  • Tanya Dawson*