Every June, our church hosts a vacation Bible school program they call Summer Blast. Last year I wrote about how much effort goes into making the weeklong program meaningful for its many participants. This year, with so many events being cancelled due to coronavirus, my family held our breath and wondered what our church leaders would come up with.
Turns out that after hundreds of hours of work, the resultant virtual program was phenomenal and reached more than twice the number of kids who participated last year (about 300!). I’m guessing it helped to have a couple dozen tech-savvy teenagers to iron out the details!
Every morning, my family tuned into a half hour video message that introduced the bottom line for the day, encouraged us to get up and sing with the worship team, taught us some cool games and crafts, and concluded with an engaging Bible story. Following the video, we ran to the boxes of materials that had been shipped to us and found the packets to guide us in the day’s games and crafts. In the evening, we signed onto Zoom for a slideshow of the day’s photos and to debrief the finer points of the Bible story and message.
Along with all of the programming, every year our church leaders highlight a mission or charity for which the kids can raise money, as a way to teach service. This year though, the kids weren’t supposed to just bring in money. They were asked to identify adults in their lives who would sponsor them for acts of service done for their siblings or parents. The kids could also earn money by memorizing Bible verses or reading scripture. I thought the chart of options the church provided was brilliant -- until one of my children voiced this concern:
“You mean, we do all this work, and then they get the money? Why don’t we get anything?”
I was flabbergasted. But then again, we had just gone through an intense season where we all had felt loss. Special events and milestones had been erased from the calendar, and along with them, most of our good humor. What more did we have to give?
I noticed this particularly in my own attitude. How could I devote any more time or patience or attention to my children when I was completely spent? How were we ever going to fill our buckets again?
It turns out, as they tend to be, our church leaders were onto something. They had been living this season right alongside us. They felt similarly drained.
But they knew the antidote: Prayer. Scripture. Service. Acts of kindness.
I told my children that the point of service was to serve others, to remember that there are those whose needs are greater than ours. But -- in this case, I said I had a hunch that if we gave it a try, we would get something out of it too.
Our acts of kindness were bursty and patchy, but as we assessed our progress over the week, the kids’ eyes lit up when they were reminded of how they shared or were kind or helpful. And those who were helped by those actions were lifted up as well.
The night before we made our final donation to the Promised Land Covenant Church (to help feed and care for people affected by COVID-19 while also seeking to bring racial reconciliation in New York City and beyond), the kids added up their acts of service and tallied a total for the family. I was pleased that they neither compared their results nor competed for the highest “score”. Each child was proud of his or her own acts and total amount raised. And I was proud of them.
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