Taking Short-Term Missions to Your Own Backyard

In the current coronavirus climate, we find ourselves living in, where gatherings are still limited, and hand sanitizer, masks, and social distancing are all strongly encouraged, many churches have had to cancel their VBS and summer camps. But not all! Some churches have been able to get creative to work around this summer's limitations.

Theophilus OPC, in Anaheim, California recently hosted a virtual Camp Together. Pastor Peter Sim writes,

"This year, our church hosted an "online VBS" called "Camp Together." It was a three-day event that focused on teaching Hebrews 10:23-25 as our theme memory work, through the stories of Genesis 3 and Genesis 6-9. It was quite an undertaking for our church, as it was done digitally for the first time and also pretty much made from scratch (as all of our VBS's have been) to really hone in on what we felt was a particularly important theme for our covenant youth - that we could trust in our faithful God, and that we must not neglect to meet together, but instead that we need to encourage one another and stir up one another to love and good works.
Basically, our VBS Coordinator created the theme and the script of the VBS video. The VBS video was made up of a variety of different segments, such as "Scripture Doodles," "Gospel Conversations" and "Hiding God's Memory in Our Heart." The Scripture Doodles seemed to be a really big hit with our congregation. This was a segment in which someone drew pictures (video edited to be very fast) while the Scripture was read aloud. All these segments were pre-recorded and video-edited to make one long VBS video.
Then, we showed VBS video on a live stream on our Theophilus OPC YouTube channel, also incorporating a live chat in the beginning and the end for people to "check in" at the beginning and share what they learned at the end. We also gave several VBS printable packets with age-appropriate projects and invited the kids to share videos of themselves reciting the memory work, sharing their craft masterpieces, or singing the VBS praise songs on Flipgrid. We did that for the first two days. Then the third day was a really great morning of games over Zoom.

Love Boxes all packed and ready to be delivered to families in Bridgeton, New Jersey.

New Hope OPC, in Bridgeton, New Jersey is hosting a Virtual Art Camp this week. Camp Coordinator Tracey Taylor writes, "

For several years now, New Hope has run an art camp each summer for children in our community. To our joy, this camp has turned out to be a wonderful way to connect with new families and to address key themes of the Gospel—creation, fall, redemption and restoration—using art as a vehicle for delight, reflection, and glory to God. This year began with big plans that became a little more tentative in March and April and then were set aside completely in May—when it became clear to us that an in-person camp at our 75-child capacity would be impossible. Unwilling to lose contact with these kids and their families—who were no doubt struggling in many ways with the fallout from the virus—we came up with another plan. We decided to pack a “love box” for each child that would include, among other little fun surprises, some art supplies for a couple of art projects. Once families picked up their boxes (packed and distributed according to CDC guidelines), we would host several Zoom sessions for two different activities: 1) a read-aloud and discussion of C.S. Lewis’s book, The Magician’s Nephew (one of the six Chronicles of Narnia) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons in July; and 2) online art class instruction, some of which would use the art supplies in their boxes. Throughout this “camp,” we would encourage children to send us pictures of their completed art projects, which we would then feature on our web site in an end-of-camp slideshow. As of today, we’ve given away almost all of the boxes, and we’ll start our first Zoom meeting tomorrow. We are excited about the opportunity to interact with kids over three weeks and also about the warm response we’ve received from parents. They seem to really understand this as a gesture of love. One mom wrote, “Thank you so much for doing this! You guys are such a blessing to our community! We would love to participate.“ Another said, “Wow! What a fabulous idea! You guys do so much to reach out to the community. My kids will be thrilled!” Please pray for us as we navigate this new territory and make the most of this unique opportunity.

Lake Sherwood OPC, in Lake Sherwood, Florida has also had to change their in-person plans to virtual plans. Hayley Avery writes, "

Planning for VBS started in January of this year but, as with almost everything else, was interrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak in the US. As the church continued to try to figure out what the next steps would be it was looking fairly bleak in terms of actually getting to have a VBS this year. This was going to be the first time in a while that Lake Sherwood would host a VBS as our group of little ones was only now beginning to grow again. My team and I were all very excited to get to work on this project so it was very discouraging to think that we might not be able to do it safely this year. That was when Jaye emailed me telling me about another church she knew of that was going to be hosting a virtual VBS. That was when things kind of got kicked into high gear as we quickly got session approval! I had a short meeting with one of our elders, John Hearn, our pastoral intern, David Carnes, and one of our deacons, Joel King to determine if this was something we could actually pull off. Immediately following that meeting I spent some time planning out how this could work and began contacting my team. I should mention that in the midst of quarantine I got married and moved a state away. This is important to note because it just proves what an amazing team I had backing me up on this project! I am only able to do so much from where I am but my team is diligently working away so that we can have the best experience possible for these kiddos!
We have advertising on our church website, on a sign in front of the church building, and on a local radio station that annually lists all vacation bible schools in the area. David Carnes and Joel King are working on filming our lesson videos to be posted to the church youtube channel on the morning of each day of VBS while I will be filming a craft video for each day! The rest of our volunteers are working to put together packets full of craft supplies, activities sheets, toys, and hopefully plenty of encouragement for children and parents! The plan is for families to pick up their packets Monday-Wednesday of the week of VBS and then be able to participate Wednesday-Friday! We decided to stick with our original dates of VBS July 22-24 and I am hoping that it will be a fun few days for everyone involved. We had initially decided on doing three days as Lake Sherwood also hosts the reformed youth conference in June every year (this is a summer camp full of lots of learning and fun for ages 11-18 if I'm remembering that correctly) and many of our volunteers, including myself, were planning to help with both events. Lake Sherwood was able to successfully host a virtual RYC night earlier this summer and I am hoping that VBS will also be just as successful! As everyone continues to deal with covid related setbacks and hurtles, I am praying that this can be one way for people to feel connected and loved on in the strange times we are living in!
I hope these stories of improvising, adapting and overcoming encourage you to think outside the box this summer. What might God do with our efforts, despite the limitations of 2020, for eternity?

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