By: Christa Meland
Osseo United Methodist Church used to hire a team from a Lutheran Bible camp to do its Vacation Bible School (VBS). But last year, Rev. Woojae Im suggested a new approach: What if the church’s college students led VBS using a United Methodist curriculum? Not only would that enable the church to bring VBS in-house, but it would also help the church’s college students stay connected to their congregation and their faith.
Church members took Im’s suggestion to heart—and the approach worked so well last summer that this year, five college students from Osseo UMC traveled around Minnesota to lead VBS for four other churches that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to provide such an experience for their youth.
The five college students call their group “LIFT Ministries.” LIFT is an acronym that stands for “Living out love, Invested in service, Following our Lord, Transformed by grace.” The LIFT team spent a week at each of five churches, and they used Cokesbury’s “G:Force” curriculum, which helps kids explore how to put their faith into action. Each day, they focused on a different action word: move, act, care, follow, and share.
“We reminded kids that God loves them and that they’re called to take that love that they feel and do something with it,” said LIFT member Ashley Bienias. “They can serve God, they can care for others, they can share what they’ve learned at VBS.”
One day, the LIFT team told the kids at each site the story of Bartimaeus regaining his sight, and they talked about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Every day, the kids did a craft, a science project, and a sport or game that reinforced the key message from that day.
“I love leading VBS,” said Bienias, who is working on a teaching degree. “For me, it’s been about relying on God daily and completely trusting in him because I want what I’m saying to be fruitful. I want God to speak through me to the kids.”
Zach Dohmen feels the same way. He’s studying engineering, and he had made a decision during the last school year that he would give his summer to the Lord. When he was asked to join the LIFT team, he knew it was the perfect opportunity to do just that.
“I try to live like a missionary day-to-day, being a witness for Christ,” he said. “LIFT Ministries has helped me do that. I love teaching the little ones stories from the Bible. As I preach to them, I’m also preaching to myself. No matter how old you get, the story never changes—and it’s always good to hear it again.”
Dohmen said one of the most rewarding things this summer has been helping create connections between the churches that the LIFT team has worked with and their surrounding communities—connections that the churches can continue to build upon.
“When we were in Akeley, most of the kids who came had never been to the church before,” he said. “Parents brought their kids for free dinner and evening VBS, which some saw as free daycare. But now those families have had a positive experience with the church, and the church can continue to reach out to them. “
Tina Hickman is chair of the Christian education and spiritual development committee at Arlington Hills UMC in St. Paul. The church hadn’t had VBS for a year or two due to staffing and some other difficulties. When members learned about the LIFT team, they made arrangements for the team to come teach VBS in early August.
Children participating in Arlington Hills’ VBS ranged in age from 3 years old to fifth grade. Hickman’s 8-year-old son was one of them.
“These young adults are great at being able to…teach to the strengths of the different groups,” she said. “And it’s been really exciting watching them lead these young children because kids relate so much to someone closer in their own age.”
Arlington Hills had capital campaign this year, and community outreach is one of its major focus areas. Hickman said this summer’s VBS is a foundation from which the church will continue to build relationships with families in its mission field.
Both Bienias and Dohmen say they’ve grown in their faith as they’ve taught VBS this summer. Bienias knows firsthand the impact that VBS can have on children.
“Kids who have attended VBS for many years are more likely to stick around in the youth group,” she said. “Planting those seeds I think is really important. Going into high school, middle school, college, if you don’t have those seeds, it’s harder to stay connected to church.”
She says her positive experiences with VBS when she was young and her church youth group inspired her to stay connected to her church in college and join a campus ministry.
Now, Bienias and Dohmen are planting the seeds that they hope will ultimately help the next generation of youth stay connected to their faith.
“I think children’s ministry is a very under-valued ministry,” said Dohmen. “It’s more than just songs and having fun. It’s connecting kids to God.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Osseo UMC college students plan to lead VBS for other churches again next summer. There is a fee for them to come, but churches that need financial assistance can apply for an Investing in Congregations grant through the Minnesota Conference to help cover this cost (the application will soon be available, and applications are due Oct. 15). The LIFT team is also looking into doing some of its own fundraising to reduce the cost for participating churches. To learn more, contact Osseo UMC LIFT Coordinator JaLene Rosengren at firstname.lastname@example.org or (763) 221-9376.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church