Gold Medal Ministry – the VBS Olympics

Creating a Vacation Bible School from scratch may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it! It is an opportunity to flex my creative muscles and work with some pretty fantastic people. It was only a few years ago that I was introduced to the idea of creating my own VBS by Pr. Joie Baker while working with the churches in Sharon and Hermitage. There has been no looking back.

In my last four summers with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fairview, our VBS participants have been superheroes, spies, sailors, and Olympians. This being an Olympic summer, it only made sense to link this great DSC_9851world-wide tradition with stories from the Bible. Using the values of the Olympics and Paralympics – friendship, respect, equality, courage, inspiration, excellence, and determination –  each day we explored them within the stories of Ruth and Naomi, the Good Samaritan, David and Goliath, Nehemiah, and the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The themes are highlighted in a rotation of daily activities: music, science/art, storytelling/snack, and games. We keep our VBSers and volunteers busy the entire two and a half hours they are here.

It is quite amazing to see God at work in this ministry over the last few years, guiding us in steady growth. In 2013,DSC_0368 we hosted 27 children and about 13 volunteers. This summer, we hosted 55 children and had 27 volunteers! It is
hard to find the words to express the amazing community that continues to be built around this ministry. We see many of the same families, as well as meet new ones, and it is so much fun to watch the children grow from year to year.

I will be honest, as I really started thinking about VBS back in April, my biggest concern was not having enough volunteers for the number of children that I anticipated. It is all well and good to have an influx of children, but you absolutely need the adults to match it. I was overwhelmed by the response to my plea for volunteers from around our St. Stephen’s community. We had members of the church, Nursery School teachers, parents, grandparents, and teens offer to share their gifts with us for the week.  It was a comfort to know that we could handle a significant amount of kids in a fun and safe environment.

DSC_0039Volunteers are the heart of this ministry and, I believe, are the reason for our success. Ministries within the church are about lifting up and sharing the gifts that God has given us for continual building of the Kingdom, which is something that I strive to do within a VBS program. Being able to mold your program to the strengths of the volunteers is one of the benefits of creating your own program. The volunteers have just as much fun as the children who participate. And in the end, VBS is truly a team effort.

While much of our program remains the same, we are constantly evaluating it and finding ways to improve. One of the things that I am already thinking about for next summer is how to accommodate further growth. There is always something to adjust from year to year, but that is part of the fun!

Vacation Bible School is a great ministry that all churches can offer. It is a DSC_9741wonderful way to engage both the church and the wider community. It also brings a wide range of ages together to learn and share with each other about the love of Christ. As I said before, I love Vacation Bible School. It is an important and worthwhile ministry that I am always happy to talk about and share with others.

Missy Greene Christian Formation Associate at St. Stephen’s, Fairview

‘The End of The Beginning’ Another Reflection From the Diocesan Mission Trip to Cristo Salvador

Today was the beginning of the end.. or the end of the beginning…
As we started our day at the breakfast table, we talked about the expectations we had when we arrived just a few days ago. We had so many questions about this country, the culture and the people. Now we had not only learned about the country and the people, but more about ourselves. We as a group were no longer strangers but now friends. The people we came to help, have given us a new understanding of God’s love. How had it gone so quickly?
As we headed to Cristo Salvador we knew it was our last chance to interact with the 85 or so children who came for lessons, games, crafts and snacks. Our last chance listen to Fr. Hipolito welcome the children and set the stage for a day of learning. Before we knew it we were pulling up to the church where many children were already waiting at the door. We were greeted with smiles, excitement and hugs!

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The day went very quickly and before we knew it we were saying our goodbyes to the children with more hugs and smiles. We had lunch with all of the teachers and other wonderful people at Cristo Salvador and as always the food was fantastic (just in case no one has mentioned the food yet). Once again it was time to say more goodbyes. It was our last day of VBS, but it was only the beginning of our partnership with this incredible parish in the DR.
As we head back to Santo Domingo and prepare to come home I realize how much I miss my family. I am ready to come home and rest. I look forward to sharing my pictures and my stories. I can not wait to see what God has for us to do next. Or how this partnership will grow.Julie Westman
Church or Our Saviour DuBois, PA

‘Thank You For Your Support’ The Final Post From the Diocesan Mission Trip to Cristo Salvador

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What a delight and privilege is has been to spend the past week in the Dominican Republic! This week we began what we hope will be a lasting partnership with the people of Cristo Salvador. We are so grateful for your prayers as well as your financial support, which made the week possible. Without the help of many congregations and individuals, we would not have been able to purchase the construction and craft materials, nor could we have afforded to make the trip.

Not only was it an incredible experience to play games with over 85 kids and make new friends with the teachers, it was an incredible experience to be part of this team. Every dinner we learned new things about one another, laughing and joking, and every night during evening prayer we shared how the day impacted our hearts and minds. I have been changed by the week and so have many members- if not all- of the team. One cannot be the same after experiencing such love and hospitality, unity and partnership in the name of Christ.

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Drawn from all over the diocese, from Erie to Smethport, the team is an expression of our diocese. You are part of this too! The team looks forward to sharing with you, in-person, their experiences and stories from the week. We would be delighted to come to your congregation and share about this partnership and how you can get more involved. Please email Melinda Hall at vicarmelinda@gmail.com to talk about members of the team visiting your parish.

Thank you again for all your support!

The Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville and Church of Our Savior, DuBoise

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‘How I will Miss Thee’ Day 5 Diocesan Mission Trip to Cristo Salvador

11825027_10109149113664764_8042793343160672372_nAh! Republica Dominicana, how I will miss thee!!! And your food…oh, the wonderful awesome delectable yummy nourishment……. If one does nothing else in life, they should visit another culture and particularly the Dominican (says the girl who has ONLY traveled to the Dominican!).

What a life altering trip this has been for me. There are entirely too many facets of it for me to write in this post that have been beneficial and changing. If only it were possible, I would pack up Fr. Hipolito up and bring him back with me. Meeting that man alone is something that touches you to the core and gives you peace and strength. Each and every community in the WORLD could do with a moving father figure at its heart. (And his wife’s homemade mango juice in their bellies!)

I’ve gained a new appreciation and outlook this week for so many things in my life. I’ve been discerning on some life changesIMG_8263 very recently. Being here and seeing the love of God & lifestyles has helped me to remember just where and why God has placed me in positions and given me a better idea of who I want to be when I return home. It excites me to have more clarity!

It has been a blessing for me to experience the children and to see how they are all the same whether I am here or at home. I had a different vision of what the interactions with them would be like. I have been moved especially by my two ‘teachers’ whom I gained on the first day of VBS. Nicole & Mercedita took me under THEIR wing and have been teaching me so much of the language. It warms my heart that these children are so open and patient with and our ignorance of things! They really just go wonderfully with the flow.

And the tostones! The fried plantain goodness! Sorry, I digress…

I truly hope that as this partnership continues more and more members of the Diocese take part in trips such as this, not only for the awesome benefit to the Dominican community in the church, Cristo Salvador, but for the benefit it will have on the person who visits and in turn the world around that person when they return home.

And did I mention the food???? Yours drooling, I mean, truly,

Brooke Wolosewicz, member of St. Luke’s, Smethport, PA

‘Pass the Fried Eggplant’ Day 4 of the Diocesan Mission Trip to Cristo Salvador

DSCN0415You know it will be a good day when the rooster crows at 5:30 a.m. The rooster crows every morning, so every day must be a good day. Today VBS began in the morning. Arriving two minutes before the children got there, we had to cut and braid yarn for the very detailed craft brought to you by Holy Trinity in Brookville. The night before, we cut pieces of tissue paper into shapes for the mosaics. We never would have finished the project in time if it wasn’t for our crafty drill sergeant, Sue. The craft was successful and all of the kids projects turned out great!
During games, we tried relay races, but they were not so successful with our first two groups. Instead, we played “Don’t Let the Ball Touch the Ground.” The simplest of games kept the kids entertained. For the smallest, we started blowing up more balloons. All of the kids flocked towards me. It reminded me of the seagulls in Finding Nemo who repeated, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” We let them hit the balloons around for the remainder of the activity time. A few of the kids kept wanting to hit the balloon back and forth with me. It was chaos, but it was fun!
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During snack, we tried to talk to the oldest kids. Their adult leader had left, but she didn’t speak much English. Marisol did a great job interpreting Missy’s broken Spanish instructions during games. She even gave us the idea to do the spoon and ping pong relay holding the spoon in their mouth. Talking with the kids, I can ask them their names, but that is about it. They would keep trying to talk to me, even though I did not understand. I’d just nod and say, “Si!”
At the end of the day, after snack, the oldest boys, were asking to race us. We raced back and forth in the sanctuary. A few of the girls ran too. You would think we Americans wouldn’t be able to run in this heat, but I beat them a couple of times. It was a memorable moment for the day, having them ask us to join them in an activity.
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After a great lunch, provided by the church ladies, we crossed the street and toured the Pre-School. I thought it was a very nice building. They had one classroom in the basement and three on the second level. One the first level is a kitchen and a cafeteria. Father Hipolito praised many of the teachers at the school. The school is working to send the teachers to university to study. It is a great ministry of the church to be able to educate the teachers in order to best prepare the kids.

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We had a successful and great day painting, even though some of us got the speckled-paint disease, painting ceilings and walls. We pretty much finished all four classrooms and got two coats of blue paint onto the walls in the larger room.  Tomorrow we move to the second coats on the ceilings.
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Coming back to the hotel, we had a much needed adventure. We walked a few blocks to the nearest Bon, which is an ice cream shop. The ice cream was muy deliciouso! Then it was back to the hotel for dinner, which meant lots of fried eggplant. We also got to try a new fruit called limoncello, which we had seen people selling on the streets. Sue asked Lazarus, the hotel manager, if he could get us some to try. And he did! There was very little fruit inside the peel, but it had a good flavor.
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So far this has been a rewarding experience. I can’t wait to share more when I get back. But until then, pass the fried eggplant.
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Amy Greene, member St Mary’s in Lawrence Park

Reflections From Day 3 of the Diocesan Mission Trip to Cristo Salvador

unnamedThe trip to the Dominican Republic for me so far has been a wonderful experience, but yet also very shocking. People of my generation in the United States are so used to our luxuries such as Starbucks, IPhones, air conditioning etc. Our biggest worry can sometimes just be “Is there wifi? How strong is the wifi here?” Coming to this country has been a huge culture shock. The people here have much bigger worries. Some of these children do not even have clean water or know for sure when their next meal will be. Being with these children at Vacation Bible School and seeing their environment makes me realize how fortunate we are in the United States.

-Leah Elberfeld, member of the Cathedral of St. Paul and a student at McDowell High School

Being apart of such a wonderful experience has completely changed my perspective on the things we take for granted as human beings. It has only been the first day at VBS and I already feel like I am changing as a person. It is so inspirational to listen to the numerous stories of Father Paulito, and to look at all the wonderful women who are willing to help and cook for unnamed-2some of the families and children in need, even if they too are struggling financially. It’s just so interesting to see how we are in one city (Santiago) and if you travel one direction you are in luxury and wealth, but 5 minutes later you are surrounded with poverty and devastation. It breaks my heart to see such a beautiful city split in half the way this one is, and I am so glad I can be apart of some change in the community. Making just one of those children smile means the world to me. I have definitely come here to do the right thing.

-Stephanie Onyeiwu, member of Christ Church, Meadville

The Diocesan Mission Trip to Cristo Salvador Starts this Friday July 24th

Melinda with kidsThe Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania has ten people adventuring to the Dominican Republic starting this Friday July 24th to help host a Vacation Bible School with our new partner congregation, Cristo Salvador.

Cristo Salvador Episcopal Church in Santiago offers hope amidst the drug use and poverty of their neighborhood, ever trying to reach out to those around them. Part of the reaching out involves running a pre-school for the neighborhood. Education in the Dominican Republic is underfunded, with over-crowded classrooms, under-prepared teachers, and high drop-out rates. For over a hundred years, the Diocese of the Dominican Republic has been involved in education, with congregations opening and running schools. But with the cost of paying teachers’ and assistants’ wages and managing a building, the churches often have difficulty funding the school; Cristo Salvador is no different. Additionally, families often struggle to afford the cost of attending the school, even if attendancescared girl offers their child the chance for better education and thus a better job.

Our assistance with the Vacation Bible School kicks off our relationship with Cristo Salvador. Rather than simply sending money and never meeting one another, folks from our diocese will work with the folks there, getting to know one another, learning from each other, and experiencing different ways of life. Additionally, the VBS will help Cristo Salvador proclaim the good news to the youth and adults of their neighborhood. We are going to support them, hoping that what we do furthers their ministry in that community. But the VBS is only a small aspect of the overall partnership with Cristo Salvador. The partnership focuses on helping Cristo Salvador maintain and operate their preschool. Education for young children is lacking in the DR, but the earlier children Kids at tablebegin school and the earlier parents begin to value education, the more opportunities open up for that child and his/her family. By partnering with Cristo Salvador, we can assist them in changing the lives of countless children and their families. We have much to learn from their way of life and the incredible revival of the Spirit happening across the Dominican Republic.

Follow the Diocesan Mission Trip right here on the blog (July 24th thru August 1st). There will be regular posts from members on the trip about their experiences.