by Lam Nguyen
In July 2019, the youth of four LMC churches collaborated to deliver a Vacation Bible School for Lancaster city children. It was an amazing success. Fifty middle school and high school youth from Habecker Mennonite Church, Lititz Mennonite Church, RiversEdge Fellowship, and Crossroads Mennonite Church worked together to plan and run the entire VBS for 65 children in southeast Lancaster city and rural northern Lancaster County.
The “youth-led” Vacation Bible School began in 2016 at Habecker Mennonite Church. Leadership wanted a Vacation Bible School, but the congregation lacked on-the-ground “leaders” to carry out the program. The concept that emerged was to secure help from the EMM K-Team summer mission’s program. That year, the K-Team came from middle-school youth at Kaufman Mennonite Church in Manheim, Pa. Together, we formed the Vacation Bible School 2016 coalition.
Filled with faith, courage, and excitement, the leadership team–Pastor Karen Sensenig (HMC), Angie Breneman Earl (EMM), Theresa Wolf (KMC), and myself–prayed into an experiment for a 100% youth-led Vacation Bible School. Our vision was to allow the K-Team youth to completely prepare, plan, execute and evaluate the event from beginning to end. The adult leadership team would pray, prepare, equip, and train the youth. Our hope was to provide the youth leaders with a formative leadership experience that had a lifelong impact.
From 2016-2018, Vacation Bible School was held at James Street Mennonite Church. In 2018, Agape Fellowship (Williamsport, Pa) joined together with Habecker Mennonite Church and Kaufman Mennonite Church. Unfortunately, as Summer 2019 approached, Agape Fellowship and Kaufman Mennonite Church youth groups had other commitments and were unable to join the Vacation Bible School project. A change of leadership had also occurred as Pastors Chris and Dawn Landes came to Habecker Mennonite Church.
During preplanning for 2019, we realized there were a few concerns to consider given the past several years of experience. First, the physical location at James Street was not convenient. Logistically, carpooling and caravanning took almost three hours every day. The time might be better spent on discipleship and relationship building. Second, one of the goals for Habecker was to impact the local community around the homes of the youth and children in the program. Many of our youth are from the heart of Lancaster City, so we needed a more centralized city location. Last, we wanted to foster inter-congregational relationships between our mostly refugee congregation and other congregations.
During this time of preplanning, Dale Rintelman, Pastor of Agape Fellowship, shared the experience of the youth from his congregation in 2018 at one of the monthly LMC Youth Leader Breakfasts. His testimony piqued the interest of the leadership at Lititz Mennonite Church (Bishop Rodney Martin), Crossroads Mennonite Church (Pastor Rick Rutter and brother Jack Derrico), and RiversEdge Fellowship (Pastor Rhoda Yost, brother Art Yost, and brother Gordon Reason). Together, these four congregations became the team for the 2019 Vacation Bible School.
Through monthly leadership meetings, the date, location, memory verse, and overall theme were set. Because the youth leaders came from such varied backgrounds–city, rural, farm, refugee, and immigrant–we decided that an “icebreaker” weekend would be beneficial. We made the icebreaker weekend coincide with the overall theme for 2019: Fear Less, Love More. Interestingly, many of the youth had never heard of Vacation Bible School much less a “youth-led Vacation Bible School.” So we spent the weekend and the days leading up to the actual event training and preparing the youth leaders with four workshops. At the end of each workshop, the youth leaders decided on the theme for one of the Vacation Bible School days. Each youth leader also chose an age-group and a station that they would lead for each day’s program.
The youth leaders set the following age groups: K-1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. The stations they created were Opening & Closing, Music, Bible Stories, Arts & Crafts, Games, Snacks, and Lunch. The event was held at two locations: RiversEdge Fellowship in the south end of Lancaster city and at Crossroads Mennonite Church. In this way, God responded to the concerns of location and relationships raised earlier by leaders at Habecker Mennonite Church.
As the event began, adult leaders took turns praying for the youth leaders and children during each station’s “downtime.” Prayer was paramount throughout the entire experience. I witnessed middle schoolers asking God to watch over and bless the children and to provide wisdom and guidance for all the youth leaders. In prayer, these young people began to refer to one another as “youth leaders.” It was the first time they used that language to describe each other, and it caught on going forward. As 1 Tim 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” The youth leaders are looking forward to 2020!