Adapting VBS for International Settings

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Many churches are involved in short term missions that include VBS (Vacation Bible School) in countries outside of North America. What are some best practices? The following, excerpted from Catalyst Service's recent newsletter, provides some helpful advice.

Gordon West, head of KidZ at Heart, is glad that children’s ministry has come so far in Western countries over the past 30 years. But he believes too much of American churches’ ministry to children in Majority World countries is repeating old missions mistakes and perhaps making new educational ones. Unfortunately, that can result in doing more harm than good.

 
To do children’s ministry overseas, many teams pack up suitcases full of their VBS materials complete with extensive curriculum, expensive puppets, and colorful crafts. They put on an exciting event for kids and go home with lots of photos of smiling children. But what have they left behind? Because the content is often culturally inappropriate, children get the impression that Christianity is a Western religion. And Western illustrations cloud rather than explain the biblical principles.

In addition, elaborate programs can’t be replicated by local leaders. Children are disappointed when they return after the missions team is gone and their regular teacher doesn’t have a clown costume and colorful pictures.

Missions teams also may not realize that their coming with extensive Western resources often demoralizes local teachers. They look at these teaching aids and believe that if they don’t have such supplies, they can’t effectively teach kids. So when
the puppets are broken and the colored paper runs out, children’s ministry stops.

Gordon continues, “This is why we must equip local leaders and parents to reach and teach the children of their own communities. We want teams not only to train teachers but to also give those trained the training materials so they can turn around and train others in their country. For example, Ugandan leader Edwin Mutai took what he had learned from one of our teams and spent the following year replicating that training for every one of the 50 churches in his denomination spread across Uganda.”

So what does a culturally appropriate VBS program look like?

Seymour First Baptist Church in Knoxville, TN, has felt clearly called to partner with churches in Jos, Nigeria. Their first efforts focused on pastoral training. But Chris Moore, a member of the initial team and an Awana leader, has a heart
for children and recognized the opportunity to reach Jos’ burgeoning youth population.

However, Seymour had no experience in children’s ministry in such challenging circumstances. It was imperative
that they find a partner who could guide them into culturally appropriate ministry to reach youth. Through divine connections,
Seymour’s leaders met the African director of Awana. They were thrilled to discover that for years the needs of Jos’ hundreds of thousands of children had been on his heart. A partnership is now making it possible for this Tennessee church of 350 people to bring culturally appropriate teacher training to  reach the next generation of an African city torn apart by Christian/Muslim strife.

Posted in: Global Mission; Blog Photo courtesy United Nations Photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/un_photo/3837228416/ Image: See Credit

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