‘Serving Our Neighbors Is What We're Called To Do’

VBS activity

University Park UMC conducted two Vacation Bible Schools this summer: one at its church, and one at Dallas Bethlehem Center

Logistical planning and preparation to host Vacation Bible School takes many months under the best circumstances. So imagine what that process looked like for University Park UMC this summer when the church decided to take its VBS on the road to Dallas Bethlehem Center, an organization that serves children and families living in poverty in South Dallas/Fair Park.

A hefty undertaking, for sure, but it was an experience that Alison Jacob – the church’s Minister to Children and Families – wouldn’t trade away.

“Serving our neighbors is what we're called to do, and it’s a part of teaching the kids what it means to be disciples,” Jacob said. “Having an extravagant VBS is a privilege and can sometimes feel very self-serving. This was an opportunity for it to become a community-serving event.”

The idea to sponsor an additional VBS dates back to a conversation Jacob had in 2018. Dallas Bethlehem Center was the featured nonprofit for UPUMC’s VBS that year, and Chelsea White, DBC’s executive director, visited the church to speak on the last day of the program.

White admits to being blown away with the elaborate nature of the event and wished there could be a way to have a similarly immersive experience for a group of children that might not have the same access to opportunities in their home churches.

VBS pictures

To White’s surprise, Jacob contacted her about the possibility of UPUMC providing that same VBS experience at Dallas Bethlehem Center.

“I was ecstatic on behalf of the kids in our neighborhood because I knew they were in for a real treat,” White said. “Just as importantly, the VBS staff worked hard to ensure all elements of the curriculum were culturally appropriate for our kids, even inviting our input.

“I’m protective over the children we serve, and frankly, I’m selective as to who has access to them.  Many people have the best of intentions but may lack a full understanding of the cultural nuances of deep poverty, particularly in South Dallas. This is never the case with UPUMC. Without hesitation, I completely trusted the staff and volunteers with our precious children.”

Planning for both VBS events began in early 2019, starting with curriculum development.

Unlike many churches that use a curriculum that is purchased from outside vendors, Jacob and her staff conceptualized, wrote and implemented its own program for the second consecutive year.

“We haven’t found one that’s already packaged and adequately conveys the theological message that we want to share with our church and others in the surrounding community,” Jacob said. “It’s been rewarding to work with the staff and to see ideas come together, culminating in a meaningful experience for the volunteers and the kids.”

VBS pictures

This year’s theme – God’s Garden – grew out of the scripture Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Each day had its own "Big Idea" that the children could bring home and share with their families:

  • Monday: In God’s Garden, I need good soil.
  • Tuesday: In God’s Garden, my seeds grow roots.
  • Wednesday:  In God’s Garden, God gives me what I need to grow.
  • Thursday: In God’s Garden, I take care of my garden and give it room to grow.
  • Friday: In God’s Garden, I grow in faith and love.

Nearly 200 children participated in University Park UMC’s VBS this year and another 35 took part in the event at DBC.

“Glennon Doyle is famous for saying ‘there’s no such thing as other people’s children.’ What she means by that is we’re responsible for the safety and nurture of all children,” said Rev. Victoria Robb Powers, senior associate pastor at University Park UMC. “In extending our VBS to a community outside of our own, we’re modeling the truth that all children belong to God and that whether they’re biologically ours or not, we are called to care for all children. That’s something I think more churches to need to bear witness to.”

Said Stefani Musick, a UPUMC member who volunteered with her two daughters: “My kids really look forward to VBS every summer. It’s a wonderful way to learn about God’s love in a fun, creative environment, and I thought taking our VBS to the Dallas Bethlehem Center was a great opportunity to share something we love with kids who may never have experienced VBS before.”

Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2019