The Salvation Army takes Vacation Bible School on the road in Rome, Georgia

Jul 6, 2021 | by Brad Rowland

The Salvation Army takes Vacation Bible School on the road in Rome, Georgia

By: Brad Rowland

Armed with critical information emanating from a mission planning study, The Salvation Army of Rome, Georgia set out to make a targeted impact in the community during the summer of 2021. While Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a fixture in the summer for many Salvation Army corps and service units, as well as other churches, the week of June 14-18, 2021 delivered VBS with a twist and the results were impressive.

"We wanted to do something different for Vacation Bible School this year," said Captain Paula Blevins, corps officer. "As a result of a mission planning study we completed in October, two focuses emerged. One was emergency preparedness for disaster work, including the borrowing of a canteen from time to time. The other was getting the word out to the community about The Salvation Army, letting people know what we do and to increase the spiritual understanding of people in our area. Those combined into a mobile Vacation Bible School that involved a borrowed canteen."

Captains Tim and Paula Blevins lead The Salvation Army's work in Rome and, across seven locations in five days, they were able to serve more than 200 children. With the help of a canteen on loan from the Evangeline Booth College in Atlanta, the mobile VBS visited two mobile home communities, an apartment complex, a local community center and a local YMCA, while also partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs. The clubs were thrilled to have an additional outlet in the midst of day camp and, in addition to the direct ministry to young people, The Salvation Army was able to build relationships that should allow for a long-lasting impact.

The Vacation Bible School, under the theme of "God's Olympics," featured a topical bible lesson focused on running the race of life and the strength of God. In a year in which the Summer Olympics are scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan, this was a fitting focus, and the lesson also featured a gospel presentation of Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world. In addition, children participated in games, arts and crafts, and other activities, with a lunchtime offering of hot dogs and an afternoon ice cream treat to escape the hot sun.

"We were able to almost market the canteen as a food truck to the kids, and they really ate it up," said Captain Blevins. "They really enjoyed the food and especially the ice cream in the afternoon given how hot it was in the middle of the summer."

The mobile VBS was supported by staff and volunteers, including contributors from the corps and women's auxiliary. Boys & Girls Club staff also played a pivotal role with supervision, particularly when noting the very large numbers of children. Beyond the fun, fellowship, and food, more than 100 children prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their personal savior.

"These are incredible numbers, at least to me," Captain Blevins said. "In a week of Vacation Bible School at our location, we would have never encountered this many children. We couldn't accommodate them all in our building during a week. That, to me, was amazing, and the fact that more than 50 percent of those children found Jesus was a huge blessing from God."

Though the idea was at least partially born out of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Captain Blevins stresses the potential for future replication of the mobile VBS program. In fact, the versatility of the initiative could allow for usage in any environment, perhaps on in a single afternoon or on a Saturday during the course of regular activities, reaching children and families where they are.

"I think that it's very important for people to understand that traditional Vacation Bible School doesn't have to be that material out of a can," said Captain Blevins. "You can really get out of your box and do something very unique and different. It doesn't always have to be in the building. We've been encouraged by leadership to get out of our building and go to where people are, and we felt like that was what we did. These children wouldn't have been able to come to our buildings, and we were able to make what I think was an amazing impact."

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