COVID-19 Creativity

By Karissa Maust

What do you do when a global pandemic cancels a planned in-person VBS program? 

This was the case for the JAARS Refuge 139 team, who organize VBS events for missionary kids around the world while their parents participate in important conferences. Keith Franklin, the director of Refuge 139, and his wife, Elizabeth, a curriculum coordinator, had planned to do an event in Mexico on August 2–4 and 9–11, but COVID-19 regulations changed their plans. SIL Mexico didn’t want the kids to miss out on this fun, God-glorifying event, and asked the couple to host the program remotely on Zoom instead of going to Mexico—a first for Refuge 139! Attendees were from all over the world, since mission workers from various countries were going to attend a training in Mexico; the VBS was designed to give the children of these workers intentional programming while their parents were at conferences.

Keith and the Refuge 139 staff had to rewrite the curriculum to make it Zoom-compatiblea process that ordinarily can take several months! The team also had to make sure that the usual teachers were available and figure out all the technological aspects of the program. They only had a little over three months—from April to early August. Would they get the curriculum and preparation done in time?  

Thankfully, the Refuge 139 staff didn’t have to figure out by themselves how the event would work on Zoom. They turned to the Learning & Development (L&D) team at JAARS for advice because that department has had ample experience modifying events for Zoom. The L&D Department told the Refuge 139 staff about the JAARS tech team, which was willing to keep all the technical aspects of the program running smoothly. This worked wonders, allowing the children to have a fun and educational time! 

The preparation of the curriculum was the most daunting task, but God gave the Refuge 139 staff strength to complete it, and they rewrote it in time!

The high schoolers interact with their teachers Teri Herr and Sheri Mergenthal (top left).

Finally, the week of the event came. For this online event, they planned two sessions, one for middle school students and another for high schoolers, so that each curriculum was best suited to its age group. The groups had an individual Bible study and also did activities such as charades and a backpack scavenger hunt. The children had all the supplies they needed and followed the instructions of their leadera Refuge 139 staff memberon Zoom. 

The team organized games for the middle school students, while the high school students’ recreational time revolved around chatting. This time was important to the high school students because many of them knew but had not seen one another for a long time because of the pandemic. Because the event was virtual, the students could still attend and see one another even though they were scattered all over the world: Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, California, Minnesota, and Texas!

The Lord used the team’s hard work. The kids greatly enjoyed the program even though it wasn’t in person. A middle school student told the Refuge 139 teacher: “I wanted to say thank you for doing Refuge 139 with us. I enjoyed our study of Joseph, and I liked discussing the [material] in small groups because we had good discussions, and it was a good way to go more in depth into the passages. I hope that someday I can meet you guys in person.” 

Middle school teachers Linda Byrd and Linda Brumbaugh  (top left, l to r) studied Joseph’s life and played games, among other things.

The careful work the team put into this event with the Lord’s help made an eternal impact by teaching the children lifelong lessons about God and his Word; the team’s flexibility truly paid off!

Check out how you can be part of a Refuge 139 VBS!