VBS on Steroids

By Karissa Uhlig

Children all around the room raised their hands during the JAARS Summer Safari program as Becca Segers, who was sharing that day’s morning devotion, asked them what countries they had lived in. Some said Thailand, others Papua New Guinea, and some Indonesia. Becca, the Girls’ Discipleship Coordinator at JAARS, shared her own experiences of being a missionary kid who had to move frequently. Due to this, she was often unable to make friends and was lonely. But Jesus helped her with that loneliness because she knew that he would never leave her.

Summer Safari is a JAARS program for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade whose parents work at JAARS or one of our partner organizations. The program makes it possible for their parents to be free to continue doing their work of supporting Bible translation even when their kids are not in school. 

Children listen to a lesson during Summer Safari.

Patti Garretson, who began coordinating Summer Safari in 1998, has made the program into what it is today. It began as a childcare program but has morphed over time into what some might call a VBS on steroids. When the Fellows program was implemented at JAARS, Patti decided to put much of the planning of Summer Safari into the hands of the Third Culture Kids Care and Education Fellows, who work with children during their 11-month time at JAARS. Patti believes the Fellows are well-qualified and bring unique skills to the realm of Third Culture Kids Care and Education.

Danielle Townsend, the current Third Culture Kids Care and Education Fellow, finds working with these children every weekday challenging but thrilling. Some of her favorite lessons are the ones she has prepared to teach about the fruit of the Spirit. On nine different days of Summer Safari, these lessons will be the focus and support the theme for the summer: Journey with Jesus. 

Danielle and her assistant teacher, Leah Federwitz, take the kids on a field trip to the Museum of the Alphabet.

The intentionality, length of the program, and its focus on the needs of missionary kids are what make Summer Safari more than an average VBS program. The kids and leaders meet every weekday morning for nine weeks. Each day’s schedule includes a devotional, Scripture memory, game and snack time, biblically focused songs, a Bible lesson, crafts, and a review of the lesson. Each activity is designed to keep the children engaged and help them have fun, but also to learn along the way.

Time at the pool is just one of the many fun activities for kids during Summer Safari.

Danielle highlighted the importance of Summer Safari, saying, “If parents have a reliable place for their children to learn and grow spiritually, then they can contribute to the mission work that they are involved in. If they are concerned about the welfare of their children, then they’re going to be distracted and not be able to contribute to the best of their ability.”

God’s not just working through the parents, but here at Summer Safari through the children and adults too. One child in the past who had come to stay with his grandmother for the summer attended the program and gave his life to Christ in response to the lessons he heard!

Patti said, “[Summer Safari is] not just a fun time, but a chance to learn about God and who he is and how we can be involved in his task.” JAARS is so thankful that we can enable mission workers to spread God’s Word by providing a safe and God-centered environment for their children.  

Pray that children will come to know Christ through the ministry of Summer Safari!