Vacation Bible School is alive and well in South Africa, although it’s called Holiday Club. The goals are similar to those at churches in the United States, but different at the same time.
In September, the children at a Holiday Club in Fingo, a location (or township) outside of Grahamstown, South Africa, enthusiastically sang songs about Jesus, danced and clapped their hands, painted pictures, and played organized games. They also got two hot meals each day.
Organizing the club was a major undertaking that involved the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George, the school system, parent volunteers, young adult leaders, donations from churches in Cape Town, and the sports department of the Makana municipality. Wayne van Rooyen, pastoral assistant at the Cathedral, organized the week-long event, bringing all the pieces and people together.
Like most VBS programs in the States, planning began months before the scheduled event. Several churches in Cape Town, about 550 miles from Grahamstown, offered a substantial amount of beans and pap (a maize-based product that can be used to make porridge or as a potato/rice substitute). Transporting heavy bags of both took creative planning and cooperation.
At the same time, Wayne was working with both the principal of a school where the club would be held and also officials in Makana who were providing sports equipment and personnel for outdoor play. Young adults from the Cathedral began studying the curriculum materials and meeting regularly to discuss their roles as leaders of different age groups.
With the help of the school principal, parent volunteers were recruited to cook, haul water, and wash dishes during Holiday Club. The school did not have running water, but it did have a working stove.
Each day volunteers would prepare two meals for the children and adults. Because paper products are prohibitively expensive, plastic bowls and utensils had to be washed after both meals. Parent volunteers would carry the water from the public tap two blocks from the school and heat it on the stove before they began the cleanup.
The Holiday Club was scheduled during the long spring break in September to provide both planned activities and hot meals for the children, many of whom have meager diets when school is not in session.
Before the children began arriving each day, early and eager to begin the day’s activities, Wayne met with the young adults who had agreed to be leaders. Among the group were two Americans, Paul Daniels and Maurice Dyer, who are part of the Episcopal Young Adult Service Corps.
Paul works with college students at Rhodes University, while Maurice teaches English at Holy Cross, a primary school on the grounds of the Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery. The enthusiasm of the young adults was matched only by the eagerness of the children.
By now parent volunteers were also hard at work preparing a breakfast of pap with hot milk and sugar. Other adults were bringing water and supervising children who were watering the garden planted by school children a few weeks earlier.
A retired teacher had offered to work with small groups of children each day on a project to support the Save the Rhino campaign. Each child painted a poster with a unique message about the importance of saving this species that is disappearing from all parts of Africa.
At the beginning of each day, the arts teacher carefully set out paint and brushes. Because of limited supplies, only the older children took part in the project. During the day, this classroom was the only place where silence reigned. Often the only sound was the gentle encouragement from the teacher.
When all was ready, the children gathered in a large room where Wayne greeted them with laughter and hugs. At first many were shy and clung tightly to older siblings and friends. But after a brief prayer, the sounds of a music CD brought everyone to their feet.
It didn’t take long for the children to learn the hand motions and dance steps that went with the song. As they began to sing and dance, shyness left the room.
After breakfast, the children went to different classrooms to be with others of similar age. Bible stories were read and dramatized, songs were sung, and games were played. The group came back together before lunch; after eating a hearty meal, the children trooped outside to play games organized by sports personnel.
I saw the same enthusiasm and excitement at the Holiday Club that I have seen at Vacation Bible Schools in the U.S. context. Music is a vital component for each. While crafts are an important part of VBS in the States, paper and limited crayons are the mainstay of many Holiday Clubs.
By the end of the week, children in summer or holiday programs on both sides of the Atlantic have heard and experienced the love of Jesus through the adults who work with them. Hugs are freely given and received; laughter and joy is readily seen. The gospel message of hope and new life has been planted for another year.