OCC VBS Made Transition to Christmas Seamless

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which means many Maryland/Delaware churches packed Operation Christmas Child boxes, and some volunteered in the Baltimore processing center. But a few churches started packing their OCC boxes in the summer while singing carols during VBS! Watersedge Baptist Church in Dundalk, and First Baptist Church of Beltsville used an OCC-themed Vacation Bible School (VBS) curriculum, “Joy 2 the World,” this summer, written by BCM/D Children’s and Youth Ministry Consultant Kris Buckman built around the Operation Christmas Child (OCC) ministry.

Watersedge Baptist Church members pray over Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. (Facebook photo used with permission)

“It was perfect, said Ken Ledwell, Jr., the pastor of Watersedge Church. “It was my favorite VBS. It allowed us to have continued contact with families from VBS in the summer through Christmas!”

Buckman based the theme on OCC’s “The Greatest Journey” discipleship program used around the world to teach children what it means to follow Christ faithfully. She explained that when children receive their shoeboxes around the world, they also get a booklet called “The Greatest Gift,” which shares the message of salvation and stories from the Gospel of Luke in picture format, with words written in the children’s language. Many of the children are then invited to the 12-week discipleship program, “The Greatest Journey.” The discipleship program for some is the only school they get to be a part of, she explained. It’s a big deal for them. “They have a graduation ceremony when they finish. Whole families come to the graduation, and churches use it to share the gospel.” So the children in the VBS get to experience the same lessons as the children across the world in the discipleship program.

Each of the VBS kids gets a shoebox they fill during the week. On the first day, they make a handprint and add a personal letter intended for the child across the globe who will open their box. The following days at VBS, kids make items for the box. Everything is OCC Christmas-themed. Snacks include Christmas cookies and melted snowmen (water). For recreation, they play games like Gaga Ball (Israeli dodgeball). During the Bible study rotation throughout the week, they learn about Jesus through the lessons in “The Greatest Journey.” During the missions rotation, they learn all about the ministry of OCC and hear impact stories from those who have received shoeboxes. By the week’s end, they fill their box. In addition to their crafts, the church provides other filler items, with each child bringing a ‘wow’ gift — one special item, such as a soccer ball or a doll to be placed in their box. Kids are challenged to collect quarters throughout the week outside of VBS to pay for the shipping of their box and the sponsorship of the child who receives their box to participate in “The Greatest Journey” program.

Pastor Keith Holland (right) with his son prepares to deliver shoeboxes to the a drop-off location. (photo submitted)

Buckman, a former children’s ministry director at Tri-County Church, wrote and utilized the material for VBS several years ago. “Kids really enjoyed celebrating Christmas in summer,” she said. And it was easy and inexpensive. Most churches have Christmas decorations, she said, and if planned ahead, there are lots of sales, even half off or more, available at after-Christmas sales. Tri-County played up the fun with a snow machine that the whole church loved. Everyone got involved, Buckman said, including the seniors who attended each night during VBS and helped by removing packaging from items and assembling sewing kits. Removing unnecessary packaging on new items allows for more things to fit inside the box, and Buckman explained that in most of the countries where the shoeboxes are going, there is no trash removal system like here in the United States so a lot of trash from items ends up on the streets. When Buckman’s church did the VBS, Operation Christmas Child sent a Full Circle Speaker (someone who had received a shoebox in another country as a child and now speaks about how the shoebox impacted his/her life) for the final night of VBS to speak to the kids and families. Each child left the VBS with an empty shoebox to bring back in November during National Collection Week.

Keith Holland, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Beltsville, said the “Joy 2 the World” curriculum acted like a bridge for them. “For a church like ours, those are the two really big outreach efforts — VBS and OCC. One is a hands-on ministry opportunity to bless children in the community, and the other is a hands-on opportunity to bless kids around the world. Being able to integrate the two was perfect.

“The program provided a seamless move from VBS into our OCC season. Our membership was already motivated to get started on the ministry, and we had a huge collection of items to be used for shoe boxes. For the size of our church, 50 in-person, we filled 234 boxes, and that was really good. It excited the church, and it was a nice launching point from VBS to Christmas.”

Holland said the church especially liked the craft suggestions for items to go into the shoeboxes. “That was super! Our kids felt great knowing that the items were going from their hands into the hands of another child in a different country.” Holland said the kids especially enjoyed drawing photos and making handwritten notes to go into the boxes.

There were also suggested songs with links and skits. Holland said he appreciated that the curriculum was adaptable.

For the OCC collection this Christmas, FBC Beltsville designated three weeks to fill the boxes. “We set up an area in our fellowship hall, separated hygiene items, clothes, and toys into categories, and as people had time on Sunday evenings, they came in and filled a few shoeboxes before Bible studies.”

Ken Ledwell, the pastor of Watersedge Baptist Church, leads the OCC VBS Shoebox Rally. (Facebook photo used with permission)

“Although we will not use that same curriculum, we are going to make Operations Christmas Child our emphasis during VBS to keep the excitement going year-to-year.”

Ledwell said the OCC VBS allowed the church to have continual contact with families through Christmas. “The Christmas song they were working on at VBS is the same one they’ll do for Christmas,” he shared. Each child at VBS packed a box, and the church kept in contact with the families. In fact, now that the destination locations are available for the boxes, the church is sending letters to the families to let them know where their boxes are headed.

Watersedge members packed 319 this year, 82 more than last year.

Ledwell, like Holland, said they especially liked the idea of making crafts for the boxes. “My wife, Gina, came up with the idea of collecting t-shirts and making jump ropes out of them. They turned out really well! Each day of VBS, we did a different craft that went into the box.

The church had a packing party recently. They had music and munchies as they packed the boxes. Gina set up rooms with items for the appropriate age ranges for the boxes. “We had between 30-40 people packing — adults, kids, and youth!”

“One of the best parts about the VBS it is how it has allowed us to stay in contact with the families. We have a family we haven’t seen since VBS, and she just recently began attending.”

Buckman said now is a great time to plan for 2023 VBS! She’s more than happy to send the curriculum to any church that’d like to use it! Contact her at kbuckman@bcmd.org or 240-674-1388!