The VBS Jungle

Hello friends, it’s been a while…

Let’s start with a few priority items. I want to thank you for your support over the last several years. Whether personal, emotional, financial, or in prayer, it all helps, and it is all appreciated. Really, I mean that, and written English doesn’t allow enough ways to convey how much your interest and encouragement mean to me.

Next, I want to apologize for not following through on my commitment to keep you updated. If I were to be brutally honest, discouragement has a bit to do with that. I want to show you a whole list of accomplishments and an album of faces that are smiling because they finally understand Jesus’ love for them. I want to tell you we’re breaking ground in new territory… frankly, I want to tell you we’re keeping up with the Livingstons or the Elliots.

Oh, I could show you a list of completed tasks, but it wouldn’t really tell you how far we’ve come or how much is left. That’s because we are breaking new ground, journeying in uncharted territory. Some of that territory has been tougher to navigate than we expected, and we’ve had to pull ourselves out of a few ditches and replace some equipment. In traditional missions, surprises like the loss of a transport vehicle or the discovery of a new village are easily conveyed and understood. I haven’t done as well at conveying what we’re doing in this land of bringing accessible resources to deaf children while ensuring that their hearing siblings and neighbors are also fully engaged.

The first step, in 2013, was to identify themes for the VBS as a whole (Trust God) and each day in particular (His Word, Love, Grace, Ways, Plan). We had a few ideas fleshed out and brought a living version of Dr. Wonder’s SignLab VBS to a few locations nearby. Marshall, two interpreters, a board member, and I were fully hands-on with science experiments, games, leading songs, and explaining how the activities fit the lessons. I still smile at the picture of our Skittles map where we marked a path through a campground, past a little cemetery, ending at a lakeside campfire to lead the children on a narrated journey through the life of Paul. Look how much God used the collection of letters written to friends while he was in prison. In his day, it may not have looked like much.

We have since replaced the “Trust God’s Plan” story with the life of Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel. As you know, he was kidnapped, sold, enslaved, harassed, falsely accused, imprisoned, forgotten, then elevated to the second highest position in all of Egypt. Through years and tears, Joseph kept trusting, and so do we…God knows how He’ll use it all to save many, and He alone knows the timeline and intermediate events.

We made videos of deaf actors, as their characters, teaching the children in ASL that they can Trust God. Paula’s Lab, Billy’s Games, and the Hologram Room were ready for their big rollout in 2014. We had a snack menu that could be associated with each day and a plan to get our Finger Food Café host on video. We had draft documentation, and a draft video worship leader who encouraged the children to sign and shout “Trust God!” Our remaining task list was around half of what it was when we started; we were on a roll.

During 2014 testing, we learned that we needed our Worship Leader to teach more so that children who had never seen sign language could confidently (and accurately) sign along with the songs; and that certain ingredients or weather conditions could cause the lab experiments to fail, ruining the lesson. With a few course adjustments, we were still moving forward.

We recorded the new worship leader, complete with careful instructions on how to sign the songs and scriptures and a vibrant screen presence. We overhauled the snack menu and recorded our Café host explaining how everything tied in with the day’s theme. My favorite is a food tour of Joseph’s life. We added a Deaf Culture module called Lisa’s World. Confident that we were near the finish line, we arranged four trial runs in 2015.

The 2015 sites were filled with children who already know sign language and Deaf Culture, so our vibrant Worship Leader’s careful explanations and our shiny new Deaf Culture module suddenly begged for alternatives. We ran into a theological concern, as the Paula’s Lab presentation of sin and grace opened the debate on whether sin is inherited or acquired after the fact. Stumbles and missteps convinced us that we needed to add training videos to ensure the VBS leaders were confident in their roles. We weren’t as finished as we thought we were.

If you’re keeping up with the pioneer missionary metaphor, this is where we crashed into a ravine, flooded the engine, and lost a tire. And our navigator died – literally.

Judy, fully half of Silent Blessings for many years, the one who kept everything humming at the office, was diagnosed with cancer. We shifted our focus to cover administrative tasks, receive a brain-dump of all that she knew, hire a new office manager, and grieve. She went Home between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Paula, our new office manager, is a great addition to the team. Hit the ground running and saved the day (true-biz!). As soon as she was settled in, we were surprised with another detour – Church of God Ministries decided to close this building, and we need to find another office space. Marshall, our primary cameraman, video editor, sound editor, and fundraiser, has added realty search and negotiations to his duties as Executive Director. (yes, one man is carrying four jobs) Two promising sites fell through, and we’re awaiting a response from the third. Paula’s been sorting and packing while we’ve been recording and editing training videos. Have you ever tried to pack and work simultaneously? We keep reaching for things we’ve packed, and hesitating to pack other things, while knowing that we’ll need to move everything quickly as soon as we have a new site or are forced to put it all in storage. The uncertainty has been frustrating, yet everyday we’re reminded that we want to teach children to Trust God…especially in times of discouragement.

Last week we observed the first SignLab VBS of the 2016 season, next week is another in Oregon. As with the summers before, long hours have gone into the materials. The most crucial training videos are mostly done, voiceovers and captions still need to be added. Two sets of training videos are being edited. We have two modules that need training videos from script to captions (aka, “soup to nuts”). We’re looking at an overhaul of the Deaf Culture module once we get feedback from this summer. We have small adjustments to make to the Hologram module, laying in revised versions of three stories and a voice we haven’t found yet.

Now it’s the summer of 2016. We’ve been on this VBS journey for a full three years, or four summers. We have a revised route, a new navigator, and solid equipment. We’ve made a lot of progress, and there are a few more miles to go. I can’t tell you how long they’ll take, only that we continue to drive in the same direction and deal with potholes and fallen trees as we reach them.

We hope to publish in the Spring of 2017, then we can show you what you’ve been investing in. As for that album of redeemed and transformed faces…Jesus will have to show you those. Let’s keep working together to make sure there are plenty.