By Tom Maguire
Vacation Bible School delves into personality development too.
Volunteer Adit Meukir brought her four-year-old daughter, Nafoni Axeil, to VBS at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse. “Yesterday she was here and she was shy, to sing and to dance,” Meukir said. “And when she went home she was singing all these things. Oh, it’s amazing. So I thought it was a good program, and they bring them closer to God.”
About fifty children attended the weeklong instruction, said Sister Mary Joana Baidoo, IHMMC, who coordinates the summer program for St. Vincent’s. She also works with immigrants and refugee families in the parish; she said most of the VBS children come from South Sudan, Liberia, Burundi, Kenya, Togo, Benin, and the Congo.
The children project great sincerity.
Ayen Aman, 10, raised her arms joyfully in sync with a religious DVD projected on the large screen in the church basement. “This is a Catholic spot. … The song was talking about the Lord,” she said.
Why did that make her happy?
“Because I love the Lord and I praise the Lord. He is my savior.”
Fahari Kan, 7½, said he was learning about Jesus and when Jesus was born. He said, “I know he’s still with us. … I think God will send Gabriel to help us.” Fahari observed that God heals us, and he cited the Bible story of the Healing of a Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12).
“Very brilliant, very brilliant,” Sister Joana said of Fahari and the other children. Other Bible stories that she included in VBS are the Annunciation (Luke 1:28); the Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:7); the Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22-23); and the Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:46).
The children also learned about the rosary and Holy Communion, and they made bread to take home. Longtime volunteer baking instructor Rosemary Dacko told the little bakers that the tiny seeds of wheat that she poured into the bread mixture symbolized their “individual gifts, talents, hopes, dreams, joys, sadness, prayer, everything. … Stir it in until it all becomes one.”
Dacko said Jesus offered flat bread, without yeast, at the first Mass — the Last Supper. But the bread loaves — six to a sheet so they wouldn’t stick together, redolent of cinnamon, and dotted with raisins — made by these children rose and rose in the basement ovens. “I like when we make the bread,” said Ayen, the girl who danced in sync with the DVD.
“I love these children and their families, because I know them, many of the families, very well,” said VBS volunteer staffer Patty Schmidt, a retired Le Moyne College professor of multicultural literacy. “And I work with Sister Joana. I’m just so impressed with their thoughts, … their ideas here, coming here on a daily basis. And they not only inspire each other but they inspire me.”
Ayen and the other children, she said, “get a wonderful reinforcement of excellent values for society. I think they learn that Jesus is our model … his giving and loving example.”
VBS volunteer Jean Bills, who has belonged to St. Vincent Parish for over 50 years, noted “a sense of community today. I feel like the children really got it, they really seemed to understand that we are one and we’re family, and we all love each other. …
“It’s very difficult in this world. So for me and for them, this is kind of a little respite, this is where they can be themselves and not be afraid, and … see that there is a lot of good in the world.”
“The message,” Sister Joana said, “is that we are all different in many ways; none of us is perfect, but God loves us the same.”