HENRYVILLE, Ind. – One-hundred days after the March 2 tornado disaster, more than 100 children ages 4 to 12 years of age from Henryville and Edwardsville gathered for a week-long Vacation Bible School, June 11-15, at the Henryville United Methodist Church. In the midst of noise from hammers and power saws across town, this year’s “Construction Junction” VBS focused on reconstructing the life of Christ – and Henryville.
“The community members are tired and weary,” said the Rev. Beverly Perry, pastor at Edwardsville UMC. “The children and parents could use a little encouragement and God has provided.”
The past four months Henryville UMC has reached out to its community by providing financial support, food, shelter and coordinating volunteers from across the Midwest. Henryville’s Vacation Bible School coordinator, Debbie Belcher, says they’ve also been preoccupied working on their own homes. “It’s kind of like limbo. I didn’t have a living room for a week.”
Plea for help
Earlier this spring, the Rev. Wilma Bone, pastor at Henryville UMC, started searching for additional help for VBS but only received a single volunteer from central Indiana. Bone expressed her discouragement during lunch with her clergy covenant group, a support system of neighboring clergy. Perry took her peer’s words to heart and contacted Pam Beckman and Dee Kramer, VBS directors at Edwardsville, 25 miles south of Henryville. Eager to help, Beckman and Kramer volunteered to organize and coordinate the entire week for a combined VBS in Henryville.
Bone remembers how the mid-May call from Edwardsville brought tears to her eyes. “The United Methodists have a connectional system and this is what it’s all about,” she said during an onsite interview June 13.
Beckman said they understood the importance of the church’s support network and Edwardsville was ready to jump in with both feet. “It was a great opportunity for our church to serve in mission and provide help in Henryville through this ministry,” she said, donning her hard hat and bright-yellow safety vest. “Most of our people have been looking for some way to help.”
The Edwardsville volunteers answered the call by packing up their hard hats and nails to build a VBS for the Henryville community. Beckman and Kramer had already written and used the Construction Junction curriculum 11 years ago.
Gohmann Asphalt and Construction in Edwardsville, which had already helped with relief efforts in Henryville, offered to donate construction signs and yellow caution tape as themed decorations. One month later the Edwardsville van pulled up the first morning of VBS with its team of 12 volunteers and co-directors.
“All the pieces fell into place at the right time for all of us,” Beckman said. “God just made it at the right time.”
Wearing toy yellow construction hardhats during the three-hour morning “Construction Junction,” children from both communities tinkered with tools and learned about Christ. Each day was themed to teach the play-acting construction workers something new about Christ’s life ranging from his birth to his resurrection. Every morning they grabbed their personalized hardhats, found their groups in the worship pews and set out for a morning of rotating stations.
Beneath three tents in the parking lot, storytellers dressed in robes and beards performed narratives of Bible stories and Jesus’ miracles. Nearby between two trailers of showers and beds for volunteers, children played book-themed games to raise money to build a new community library in Henryville.
The church basement featured a market place from biblical times in which children became artisans constructing candles and crafts much like Jesus’ contemporaries. In a classroom directly below a room with the cots of relief volunteers, children learned “Tales from the Tool Shed” and nailed miniature toolboxes together to take their crafts and lessons home.
VBS also became part of the healing process. Volunteers swapped stories and memories of March 2 as they supervised the children. Children also began expressing their feelings about the disaster, some for the first time.
“They really started to open up,” Beckman said. “By the end of the week they were readily offering up their stories. It was a good thing for them to get that out in the open where it was okay.”
Some of the children even related their experiences to what they were learning about Christ.
“Have you seen some miracles since the tornadoes?” Perry asked the children, receiving a resounding “yes.”
In response to Perry, one child said, “A miracle is a miracle, even if it takes time.”
Because of their positive experience in Henryville, Beckman and Kramer feel called to continue their help with VBS in disaster areas throughout the United States. For more information about the Henryville experience, contact Pam Beckman and Dee Kramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about volunteering in disaster recovery or to assist in hosting volunteers at a retreat center, visit www.inumc.org/volunteer.
Kathryn White serves as a summer intern in communication at the Indiana Conference Center in Indianapolis. She is a junior at Butler University as a communications major from Peoria, Ill. She is a member of First UMC in Peoria.
“The children and parents could use a little encouragement and God has provided.”
– Rev. Beverly Perry
Children from the Henryville community and Edwardsville UMC construct tiny toolboxes to carry newly acquired tools from their lessons.
David Gardner and the Rev. Beverly Perry with volunteers from Edwardsville UMC dressed as disciples Peter and John narrate God’s miracles to the children at Construction Junction.