By Paula Schlueter Ross
Christ Lutheran Church, Chalmette, La., member Kathy Wendling has helped out at more than a dozen vacation Bible school programs at the church, which took on 10 feet of water as a result of Hurricane Katrina in fall 2005 and just reopened April 13 after extensive cleanup and repairs.
But this year’s VBS, held June 9-13, was “completely different,” said Wendling.
For one thing, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, provided all the materials free of charge — enough booklets, crafts, decorations, and music CDs for 50 children.
For another, no one registered. Christ members had canvassed the neighborhood, distributing some 300 fliers with information about the free weeklong VBS. But they had no idea how many kids would show up.
Twenty-seven did — on bikes, skateboards, and on foot (even barefoot). And, illustrating the biggest difference between the first post-Katrina VBS and its predecessors, 21 of those children were not Christ members.
“It was a wonderful, glorious thing,” said Wendling, a staff member with Recovery Assistance Inc., a ministry of the Synod’s Southern District that assists residents and congregations after disasters. “We had the community come, the community children. Many of them were unchurched, we didn’t know them, so we got to know them.”
The five-day event was, she added, “truly an outreach” because the majority of youngsters came from “families that had never been in our church before.” Many are still receiving government housing assistance, according to Wendling, and are still “very much in transition” and “trying to get back into houses” almost three years after the storm.
“We have many thousands of people who are still like this,” she said. “That’s why it still feels like yesterday to a lot of us.” Only about 45 of Christ’s 300 members have returned to the area; most relocated after their homes were flooded.
According to news reports, less than half of the 67,000 pre-storm population is back in St. Bernard Parish, the hard-hit New Orleans suburb where Christ Lutheran Church is located.
Wendling said she doesn’t know if the VBS students will return to worship at the church, but she is gratified that they have heard God’s Word.
“I hope that some people form a relationship with Christ — I hope we planted that seed,” she said. But the most important thing, she added, is that “we were really sharing God’s Word.” And, the children each received a CD of Christian songs from the VBS, so they “will carry that home and share it with their families.”
Gretchen Jameson, director of public relations and corporate communications for CPH, attended part of the VBS at Christ, Chalmette, and called it “a beautiful experience.”
“It was truly (for us at CPH) our mission in tangible, sweaty, chaotic, fun, laughing, action,” Jameson told Reporter via e-mail.
Yes, CPH provided the materials, she added, “but what really made this VBS was the amazing effort of the people of Christ Lutheran — their commitment to the Great Commission and their huge hearts to introduce Jesus to the people in their own backyard.
“CPH resources simply helped to strengthen the work God was already purposing in them.”
Posted June 26, 2008