Super Summer Jam takes gospel to hundreds of children this week
By Myra Holmes
Bethesda's Super Summer Jam, in its fourth year, will conclude this Saturday with a carnival. Typically more than 125 people are involved in this outreach effort.
This week, Bethesda Church, Huron, SD, will take children’s ministry into their community with “Super Summer Jam.” The effort is aptly called “VBS on steroids,” because it takes a format similar to vacation Bible school to multiple outdoor locations in order to make it more accessible to children in their community. The congregation expects to reach about 300 children in two locations this Tuesday through Friday and finish the week with a carnival on Saturday.
The outreach, in its fourth year at Bethesda, requires a huge commitment on the part of the Bethesda congregation in terms of both people resources and finances. But rather than viewing it as a burden, the church has embraced Super Summer Jam (SSJ) as a local mission opportunity.
“We have a mission project that we all do together, and people are excited and involved,” says organizer Laura Reinders.
People power SSJ
It will take about 94 on-site volunteers to make SSJ happen this week, and that number doesn’t include those who pitch in behind the scenes baking cookies, marketing the event or praying. The total tally, including those less-visible volunteers, is somewhere around 125 to 130—an impressive chunk of a congregation that averages 280 on Sunday mornings. Yet SSJ organizers say they never have to beg for volunteers.
The SSJ format allows for a variety of gifts to be used, so nearly everyone can find some way to help, whether painting faces, loading and unloading equipment or simply loving children. One Bethesda attendee, for example, used his woodworking skills to build a number of easels that are used for a special art night during the week. Preteen and teens work as helpers, perhaps servings alongside their parents to shepherd a group of children through activity stations.
In preparation for this week, some volunteers have helped with extensive marketing efforts. A consistent Super Summer Jam logo helps identify the event in the community. Banners, door-to-door flyers and mailings promote it.
Other volunteers focus on prayer. “We know that doing this without prayer is absolutely futile,” says SSJ leader Angie Fast. About two weeks ago, the Bethesda congregation began wearing wrist bands to remind them to pray for the volunteers and the children who will attend. As a bonus, the bands serve as a conversation-starter in town.
During the week, prayer teams will pile into a van and travel from site to site to pray over what’s happening at each location. Often, these are some of the older Bethesda attendees, who find they can still serve in this valuable way.
Fast says, “There’s a place for everyone to use their God-given gifts and serve, and that is a huge, transforming idea for any church family to grab hold of.”
In addition, SSJ requires “thousands and thousands” of dollars. Everything—from snacks and craft supplies to the bicycles given away at the carnival—is free to those who attend. That was important to organizers from the beginning, since cost could be a barrier to many of the families they wish to reach.
The church funds it all through their mission budget. SSJ leader Laura Reinders says those who manage the budget are good stewards, and the congregation willingly gives toward this outreach effort.
A mission opportunity at home
Much of the motivation behind reshaping their usual summer children’s ministry was a desire to better reach the children in their community, many of whom are Karen refugees and Hispanic immigrants and who wouldn’t come into the church for more traditional vacation Bible school. So SSJ organizers have promoted it as a local mission opportunity.
Leader Cherrlyn Fast notes that not everyone can go overseas for a mission trip, but everyone at Bethesda can help with SSJ. “This gives all of us an opportunity to be involved in a mission trip,” she says.
In addition, she says, younger generations in the church family are watching and absorbing a passion for outreach. “Our kids learn by what our parents are involved in,” she says.
Leader Lorena Blom adds that SSJ has been “a leap forward” for the congregation’s mission mentality. While Bethesda has always been a mission-minded congregation, generously sending and supporting missionaries, having a local mission has encouraged attendees to get involved on a different level. “This brings more people into the mix,” she says.
To read more about Super Summer Jam, click here.