Vacation Bible School is one of the most effective tools a church has to connect with its local community. While children are off of school for the summer, parents are generally happy to let them attend events like VBS for crafts, sports, games, socialization and learning about God. But most families have many VBS options to choose from, so getting children to attend an Adventist VBS can require a creative approach.

West Lenexa Church in Lenexa, Kansas, has found a way to make the community excited about their VBS program. This summer, they did more than just a VBS, they held a soccer camp for the community June 12-16, which they named SAVE (Soccer and Vacation Evangelism). With the help of a former professional soccer player, Goran Hunjak, they taught children about God while giving them soccer lessons.

Mindy Evans, who helped organize this event, explained, “In Kansas, there is a church on every corner, and every church has a box set VBS, which can be very exciting and well done, but we were looking for something different to draw our community in.” Evans’ two kids attended a soccer camp where the leader, Goran Hunjak, told the children about God while teaching them soccer skills and letting them play. “The whole time they were playing soccer,” said Evans, “he was teaching the children how to praise God for the heat – it was 95 degrees! And he was telling them about how they were created to run and how they were created to bring glory to God.”

Evans asked Hunjak if he had ever led out in a VBS. He hadn’t, but he was impressed with the idea. But they still needed a program to pair with the soccer to teach children about God. “We needed something to tell people who we are as Adventists,” said Evans. “I found a program called CREATION Health by Florida Hospital. When I looked at the program, it was everything we wanted. It talked about nutrition, choices, rest, exercise, interpersonal relationships, outlook and the health message. So we decided to go with CREATION Health and weave it in with the soccer camp.”

Organizing a VBS program like SAVE does not come without an immense amount of work and planning, in addition to a few challenges. But the true surprise, said Evans, was how supportive the church was throughout the process. “The church got ignited. There were people who I would see in church and I would wave hello, but I didn’t know them. But almost all of them helped.”

Some of the challenges were even turned into blessings. “The pastor called me about three weeks before it started and said, ‘Mindy, we have a problem,’ and I just started praying. Then the pastor said, ‘It’s a good problem, though.’” Thirty children from Nepal who live in a refugee house about thirty minutes away wanted to come to the soccer camp, but they had no transportation.

The church needed a bus, but they weren’t sure where to find it. “Steve Smith, the person who teaches juniors with me, is a school bus driver for Kansas City public schools,” said Evans. They had a driver, but they still needed the bus for him to drive. They went looking for a bus to use, starting with Midland Adventist Academy. “The bus was in the shop, so we called another Christian school, but the manager was on vacation. But God had a plan. Steve called his boss and asked how much it would cost to rent a bus for a week.” He explained why they needed the bus, but instead of telling Smith how much it cost, his boss replied, “You have been so faithful in your job. This is a way we can show you how valuable you are to us. You can have the bus for free.”

Because of the success of SAVE, West Lenexa Church plans to do the program again next year. “For any other churches who would like to do a similar program,” said Evans, “reach out to your community. See if there is anybody who is doing an activity. They may have a message about Jesus. It could be a baseball camp, a basketball camp, anything. Because activity brings glory to God.”

The conference office or local businesses are also invaluable resources for programs such as SAVE. The Kansas-Nebraska Conference purchased the CREATION Health program used and Shawnee Mission Health donated the T-shirts and water bottles for the kids. Evans adds, “Use social media and radio as well. Social media is free and Christian radio stations will advertise at no cost.”

Evans said she was amazed by how much God changed people’s hearts, including hers, in the process of creating SAVE. “He has helped me grow so much closer to people in the church who I didn’t even know before. When you get involved, the blessings will overflow.”

Watch our Mid-America Dispatch video about this VBS here.