Vacation Bible School

June 2014―In the proverbial shadow of the Georgia Dome and in spite of the fact that there were few literal shadows, Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship’s Vacation Bible School attracted a total of eighteen students from the Bluff and surrounding neighbourhoods.  The theme was “The Ten Commandments” and it was a joy to watch the children, ranging in age from about 5 years to 14 years old, enjoying the lessons, the skits, crafts and games, and learning about God’s Law.

The event was held in a very pretty park in the Vine City area of Atlanta which, although still in a low-income neighbourhood, is not as derelict, and does not have the crime rate of the Bluff even though it is only a few blocks from it.  It ran from 10 to 12 on Friday and Saturday mornings, the 13th and 14th of June.

The event did highlight one of our prayer requests, namely that of the need for a people-mover because even with three people and their cars ferrying children back and forth to the Vine City Park, some participants were having to arrive well in advance of the activities. However, amazingly, we were able to start on time both mornings.

There was no need to reserve any part of the park but we hadn’t checked on “park maintenance day”. So on Friday morning we arrived to find that city workers had just started mowing the long, wet grass in the area in which we had intended to set up the activities. They were apologetic and directed us to an attractive patio which overlooks the park and was a perfect place to set up our tables and prepare for the children to arrive. The noise of the mower, blower and trimmer did not completely cease until we were about half an hour into the activities, but it did not prove to be a particular obstacle.

Pastor Frank opened the session with prayer and then led the children in some songs to help break the ice. This was followed by a skit which, on the first day, illustrated the events leading up to the giving of the Commandments. It had our two Short-Term Missions Team members (Josh Giesler and Calvin Biedeman) dressed up as Moses and an Israelite, with Pastor Frank as Mount Sinai.

Amy then kept the younger children on the patio with her to do the lesson on the first table of the law, and Josh and Calvin took the older ones to a grassy area under some trees.

The boys led the games for both age groups out in the freshly-mown grass and Amy led the crafts, making Ten Commandments magnets and Mt. Sinai models complete with cloud. Everyone regrouped for snacks but, having been invited to lunch by a group of folk from a nearby church, we headed there for cheese sandwiches and fruit cups. We had a total of twelve children and eight adults in attendance.

The second day opened in the same way and the skit this time had Amy’s character expressing to Calvin’s character her serious misunderstandings of the purpose and relevance of the Ten Commandments and their applications in real life, even arguing some points that Calvin was making. Eventually, however, her character comes to understand the biblical principles and how to put into them into practice.

The lessons covered the second table of the law; games were played and crafts fashioned including file folders shaped like the tablets of stone which opened to show each of the commandments.

This time we provided double cheeseburgers and cold sodas for lunch at the end and received pledges from many of the children that they would come to church the following afternoon and give presentations of their crafts and what they had learned. On the Saturday we had fourteen children in attendance and eleven adults. Four children from Friday did not return (three of them because they went home, which is out of the area, and one because of a sore throat). But six additional children came giving us seven each in the older and younger groups.

Eleven of the children did come on the Lord’s Day including three, along with their mother, who had not attended a service with us before. The same skits were performed with Pastor H. P. McCracken from the Southern Church Extension Committee playing Mt. Sinai. Pastor Frank provided the sound effects of thunder, lightning and trumpets much to the amusement of all.

With only two weeks to put it all together, Miss Amy did an outstanding job leading the planning for the VBS, including the overall production, both skits, the lessons for the younger children, and all the crafts. Josh and Calvin planned the lessons for the older children and the games. Advertising was done door-to-door and one-on-one in the streets, with Pastor Frank and the Missions Team using a downtown apartment (bereft of stove and shower), as their headquarters.

We are so grateful to the Lord for bringing so many children to our mini Vacation Bible School and for bringing them back for worship the following day. We hope and pray that these young people will not soon forget the lessons they learned. The concept of following a moral law and understanding that these laws are still relevant today appears to be practically unknown in areas of crime and violence such as the Bluff. In fact, it was on Thursday morning, the day before VBS started, that we heard of the stabbing death of a man to whom we had ministered many times while still located on the steps of the abandoned church building in the heart of the Bluff. We had entertained him at our house overnight a couple of times so that he could attend Northminster with us on the Lord’s Day. He had come to visit us in our current church building one time, in February, and we had hoped he would return. This man was the second person to whom we had ministered who had been murdered, the other, less than a year ago being a woman who desired to leave her life of drugs when her life was taken by someone who raped and strangled her.

Life in the Bluff is brutal. Children suffer. As I have mentioned before, the Lord has led us to minister to many children in the area. Please join us in praying that the lessons they learned on Friday and Saturday, and the sermon on Sunday, will help to inspire them to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, minds and strength and their neighbours as themselves.

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Unlike most church plants in middle-class America, a downtown ministry attracts a lot of people who are needy in a material sense as well as a spiritual one. We have been stimulated by reading the biography of The Man who Moved a Mountain which relates the story of a Presbyterian minister who was born into the desperately poor and violent world of the Appalachian hollers at the turn of the twentieth century. Life was cheap, and children were born into a place and time in which the hungry did not have food stamps, the sick did not have “safety net” hospitals, infants were fed brandy, drunkenness was the norm, education was frowned upon, and killing was a sport. The story of how the Lord changed hearts using this man was inspiring and encouraging. It showed love, faith, and determination; a willingness to spend and be spent; a willingness even to be physically threatened and financially cheated; a willingness to forgive and to carry on, all to bring the message of the gospel and a change in the culture. In comparison, the poor of the downtown districts of urban centers in the United States in the twenty-first century do not have to suffer either the level of violence or the hunger that the destitute did a century ago.

Of assistance in stimulating our thinking, the book When Helping Hurts has been instrumental in helping Frank and me design a picture of the ministry that we would like to develop, with plans for this year and goals for the future. The authors of this book admit to having made their own mistakes in the past which they use as illustrations of what not to do, and they then go on to list effective strategies and resources that they or others have developed which have proven successful during many years in this kind of ministry.

Each of these books comes from a different perspective. The mindset of the preacher in the first book is that of a raw, bold and fearless crusader with rash and lofty ideals, demanding to be educated, and using gut instincts and spiritual nerves of steel to pull people out of the depths of depravity. The mindset of the authors of the second book is to provide a methodology which is scholarly, measured, and practical. Both books reveal the necessity for those of us in this kind of ministry to pray for the gifts of patience and long-suffering.

Believing that the Great Commission must be the main thrust of our own ministry, we did not set out to be a social agency. But we do want to make ourselves available to help those people whom the Lord brings our way to work towards developing a godly lifestyle. We pray that being spirited and audacious as led by the Holy Spirit, tempered with caution and prudence, will enable us to be of greatest benefit in the modern world, bringing glory to our Saviour.

To walk with us in this effort the Lord has been gracious in bringing us a new family which recently moved into Georgia. Lieutenant Chris Meyers, his wife and four young children have been driving up approximately every two weeks from his new duty station, Ft. Benning, in the western part of the state. It takes about two hours to drive to Atlanta, so it is not something he is able to undertake with his family every week. Chris is a wonderful addition to our team as he brings an abundance of energy and a variety of skills. Please take a look at the website he has created for us at atlanta-rpc.org (no www). Having recently been licensed to preach by Alleghenies Presbytery he also filled the pulpit for Pastor Frank on one occasion. His wife Misty and the children have also been a blessing to the ministry.

Given the large numbers of children we have been attracting, Miss Amy and Miss Jerusha decided it would be helpful to split the Sunday school class into two, with Miss Amy teaching the older children and Miss Jerusha the younger. While the idea is a good one, the occasional exuberance of the younger children can disrupt the older class. Hence it is becoming more and more desirable to find a more capacious location.

In addition, Miss Michele is teaching a lady in the group to read and write, so we actually have three lessons going on simultaneously in the same room. When all three classes are quietly and studiously engaged, one can enjoy the heartwarming warble of a harmonious hubbub.

We are looking forward to hosting a short-term missions team for the fifth year running. Two young men will be joining us for 2½ weeks in June, with one of them staying for an additional four weeks. The plan is that, for a large part of the time, they will be living in an apartment in the area in which we minister in order to give them the opportunity to get to know some of the residents more intimately. They will, as in the past, run something akin to a Vacation Bible Study for the children and will also have a prayer table set up in the heart of the Bluff. Please pray for this intense outreach effort: that it will be effective in introducing our ministry to the residents of the area, and that the fruits from that effort will be of use in the future.

Other prayer requests comprise “The Five P’s”, namely:

1. for an increasing culture of Prayer among our team members,

2. for more Personnel to come alongside us to support us in this growing effort,

3. for a 15-seat People-mover,

4. for a more commodious Place in which to hold worship and Sabbath school,

5. for Property of our own (eventually) to use for both worship and ministry activities.

Thank you for your continued interest in Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship. May the Lord be pleased to bless your own ministries as we all strive to advance his Kingdom in this broken world.

2011 in the Bluff (Part 1)

December 31, 2011

It is now twenty months since we started ministering to the folk in the English Avenue district of downtown Atlanta, known as the Bluff.  We currently have an average of 13 in attendance each week, which includes those of us who come down from the suburbs.  Every Lord’s Day afternoon the arrival of Frank and me along with our faithful assistant, Amy Work, is anticipated by the residents.  On one occasion recently, a car was parked in “our” space and there was a small group of men on “our” steps.  As soon as they saw us approach they literally jumped up, declaring “The preacher is here, the preacher is here!”, the owner of the car called out that he would move it right away, and the steps were suddenly vacated to make room for us.  These men did not join the study, but we were touched at the respect they held for “the preacher”.  Amy enjoys her role as the teacher of the little children who attend, holding her class on the second set of steps of the burned-out church building on the corner of Kennedy and Brawley.AME Building

We were encouraged this year by the interest shown in our downtown ministry by a number of visitors from around the country.  As reported in a previous issue, in January three young men came for a weekend from Erskine College in South Carolina specifically to experience this kind of ministry.  In July Amy’s parents, Steven and Jeannie Work, came for the baptism of their new grandson in Chattanooga, and then came down to spend the evening in the Bluff with Amy.  Steven, who is pastor of the RPCNA church in Quinter, Kansas, led the Bible study that evening and then unexpectedly appeared the following Lord’s Day evening as well because they had suffered car problems and had not yet returned home.  Their support gave us a real emotional and spiritual boost.  Later in the same month, Paul Huffmaster, a member of an independent psalm-singing church in San Diego, visited his father south of Atlanta, and attended Northminster one of the three weeks he was in the area.  On the other Lord’s Days he attended his father’s church, but he joined us in the Bluff on all the Sundays he was here.  He was also a great encouragement to us as well as an enormous help with regard to ferrying children to and from the Bible study.  Then in November, Mark Sampson, from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, who was visiting the area in order to make fundraising contacts, both worshipped with us in the morning and came into the Bluff with us in the evening.  Again, he was not only of great encouragement but also of great practical help ferrying children.

And who could forget the RP missions team comprising Stephen McCollum from Northern Ireland, Carla Quigley from Scotland, and Brenda Gladfeldter from Pennsylvania, along with Colleen Hartlaub from Wisconsin, who were here in the summer.  They, along with Amy and ourselves, held a “block party” on a vacant lot one Saturday morning.  Amy, who is a teacher in a Christian School in Marietta, had written the story of Moses and Pharaoh as a play in which the children could participate.  Stephen was brilliantly menacing in his portrayal of Pharaoh, wrapped in a purple table cloth with a gold napkin wrapped round his head pharaoh-style, waving a scepter that looked suspiciously like a curtain rod.  Carla played Aaron complete with fake beard, Brenda and Colleen dressed up as court magicians, and the children took it in turns to play Moses and, later, Aaron as well.  Besides narrating the script, Amy had even come up with games to represent the plagues. For example, a relay game involving cups of red juice illustrated the Nile turning to blood, the game of leapfrog depicted the plague of frogs, and, to portray the animal deaths, the children imitated an animal of their choice before falling down “dead”.  Unfortunately, we had only four children in attendance, but it turned out to be a great success for those who were there, with a lot of laughter and fun in addition to the learning.  Frank ended the morning on a serious note, explaining the meaning of the story, and using it to introduce Christ and explain the gospel to the children.  All four children came back the next day to the Bible study, and two who were brothers also brought their older brother.  They attended one more week, but after that we couldn’t locate them, and it turned out that they had moved.  Months later, however, we found them and they, along with a sister, started attending again.

The other two young people who came to the block party were Jenario (now 14 years old) and Miyani (now 10 years old), who have been very faithful in their attendance for over a year now, hardly ever missing a week.  We have been proud of Jenario’s efforts to memorise Bible verses and the answers to the first few Shorter Catechism questions.

In addition to the block party, the missions team also set up a prayer table on two other occasions and a number of needy people come by to ask for prayer.  Their names and prayer requests were logged, and we undertook to pray for each one for 14 days.  We still have folk from that endeavour join us occasionally at our regular Bible study.

(Continued)