When the stay-at-home order began, several Sabbath School teachers began to think of a different way they could still see the children they had taught. Denny Vicente, Elmhurst Seventh-day Adventist Church Sabbath School teacher in Elmhurst, Illinois, United States, was one who began thinking of how to see her beloved Beginner students.
Vicente didn’t know when she would be able to have them back in her class or see them again. Afraid her Sabbath School students would forget the lessons and songs, she began thinking of how to continue reaching her students.
“Children’s minds are like sponges, and they retain everything they hear,” Vicente said. “If children learn the good lessons found in the Bible when they are little, they will remember it when they are older. People take the little ones for granted and think they do not learn. But when they are older, you can see that what they learned as children was important, and they still remember.”
She began to offer interactive virtual Sabbath School classes, starting with her small group of students aged 0-3 from the Elmhurst church. Soon, the class grew to include children to the age of 12 and began to reach children from other states and countries.
Her lessons have included the stories of baby Isaac, the disciples fishing, Jesus going to church, and recently, Jesus feeding the five thousand. Vicente has acted the role of Sarah and had her husband act as Abraham; invited Nicholas Brignoni from Atlanta, Georgia, to play the role of Peter fishing in a boat; and had a student dress as Jesus attending church and reading from a “scroll.”
Now every Friday, Denny sends the video conference link to church members, family, and friends. On Sabbath morning at 10:00 a.m., she sits by the piano in her family room and plays the children’s favorite songs, acts out each lesson, and gives the students “homework” to bring the next Sabbath. After the morning meeting, she also sends a card to each child with a note of encouragement, a drawing, and their memory verse.
When asked how she prepared such a class while working a full-time job from home, she simply said, “All for the love of my kids.”
Vicente has been a Beginner Sabbath School teacher at Elmhurst church for more than 18 years and has no plans to stop her online program. “Until I can hug [my] kids again,” she said.
Friends and Praise
As the stay-at-home orders began to spread through each state, Sarah Canada, Sabbath School teacher at Michigan’s Belleville Seventh-day Adventist Church, was wondering how to keep young people connected with God.
“Truly, I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit,” Canada said. “I had a burden for our young people and didn’t want them to go without their worship time.”
Together with her friend Kimberly Spare from the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, she began to figure out what they could do to keep Sabbath School lessons going. They first started with a two-week program that featured the stories of the second coming of Jesus and lessons of the Bible.
“One of the hardest things for my family was not going to church. So, I wanted to make sure there were options out there for our young people,” Canada said. “The more we stayed at home, the more we wanted to make sure our kids had a way to worship together.”
Canada, who usually teaches a multi-age group from 0-9, began adapting the Sabbath School lessons for ages 3-11 based on their regular Sabbath School programs.
“We felt that it’d be more fun to include more children. So we started to reach out to friends, Pathfinders, Adventurers, family members across the states, friends from Canada, and school friends,” Canada said. “That’s how we started the ‘Friends and Praise’ lessons.”
Their goal was simple: to include as many children as possible. Families with kids began sharing videos of special music, mission projects, Lego-block Bible stories, and song services.
“At first we had a song service group singing, but then we had families recording different worship songs,” Canada said. “I reached out to some of my favorite storytellers to share children’s stories. My aunt Stella, who usually helps me with Vacation Bible School and lives out of state, helped with storytime, and my friend Michelle Pearson from Alaska shared mission stories. The Lord just kept providing things and video submissions, and it was such a blessing.”
Leaders at the Michigan Conference region office saw what Canada was doing and asked if she could help host a children’s program for a conference-wide virtual camp meeting program. During the lockdown, Canada and Spare have created 13 episodes of “Friends and Praise,” including a couple of episodes for camp meeting, to keep young worshipers connected to their church community.
“I knew it was reaching people because the devil would attack in different ways: videos would get lost or take a long time to upload and other things,” Canada said. “But God helped us get an episode out every week.”
She is now working on hosting a virtual Vacation Bible School (VBS) the second week of July to be used by several Michigan churches.
“This is a way we could be in ministry together,” Canada said of her family. “It was a blessing for our family since all of my family has helped make this Sabbath School happen. We pray that they have been a blessing to many people, and we look forward to seeing what God will continue to do with Sabbath School, camp meeting, and virtual VBS.”