April 17, 2024

Fourteen Children Baptized at Vacation Bible School in St. Croix

Special ministry for children was part of a major evangelistic initiative across the island.

Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher and Inter-American Division News
Phyllis Rivera Ryan welcomes children to their final VBS program on Saturday (Sabbath), April 13 as part of the “Your Journey to Joy” evangelistic series that began on March 30. Fourteen children from the VBS were baptized during the two-week effort held at the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. [Photo: Curtis Henry/Caribbean Union]

As part of an evangelism series in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a Vacation Bible School (VBS) has been held each night for two weeks at the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church, and 14 children have been baptized.

The children’s emphasis program was part of a two-week, island-wide evangelistic impact led by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which began on March 30.

During the VBS meeting on April 10, Vincent David, pastor of the Bethel church, explained that Vacation Bible School “is part of the church’s ongoing children’s ministries initiative that meets the children at their level for learning, fun-time, and teaching them about Jesus.” He added, “Pastor James Doggette Jr., the evangelist for Bethel and Faith Seventh-day Adventist churches, wanted this to be part of the nightly impact, and so we invited Phyllis Rivera Ryan, children’s ministries leader and VBS coordinator for 20 years, to lead the process.” The children made crafts, sang songs, played games, and took part in Bible story time. “It was all fun,” David said.

Themed “Weird Animals,” each evening the VBS program looked at an unusual animal and shared an inspiring quote and Bible text that offered life lessons to the children. VBS leaders and the children sang the theme song nightly, “What a Beautiful Name It Is.”

“You can see the joy beaming from the children’s faces,” said Ryan, who is retired after 38 years as a public school teacher. Approximately 20 children attended the VBS each night, she noted, and said she believes the entire program is all God’s doing. “We are making history by conducting VBS at this time because we normally host it in the summer while the children are on holiday from school.”

Three Sisters Baptized

Ryan shared that three girls attending VBS each evening, Sophia, 12, her sister Sarah, 10, and Rose, 9, rarely missed a night.

“We have been coming with our grandmother,” Sophia said. “Her friend invited her, and most of our friends were here. The people at this church are so nice,” she said.

“Yes, they are so welcoming,” Sarah added. “They also talk a lot about God.”

On Friday, April 5, Doggette asked all the children to join the adults inside the church. Ryan said she did not want the children to go into the church because of the VBS program, but the children all agreed that they wanted to.

“I happened to be sitting beside the three sisters and gave them an assignment,” Ryan said. “I asked them to listen carefully and write down the words ‘baptize,’ ‘baptism’ or ‘baptismal’ whenever they heard them. And the topic for that night was baptism.”

The speaker called out those words more than 100 times, Ryan said. “At the end of the message, I explained to the girls more about what baptism means, and they were willing to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Then, Pastor Doggette asked for those who would be interested in being baptized, and the three sisters stood.”

The sisters were three of seven children baptized after the first week of the series.

“I just wanted God in my life, and that is why I got baptized,” Sophia said. She feels a lot closer to God since attending VBS and being baptized. “And I’m happy that I have His presence in my life. I’m thankful that He’s always here for me. He helps me when I need it.”

Seven other children from the VBS group were baptized at the end of the second week, on April 13.

A Clear Illustration

One of the evening’s presentations included a short play from a group of seven young people who call themselves “The Chosen Ones.” The skit was about two youngsters who invited their friends to church, but their friends kept making excuses that church was boring, and they didn’t want to come. Henson, the Christian young man, persisted in inviting his friends, and they finally gave in. The skit ended with the reluctant friends testifying of their beautiful experiences at church, which resulted in their baptism and holding various positions in the church.

“I think this skit was important,” said Nakai, 16, “because it’s hard to convince our friends to come to church. They think that church is boring. For me, it’s not! VBS is exciting, and the church is nice. If they could only come and see for themselves, they would enjoy it as much as we do.”

Nakai and his brother Kayden, 13, had been baptized in November 2023 with their mother, grandmother, and four nephews, “Eight of us were baptized,” Nakai said.

The brothers credited Ryan for their exposure to the Adventist Church. They had been playing in a steel band since they were very young.

“I was probably around seven playing in the band. That’s when we first started coming to church to play,” Kayden said. “We started to gain exposure to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Then, during COVID-19, we began to sing when the band couldn’t meet anymore.” It was the music ministry of the church that kept them grounded in God, he added.

Everyone Is Accepted

Since she has been conducting VBS at Bethel Adventist church over the years, Ryan said, about 30 children have been baptized through the program, “We also have special needs children attending our services,” she said.

“One mother revealed, I don’t know what you did, but my daughter, who doesn’t speak, can’t wait for you to come to church,” Ryan reported as she shared the experience of one autistic child who attended the latest VBS meeting.

“At VBS, every child is accepted, appreciated, and made to feel comfortable,” Ryan said.

The Bethel Adventist church not only integrates the church’s children into VBS but also enrolls them in the Adventurer and Pathfinder clubs as well as the church’s music academy.

“We do our part to assist the children to smoothly transition into being members of the clubs, providing them with their first uniform,” David said. “We also encourage them to join the music academy, which teaches them to sing and play an instrument. Hence, their self-esteem is developed, preparing them to be productive citizens of our country and for heaven.”

Plans are underway for another Vacation Bible School program during the next evangelistic event at Bethel church and across Seventh-day Adventist churches on the 10 islands in the North Caribbean Conference territory.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.