By Elsie Walker
A goat, a German shepherd and two bunnies were among the participants in the recent Vacation Bible School held at the Port Morris United Methodist Church in Landing.
The theme of the event was “Creation: God’s Gift to Us” and the special guests were there to remind the children that every creature was made with a purpose all its own. The children, pre-k through 10 years old, also learned that they need to take care of the world by recycling and not littering, and that it is important to help others as well.
The children who came to the Vacation Bible School were greeted by a sanctuary decorated with a variety of animal images and a large patchwork tent in the fellowship hall. The event started with a puppet show by puppeteer Tina Berchak of Stanhope, who told the children the Bible story of creation and set the stage for the activities throughout the rest of the days. The creative activities included painting ceramic animals, making magnets to remind people to recycle and to stop littering, and creating cards and fans for residents at an area nursing home.
The children learned about animals mentioned throughout the Bible and that every animal has a different function in keeping the world in balance. Games were played; smores were consumed, and the children took advantage of the temporary animal tattoo table to see who could get the most and claim bragging rights. However, the children’s big surprise came when some furry visitors gathered in the church yard.
Ron Kaislag of Hopatcong was a volunteer at the event and his son, Daniel, attended it.
“I thought our animal visitors were a hit with the kids; they gathered around the animals and were engaged and very curious,” said Kaislig. “They got to learn about the role these animals play in our world and how we must be good stewards of our wildlife and our planet.”
Champ, a therapy dog; Chewy, a goat; and two bunnies belong to members and friends of the church. One child remarked that while they are all animals, God made each one different. That was shown in what they eat, the things they can do and how they help people.
For example, Champ, an 11 year old German Shepherd was certified as a therapy dog three years ago. His human companion, Dan Coldiz of Landing, explained to the children that therapy dogs help people by being a calming influence and reducing stress. He noted that therapy dogs help people in a variety of places, even students on college campuses suffering text anxiety.
Reflecting on the event, the church’s pastor, The Rev. Dr. Nick Petrov shared, “Vacation Bible School was a fun and energetic week where children learned about God’s creation. At Port Morris UMC, we have many outreach programs as we contribute to food pantries, give care packages to soldiers stationed in Iraq/Afghanistan, contribute to a homeless veteran’s program, and participate in the local Hunger Walk; but, our number one success, I would say for me, is our ministry to the children of the Landing community. The Vacation Bible School is a great experience for both the children and the volunteers. It’s always a surprise what God can do when we allow ourselves to be changed and to redirect ourselves back to where we can best reach our community.”