Youth Group Begins 12th Year of VBS at Missions

Posted: 7/30/2013

Julie Gartrell and her Owings, Md., parish have had an ongoing connection with Glenmary since 1999, when now—Father Neil Pezzulo was a Glenmary seminarian working as a transitional deacon at The Covenant Community of Jesus the Good Shepherd (JGS).

For 13 years, Julie has served as JGS youth ministry coordinator. And the youth group is in its 12th summer of conducting Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs at struggling Glenmary missions—one of several ways the parish has partnered with Glenmary.
“All of us are part of the Body of Christ,” she says. “On our mission visits we share our faith with each other. It’s been an amazing experience and has enriched so many lives.” Recently, when JGS members up to age 30 identified their most life-changing faith experiences, the most common answer was trips to Glenmary missions.  

“In 1999 Father Neil educated us about Glenmary’s ministry,” she says. When he left JGS, Julie and fellow parishioners promised they’d pray for and help him and his missions—a promise they kept during his many years serving in Arkansas missions.

In 2011 Father Neil was elected a Glenmary vice president. He says that “JGS continues to be one of our missions’ most generous parish supporters.” And he has also helped nurture new relationships between the JGS youth ministry and other Glenmary mission communities.

June 24-28, for instance, marked the third time a JGS team traveled to the Plymouth, N.C., mission to conduct an annual VBS program. Twenty-four teens and seven adults made the 300-mile trip, one way, in six vans that also carried supplies needed for themselves and their 75 VBS students.

Julie and her team develop the VBS programs by choosing five New Testament stories as themes and then creating skits, costumes and crafts as well as planning games and activities.

As in previous years, mission teens worked as part of the VBS team. The long-range goal is for missions to eventually run the VBS programs on their own.

To new pastoral coordinator Julian Crespo, it all came as a welcome revelation and blessing. “I was really impressed with the strong commitment of the Maryland teens. The whole program was very engaging and educational for our kids.”

Julie and Julian both say that the children—mostly Latino and bilingual—learn more about their faith; have a week of fun and joy; and receive attention, respect and love. Meanwhile, JGS volunteers have the opportunity to serve others and get a large dose of reality.

“The personal relationships change people and strengthen their faith,” says Julie. “Children, teens and adults all gain new perspectives on life. And friendships continue later through Facebook, e-mail and letters. It’s also been an unbelievable eye-opener to see what Glenmary missioners do—and a wonderful chance to be part of it.”

Julian agrees, and he’s looking forward to next year’s VBS. “When kids and teens were crying on the last day, it showed how deeply they were touched by the experience and friendships. We are very thankful to our Maryland friends.”

In mid-July, Julie and another group of 36 JGS volunteers will travel 700 miles to missions in Lafayette, Tenn., and Scottsville, Ky. They’ll perform community service for five days and conduct two simultaneous VBS programs at the missions every evening.

“It all has to be the work of the Holy Spirit,” Julie says.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2013
Home Mission News.