Denny Vicente of Illinois' Elmhurst Church teaches the story of the five loaves and two fishes to her online Sabbath school class.
When the stay at home order began, several Sabbath School teachers began to think of a different way they could still see their children. Denny Vicente, Elmhurst Seventh-day Adventist Church Sabbath School teacher, was also one who began thinking of how to see her beloved cradle roll students.
Denny didn’t know when she would be able to have them in her class, let alone 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,” says Denny. “If they 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 why they learned as a child was important and they still remember.”
This is when she began to offer interactive virtual online Sabbath School classes, starting with her small group of usual students aged 0-3 from the Elmhurst Church. Soon, the class grew to include children to the age of 12 and began to reach out to children from other states and countries.
Her lessons have included the stories of baby Isaac, Disciples fishing, Jesus goes to church, and recently, Jesus feeds the 5,000. Denny has even acted the role of Sarah and Abraham with her husband, invited Nicholas Brignoni from Atlanta, Ga., to play the role of Peter fishing in a boat, and had her student dress as Jesus attending church and reading from a “scroll.”
Now every Friday, Denny sends the Zoom link to church members, family and friends. On Sabbath morning at 10 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. She also sends cards to each child with a note of encouragement, 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.”
Denny has been a cradle roll Sabbath School teacher at Elmhurst Church for over 18 year and plans to continue teaching virtually until she can “hug [her] kids again.”
-- Katherine Vicente, Elmhurst Church member
Friends and Praise
As the stay at home orders began to spread through each state, Sarah Canada, Michigan's Belleville Seventh-day Adventist Church Sabbath School teacher, was wondering how to keep their young people connected with God.
“Truly, I felt the prompting of the Holy Sprit,” Sarah says. “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, Mich., they 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,” says Sarah. “The more we stayed at home, the more we wanted to make sure our kids had a way to worship together.”
Sarah, who 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,” says Sarah. “That’s how we started the 'Friends and Praise' lessons.”
Their goal was simple: to include as many children as possible. Families and their kids began sharing videos of special music, mission projects, Lego Bible stories and song services.
“At first we had a song service group singing, but then we had families recording different worship songs,” Sarah says. “I reached out to some of my favorite storytellers to share children’s stories. My aunt Stella, who usually helps me with VBS and lives out of state, helped with story time and my friend Michelle Pearson from Alaska shared mission stories. The Lord just kept providing things and the video submissions and it was really such a blessing.”
Michigan Conference saw what they were doing and asked if Sarah could help host a children’s program for their virtual camp meeting program. Sarah and Kimberly have created 13 episodes of "Friends and Praise," including a couple episodes for camp meeting, during the course of quarantine 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 would take a long time to upload and other things,” says Sarah. “But God helped us get an episode out every week.”
They are now working on hosting a virtual Vacation Bible School the second week of July that will be used for several Michigan churches.
“This is a way we could be in ministry together,” Sarah says of her family. “It was really 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,” says Sarah.
Katie Fellows, Michigan-based freelance writer.