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West Hall Baptist Church conducts vacation Bible school at My Sister's Place
Children at homeless shelter experience Backyard Bible Club for a full week in June
Nancy Reynolds, a West Hall Baptist Church member and Backyard Bible Club volunteer, tells a story from the Bible to children Wednesday at My Sister’s Place in Gainesville. West Hall Baptist Church typically holds a vacation Bible school for the children that attend the church, but members decided to hold one at My Sister’s Place this year instead. - photo by Erin O. Smith

My Sister’s Place
Address: 2480 M.L.K. Jr. Blvd. No. 4, Gainesville
Phone number: 770-503-1181

West Hall Baptist Church
Address: 5314 McEver Road, Oakwood
Phone number: 770-532-9537

A group of six children gathered at My Sister’s Place to learn about Jesus all week.

The children — between the ages of 8 and 16 — heard stories, worked on crafts and had music time while learning about God from members of West Hall Baptist Church.

This may seem like your average vacation Bible school curriculum, but this one is a little different. Instead of experiencing a summer tradition inside the sacred walls of a church, the children are learning at My Sister’s Place, a shelter for homeless women and their children in Gainesville.

Organized by West Hall Baptist Church — which has had a traditional Bible school on its campus for years — its members decided to try something different this year. The church brought a program called Backyard Bible Club to the shelter for the first time.

“We had, in the past, always had a Bible school at our church, and we’ve just noticed that the neighborhood has changed,” said Nancy Reynolds, a West Hall Baptist Church member who was volunteering Wednesday. “We don’t have quite as many kids as we’ve had. And every other church in the area is doing a Bible school.”

Recently, the women’s group at the church had My Sister’s Place Executive Director Brandee Thomas speak about the shelter’s ministry.

“We got to thinking this is where we need to do Bible school,” Reynolds said.

The church then proposed the idea to Thomas, who welcomed the concept. She said with the children out of school, they often don’t have many activities at the shelter.

“We were all about it,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure the children are engaged throughout the summer, so this felt like a really awesome opportunity for them.”

Another bonus was having the Bible school at 2480 M.L.K. Jr. Blvd. No. 4 in Gainesville. Thomas said sometimes transportation can be a challenge for getting the children to off-site activities, but the volunteers eliminated that need by driving themselves to the shelter.

After getting the OK, volunteers at West Hall Baptist Church started planning the weeklong Bible school. Reynolds said myriad church members came together in the past two months to make the Bible school a reality.

The Rev. Mike Reynolds, pastor of West Hall Baptist Church and Nancy’s husband, was impressed with the church’s outpouring of support.

“I’m very proud of my church family,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what we asked them to do, they just do it. We’re not huge. We don’t have tons of resources, but that never seems to be a problem. They find a way to get it done.”

Once Bible school started, the effect was a positive one for the volunteers and children.

“It is a joy to be here,” Reynolds said. “It has just truly been a joy, and everybody at the church has been excited about having it here, doing something different. But it also seems to be the way God was leading, so that’s what makes it most important.”

Each afternoon the children heard a story from a different speaker.

“We didn’t know how much they knew and had to come with real basic stories, real basic things,” Mike Reynolds said. “For instance, I taught the Bible story yesterday and I taught the story of the wisemen and how God shows us which way to go.”

After the story, children made crafts that apply to the lessons learned. One day, the children painted boxes after learning about the Ark of the Covenant and carrying Jesus in a special place. Other crafts were tie-dyed shirts and salvation bracelets, in which children strung beads on bracelets with each color representing a Bible verse.

The children wrapped up the day’s activities with recreational and musical activities before having a snack and closing the day.

Throughout the week, the children met a rotating group of seven volunteers. And the volunteers not only included women but men as well.

“We always want to introduce the children to as many positive role models as we can,” Thomas said. “Especially with us being a women-centric program, we don’t always have a lot of male volunteers. So we’re especially excited that this group included men and young men.”

The volunteers believe sharing the Bible with youngsters is important.

“We want them to have an understanding that the Bible speaks to them and is for them and they can go to it later on for guidance,” Mike Reynolds said.

Many of the children who come through the doors at the shelter are facing tough circumstances.

“We want them to know that Jesus loves them,” Nancy Reynolds said. “It’s a tough situation being here.”

West Hall Baptist Church is already considering whether they will do a regular Bible school next year, work with My Sister’s Place again or do a combination.