“Parents are so grateful to have a safe place for their kids to hang during the summer,” says children’s ministry pastor Aggie Buhler.
For more than 10 years, Richmond Park Church, Brandon, Man., has offered a free drop-in day camp three afternoons a week in nearby Argyle Park, in a neighbourhood that’s home to many new Canadians from India and Africa.
In 2018, they connected with 55 children. “The summer program is a great way to introduce Richmond Park Church to our neighbourhood,” says Buhler. “We see kids coming to Sunday School and midweek programs as a result.”
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for five weeks, staff set out blankets to create stations for painting, beading, reading, playing games, stacking giant Jenga blocks, drawing with sidewalk chalk, blowing bubbles, and playing sports. Stations are followed by a craft, Bible story, and snack. A water fight ends off the day.
A sixth week of full-day programming features vacation Bible school (VBS) in the morning and field trips (like swimming pools) every afternoon.
Blessing in disguise
What makes the Argyle Park ministry unique is partnership, says Buhler.
For VBS week, Richmond Park calls on a summer team from One Hope Canada that arrives “ready to go with programming.” For the rest of the summer, Youth for Christ sends staff and the church provides the snacks (1,200 cookies) and the volunteers.
However, finding enough church volunteers was always a challenge.
To address the problem, in 2018, Richmond Park made park ministry a paid part-time position for seven young people from the church – “a huge success on every level.”
“The kids really bonded with the youth,” says Buhler, “while the youth engaged in local ministry and grew in their faith.”
Some of the young staffers volunteer throughout the fall-winter at Richmond Park’s mid-week outreach, where their relationships with the summer campers can continue to grow.
One day at the park, staff read Max Lucado’s Children of the King about orphans who learn the king wants to adopt them.
“During the story, one little girl had her hand up the whole time,” says Buhler. “She was so excited to tell us that this story was just like the song she’d learned in Sunday school, “He makes the orphan/a son and daughter” (from Phil Wickham’s “This is Amazing Grace”).
Her brother started singing the song for the group. “It was incredible to see how God touches the hearts of kids, to see them recall his promises,” says Buhler.