Phyllis Rivera Ryan (right) welcomes the children to their final VBS Sabbath program on April 13, 2024, of “Your Journey to Joy”  evangelistic impact held since Mar. 30. Fourteen children from the VBS were baptized during the two-week efforts held at the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church, in St. Croix, US Virgin Island. [Photo: Curtis Henry/Caribbean Union]

Special ministry for children was part of a major evangelistic initiative across the island.

April 15, 2024 | St. Croix, Virgin Islands | Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher and Inter-American Division News

For the first time, a Vacation Bible School (VBS) has been held each night at the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, and 14 children have been baptized. The children’s emphasis program came as a result of a two-week island-wide evangelistic impact led by the General Conference, which began on Mar. 30, 2024.

During its VBS meeting on April 10, Pastor Vincent David of the Bethel Adventist Church explained that Vacation Bible School “is part of the church’s ongoing children ministries initiative that meets the children at their level for learning, fun-time, and teaching them about Jesus.” He added, “Pastor James Doggette Jr., the evangelist for Bethel and Faith Seventh-day Adventist Churches, wanted this to be part of the nightly impact, and so we invited Phyllis Rivera Ryan, children’s ministries leader and VBS coordinator for twenty years, to lead the process.” The children made crafts, sang children’s songs, played games, and took part in Bible story time, he said. “It was all fun,” Pastor David said.

Children and their leaders at the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church are all smiles as their VBS program ended with 14 baptisms. Standing at the back are Phyllis Rivera Ryan (center), Ruth Mascall (left to her), children’s ministries coordinator and Adventurer area coordinator; Beverly Obeius (second from right) Adventurer director and Heafine Bannis (right back) children’s ministries leader of the Faith Seventh-day Adventist Church. [Photo: Curtis Henry/Caribbean Union]

Themed Weird Animals, each evening’s presentation looks at an unusual animal and ties an inspiring quote and bible text that teaches the children life lessons. VBS leaders and the children sang the theme song nightly, “What a Beautiful Name.”

“You can see the joy beaming from the children’s faces,” said Ryan who is also a 38-year retired public school teacher who sees approximately 20 children attending each night. She believes the entire program is all God’s doing. “We are making history by conducting VBS at this time because we normally host it in the summer while the children are on holiday from school.”

Ryan explained that when she was asked to lead, she just prayed about it. “I took one of the old VBS programs and revised it to fit our context.”

Three sisters get baptized

Ryan shared an experience about three girls attending VBS each evening. Sophia Guandolo, 12, her sister Sarah, 10, and Rose Cole, 9, rarely missed a night since the start of the program.

“We have been coming with our grandmother,” Sophia informed. “Her friend invited her, and most of our friends were here. The people at this church are so nice,” she said.

Sisters Sophia Guandolo (left), 12, Rose Cole (center), 9, and Sarah Guandolo (right), 10, were baptized on Apr. 6, 2024, as a result of the nightly VBS meetings held at the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church. [Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher/IAD]

“Yes, they are so welcoming,” Sarah added. “They also talk a lot about God.”

Ryan shared that on Friday, April 5, Pastor Doggette Jr. asked all the children to join the adults inside the church. “I happened to be sitting beside the three sisters and gave them an assignment,” she disclosed. “I asked them to listen carefully and write down the words baptize, baptism or baptismal whenever they heard them. And the topic for that night was baptism.”

The speaker called the words more than 100 times, Ryan said. “At the end of the message, I explained to the girls more about what baptism means, and they were willing to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Then, Pastor Doggette asked for those who would be interested in being baptized, and the three sisters stood.”

The sisters were three of the seven children baptized after the first week of the series.

“I just wanted God in my life, and that is why I got baptized,” Sophia admitted.

“I had to get baptized when God came into my life,” Sarah gladly revealed.

Rose added, “I made a lot of friends here, and all the people are so nice. I got baptized because I want to go to heaven and praise the Lord.”

Phyllis Rivera Ryan (right), children’s ministries leader and VBS coordinator of the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church, play a game with the children called pass the ball. Twenty children joined the game during the VBS evening feature on April 10, 2024. [Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher/IAD]

Sophia shared that she feels a lot closer to God since attending VBS and being baptized. “And I’m happy that I have His presence in my life. I’m thankful that he’s always here for me. He helps me when I need it.”

Seven additional children from the VBS group were baptized at the end of the second week on Apr. 13, 2024.

A clear illustration

One of the evening’s presentations included a short play from a group of seven juniors who called themselves “The Chosen Ones.” The skit was all about two youngsters who invited their friends to church, but their friends kept making excuses that church was boring, and they didn’t want to come. However, Henson, the Christian, persisted in inviting his friends, and they finally gave in. The skit ended with the friends testifying of their beautiful experiences at church, which resulted in their baptism and holding various positions in the church.

“I think this skit was important,” said Nakai Theodore, 16, “because it’s hard to convince our friends to come to church. They think that church is boring. For me, it’s not! VBS is exciting, and the church is nice. If they could only come and see for themselves, they would enjoy it as much as we do.”

Nakai and his brother Kayden, 13, were baptized on Nov. 18, 2023, with their mother, grandmother, and four nephews, “Eight of us were baptized,” Nakai said.

L-R: Zalia Josiah, 10; Kiana George, 9; and Rose Cole, 9, sing “Jesus loves me more than we can ever know,” at the VBS program held at the Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church on April 10, 2024. [Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher]

Feeling at home at church

The Theodore boys credited Ryan for inviting their steel pan band to play at the church’s Christmas concert.

“I was probably around seven playing in the band. That’s when we first started coming to church to play,” Kayden said. “We started to gain exposure to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Then, during COVID-19, we began to sing when the band couldn’t meet anymore.”

The brothers confessed that it was the music ministry of the church that kept them grounded in God.

“The music classes held on Sundays have helped me to play the piano and read notes,” Nakai said with a smile.

With a chuckle Kayden confessed, “I love the food here, but more than that, it feels like home. This church has loving people, I feel comfortable here, and we are treated well.”

Everyone is accepted

Since conducting VBS at Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ryan said that about 30 children have been baptized through the program, “We also have special needs children attending our services,” she said.

Members of the drama group, The Chosen Ones, L-R:  Kayden Theodore, Nakai Theodore, Melvin Barley (standing in front); Ernest Jackson; back row in black is Joshua Gordon; Henson Barley Jnr and Alysa Victor-Canton. [Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher/IAD]

“One mother revealed, I don’t know what you did, but my daughter, who doesn’t speak, can’t wait for you to come to church,” Ryan reported as she shared the experience of one autistic child who attended the meeting.

“At VBS, every child is accepted, appreciated and made to feel comfortable,” Ryan said. Ryan is also the assistant area coordinator for the Adventurers clubs.

Pastor David admitted that the Bethel Adventist Church not only integrates all children into VBS but also enrolls them into the Adventurer and Pathfinder clubs as well as the church’s music academy.

“We do our part to assist the children to smoothly transition into being members of the clubs, providing them with their first pair of uniform,” said David. “We also encourage them to join the music academy, which teaches them to sing and play an instrument. Hence, their self-esteem is developed, preparing them to be productive citizens of our country and for heaven.”

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