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Looking at the eager young faces of children in a vacation Bible school classroom in Nigeria, Kristin Vliem was stumped. She had no idea how she was going to teach that day’s lesson about the joy of God.

But then she got an inspiration. She remembered that in her backpack were several glow sticks she had brought from home.

Speaking through an interpreter about how Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross so that people can have eternal joy, Vliem began to attach the glow sticks to a wall until they spelled joy in bright, beautiful colors. It may have been makeshift, but the kids loved it.

Vliem, who attends Calvin College, was one of 21 North American college students who participated in this year’s Summer Mission Program (SMP) sponsored by Christian Reformed World Missions.

The vacation Bible school leaders—including four Nigerians—learned to continually adapt their approach and use materials at hand to teach children in creative ways about the Christian faith. Without many props to use, the young teachers relied on prayer and on building relationships with the children.

“When the SMP team was asked to plan the VBS, people planned it as  best they knew,” said Megan Ribbens, who serves as a CRWM missionary in Nigeria with her husband, Mike. The couple, veterans of a previous SMP trip to Eastern Europe, helped to recruit the Nigerian students and to coordinate the program in Nigeria.

As part of their two-month experience, the five young people from North America and four from Nigeria organized vacation Bible school in several communities, visited orphanages, helped clean up the Civic Center in Takum (the scene several years ago of ethnic fighting), and talked with young people about peace, reconciliation, sexual purity, and avoiding HIV/AIDS.

Participants have profound memories of their experience.

“I spent two weeks in Mkar working at an orphanage and at a school,” said Geoff Brouwer, a student at The King’s University College in Edmonton, Alberta. “I had the chance to repair parts of the school, but the most memorable part was the opportunity I had to hold a child who fell asleep in my arms.” The child was paralyzed by a stroke and was brought to the orphanage by the father after the mother died in childbirth.

Another highlight was helping to clean up the Civic Center in Takum, where dozens of children showed up to work. After that, said Brouwer, the SMP group held a VBS program, expecting 400 children to attend. But 1,200 children came, some walking for miles through driving rain. The volunteers had to solicit help from area pastors and others to teach the huge group of children.

“It was at times chaotic, but it was an incredible experience to work with and teach so many wonderful children who are all eager to learn,” said Brouwer.

Phil Beck, a CRWM missionary and one of the SMP mission leaders, said, “I think the most exciting thing for me was to see the way the North American and Nigerian youths really melded together and formed a cohesive team.”

Nigeria was one of several SMP locations this summer. Volunteers also worked at a youth outreach center and school in Guatemala, led English-language camps in Eastern Europe, taught English at a school for foreign languages in Asia, helped develop youth ministry projects in Japan, and got involved in literacy work in Mali.

All four of the North American team members who are Calvin College students were recipients of Calvin’s Summer Service Ministries Grant. To learn more about SMP and to find out what locations will be offered next summer, please see

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