Give Hope to Lenasia
God is writing a beautiful story in Lenasia, Johannesburg – South Africa.
More than 55 years ago, with the help of the Lenasia Church of the Nazarene, one woman founded the Holiday Bible Club for children in one of the poorest parts of Lenasia.
From those humble beginnings with just a handful of children and a vision to teach them about God and His Word, the Holiday Bible Club has been held every year since then. It is fashioned after a Vacation Bible School, with Bible teaching, small group study, games and activities, fun and food, and love. Today, it has grown to almost 2000 children participating, and almost 200 volunteers helping. It is an important event, one the entire community looks forward to every year. Many of the volunteers take the week off from work to help. Many of them attended Holiday Bible Club when they were children, and they send their own children (and grandchildren!) to the week-long event.
Rev. Vincent Kandan, who is the senior pastor of the Lenasia Church of the Nazarene, was one of the first children to attend the Holiday Bible Club back in 1963. There, the seed of God’s Word was planted in him. He believes it was through the Holiday Bible Club that God placed a call on his life. It was there that someone listened to him, talked with him, and noticed the God-potential in him. And every year with Holiday Bible Club, he and his church and the volunteers give Jesus what they have and He blesses it, just like the boy with the loaves and fishes.
And the woman who started it all? The mother of his future wife.
Lenasia Church of the Nazarene’s heart is to bring the hope of Jesus to their community. This is so clearly demonstrated in their commitment to minister to both the spiritual needs as well as the physical needs of the children who come to the Holiday Bible Club. It is Rev. Kandan’s personal passion to see the Holiday Bible Club grow and reach out to more and more children, and to challenge his congregation to do more for the children in this community.
Many of the children who come to Holiday Bible Club are from poverty-stricken informal settlements in Lenasia. Many of them are from other faiths and backgrounds. Many don’t have enough to eat, warm clothes to wear, or even a place to live, and are exposed to drugs, alcoholism, and gangs. And so many of them don’t know anything about God and His Word.
But, when they come to Holiday Bible Club, they are loved. They are cared for. Because the Holiday Bible Club is held during their winter break from school, the children (and their parents) know they are in a safe place. Every morning when the children arrive, they are given a hot drink and breakfast. And each day before they go home, they are given another meal. There are children who arrive with no coat or shoes—and those things are given to them. The volunteers—from the security detail to the kitchen workers, from the registration helpers to the small group leaders—all make a special effort to shower love on the children—to listen to them, to council them, to play on the field with them, and more, because as the volunteers say, “You never know who you’re talking to and listening to. You don’t know if you are talking to a future pastor or doctor or teacher.”
And each day of Holiday Bible Club, the children are taught about God, His grand story, and His Word. They are taught that they have a heavenly Father who loves them with an everlasting love.
2019 at Holiday Bible Club
The Holiday Bible Club week started on June 24, and the temperature was around 32 degrees F that morning. More than 1900 children from ages 3-16 lined up outside to get in.
“It seems like not even the icy winter cold could dampen the enthusiasm of the children—and the leaders recount, with a smile, how the queue of children wanting to come into Holiday Bible Club just didn’t end!” said Lee Helling, Walk Thru the Bible’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.
For this year’s Bible teaching and curriculum, Rev. Kandan and his church partnered with Walk Thru the Bible Southern Africa to teach otLIVE (our innovative, interactive live event that tells the big picture story of the Old Testament) to the children. “As the leadership prepared for this Holiday Bible Club, we felt led by the Lord to take the children back to the basics,” said Zeenat, one of the leaders. “There is such a spiritual need in this area. We felt the need to help every child, at every level, understand and remember what the Bible is about—and that is why we chose Walk Thru the Bible’s otLIVE as our teaching theme for the children this year. We, as adults, and as a congregation, did the otLIVE event at our church, and we were so excited about what we had learnt in such a short time. We realized the amazing potential otLIVE would have with the children,” she said.
The impact of otLIVE
The Walk Thru the Bible Southern Africa instructors had a huge task over these five days. Not only did they tell the Bible stories and teach the hand signs of otLIVE, but they also taught the kids how to relate and apply those Bible stories and the lessons of the characters (like Joseph, Jacob, Moses, and more) to their own lives.
“I was so impressed with how the Walk Thru the Bible otLIVE instructors related to the children. They taught them the Bible stories and the hand signs to help them remember. But they also brought the stories back to the real lives of the children,” said Janelle, one of the leaders at Holiday Bible Club. “Children need something they can relate to. What does it mean to obey God like Moses did? What do I learn from Joseph about forgiving my brothers? What does it mean to have integrity and honesty like he did?” she said. “And it also really helped that the Walk Thru the Bible instructors were able to switch between Zulu, Sotho, and English—and relate to the children in their own language.”
Aasiyah, a volunteer, said, “I am a volunteer here and I have brought my own kids to attend Holiday Bible Club. What is amazing is that the kids remember most of the otLIVE lessons and they are really motivated. The hand signs really help.” Other volunteers agreed, with some even saying that the teaching helped them, too.
Walk Thru the Bible Southern Africa instructors, through the big picture teaching of otLIVE, helped bring hope to Lenasia. Many children gave their lives to Jesus over the week of Holiday Bible Club. Many shared that they now know God has a purpose for their lives. Many will be able to consider their difficulties from a different angle. They know how to apply Bible stories to their lives, they learned how to listen to what God was saying to them, and many learned how to pray. And at least one child was counseled and brought through a crisis, was taught how to pray, was taught that she was of inestimable worth to her heavenly Father.
God at work
Each day during 2019’s Holiday Bible Club, after the praise and worship time and the otLIVE teaching in the big groups, the kids are placed into smaller, age-appropriate groups with their leaders (the groups are for preschool, elementary school, middle school, and teenagers). During this time, the small group leaders reinforce the lesson, review the otLIVE hand signs and application points, have a question/answer and discussion time, and do crafts, games and activities, and song and dance. These smaller settings and other quiet moments give the leaders and children opportunities for one-on-one counseling and sharing.
One leader testified: “Just this morning, I talked with a 10-year-old girl who was suicidal. Her family are of another faith. But I shared with her the purpose that God has for her life and taught her about talking to God through prayer,” she said. “Many of the children come from very difficult home circumstances. Our heart is to serve them and show them love as Christ loves. We have to bear in mind what they had to go through just to be here on this cold morning. It is so wonderful to see how God is at work, not just in the lives of the children, but also in the lives of the volunteers.”
The volunteers truly are committed to the Holiday Bible Club. Many of them volunteer every year, even taking leave from work to be able to help. Others from the community who volunteer are unchurched, but they believe the Holiday Bible Club and its lessons are so valuable and important to the children of Lenasia. Still others are third-generation helpers—their grandparents were some of the first Holiday Bible Club attendees.
The Lenasia Church of the Nazarene has grown through the Holiday Bible Club. The church has a weekly attendance of 160-200 people, but as Rev. Kandan says, “As we reach and teach the children, we reach their families. Many who are unchurched are drawn to coming to the church. It is a testimony to what God will do with hearts and a people who are willing to serve and reach their community with the love of Christ.”
“We are planting seeds in the lives of the children. This is such an opportunity speak life over them and call out their potential,” says Janelle.
The legacy of the Holiday Bible Club
Rev. Kandan and the church and volunteers work very hard to reach out to the community, not only for Holiday Bible Club, but throughout the year. The Lenasia Church of the Nazarene spends the whole year preparing for Holiday Bible Club—raising funds, collecting clothes and shoes, preparing themes and activities, recruiting and gathering volunteers and community support as well as local authority approval, and training the leaders and volunteers.
There’s a lot of work to do to prepare for a week with 1,900 children. And then the first day finally arrives.
By the middle of the week, Rev. Vincent, already with a gleam in his eye, is making plans for next year …
And Walk Thru the Bible will again be a part of it all—the church has asked that we teach ntLIVE to the children at Holiday Bible Club in 2020.