Chapter 48: VBS in the Itawes Region

In March 1979, Chuck and I went to Aparri to the closing week activities of the school year at Aparri Bible Seminary. Chuck had been invited to speak on the topic of prayer at one meeting, and to bring the commencement address, too. We took Rose Abarra, our live-in household helper and fellow Christian, so she could become acquainted with our friends up there. She was interested in helping our mission in any way she could. While there, they announced that the school would have a VBS workshop the first week of April. Since VBS had been such a big event in my own life, I remembered back to those days and wondered if it could be that much of a blessing for children in the Philippines. In Los Angeles, we had Miss Katie Vee Clarkson, who must have been the first of our brotherhood to have a full three week VBS every summer. She wrote all the lessons and worked out all the activities, including games we played during game time. She provided materials for a variety of crafts from which we could choose to work on at project time, and she chose choruses that fit in just right with the lessons we would have for each day. When she decided the dates of our VBS, she gave us invitations to pass out to children in our neighborhoods, including pins that said, ‘VBS’ on them. Could our VBS here be as meaningful for Itawes students as those were for me? Since Rose was especially excited about going to that workshop, we sent her. Each day she attended the workshop, they went over two lessons.

The ten lessons learned were plenty for the five day VBS schedule. They worked on worksheets that went with each lesson, and they learned songs and stories. They also learned how to do crafts, and were taught games to have the children play at game time. Those who directed the workshop knew this would be too much for one person to do, so when Rose went home, they sent another girl with her to help with the teaching. This girl was Miriam Viloria, an Ilocana who lived in a neighborhood of Itawes people, so she knew Itawes, too. Miriam stayed with Rose and us while she was helping with VBS. All of the materials were in either English or Ilocano since the churches surrounding Aparri were mostly Ilocano and knew that language. Since our children were Itawes and probably didn’t know Ilocano at all, we had to translate everything into Itawes. The girls translated the stories, and we translated the songs and memory verses. This took us a few days to do. We got copies of everything ready for the girls. We mimeographed pictures to be colored and little booklets with the memory verses and a few songs in them.

The first VBS they held met in our house. About 20 younger children came, 5-8 years old, and they met upstairs with one teacher and a helper; about 15 older ones came, 9-12 years old, and met downstairs with the other teacher. Attendance was consistent. It lasted five days. On the next day, Saturday, we had a closing program to which we invited parents, neighbors and friends. The children sang their songs, recited the verses they had learned, and received awards for special achievements. Each one received a diploma for completing the course. (This is something they would keep for posterity on their wall at home.) We had refreshments for about 80 people in all, and the parents and children alike expressed their enjoyment and their wish that it could continue for several weeks.

A second VBS was held the following week a few blocks away and had similar results. The next week, the girls held a third VBS on the other side of town in the home of a family to whom we had channeled funds when their house burned down. At that time, we had helped them to put on a new roof with funds from an organization called International Disaster Emergency Service (IDES), from the States. The response there was overwhelming: about 70 in the younger group, 35 in the older, with about 35 adults listening in—almost too much for two teen-age girls to handle, but they did a great job, and everyone appreciated it. It was the first time anything like that had ever been done in Enrile. The interest was definitely there, and the door was open. My remembrance of VBS from my childhood had paid off with wonderful results, and consequently, the following year, we sent not just one girl to the VBS Workshop in Aparri, but four girls. For the next several years, we sent teams to the workshops, and VBS continued to do well in Enrile.

In 1984, we sent eleven Itawes young people to the VBS Workshop in Aparri so they could learn how to conduct one-week vacation Bible Schools in the churches. We had four teams that year. On the last day of the workshop, I went up to Aparri, found out what materials they would need, and bought what I could get with the money I had with me. We separated the materials and let the leaders of each group take them home with them the next day. A few days later, we determined how many copies of each page we needed to have printed. Chuck ran off 60 reams of ground wood newsprint, counting pages for coloring by the children, their craft materials, and song sheets with memory verses included. The leaders translated the stories into Itawes and Chuck translated the songs and memory verses. More materials needed to be purchased, and later these were put into boxes and taken to people who could get them to the leaders of the four groups.

This took a week, but now our part was finished. The following Monday, four VBSs started that day in the Itawes region, and we prayed that the outreach would be great. Over the next five to six weeks, they went to 18 places in the Itawes region, holding 21 VBSs and reached 1200 children, so we praised the Lord for this opportunity for them to be trained adequately.

It was in June 1984 that a new chapel was built in Alibago, a barrio of Enrile, so a VBS was held in the new chapel. When they had their closing service, it was part of the first service ever held at the new chapel, with Tirso Ibarra delivering the Sunday sermon. The following week, Tirso and Celso, another Itawes preacher, went with a VBS team who went to Lahum, Penablanca, a remote mountainous region about 45 kilometers northeast of Enrile. The preachers did house to house evangelistic work while the others were holding the VBS classes. This was an extension of the VBS and was well received by those they visited.

In 1985, we went to the VBS Workshop in Aparri. Our teachers translated materials into Itawes, and we had two teams, one with four people and the other with five people teaching. Each team went to 6 places, and there were 900 children altogether in attendance. The last week, the local team had to go seven kilometers from Enrile. There was no way a calesa could go there because of a couple of steep places along the road, so Chuck had to take them and their supplies in two loads on his 350cc motorcycle. Yes, he had newly gotten the motorcycle up to Enrile, and was using it now. The teachers for VBSs were faithful in their work, but they were glad that this one was their final week.

In 1986, two teams of Itawes ladies went out to hold VBSs with 4 in each team. Then in 1987, we had two VBS teams: one went to 2 places, and the other went to 8 places. The total enrollment was from 500 to 600 children. It was also in March 1987 that Rodger and Dixie Shewmaker and family came to work with the Itawes people, so they got involved, too.

In June of 1989, we decided to have an Itawes Vacation Bible school Clinic for Itawes churches. This was a big decision to make, but it had been more and more difficult to get leaders to attend the workshops in Aparri due to its being too far away, and everything was taught in Ilocano, which some Itawes did not understand. The churches wanted a workshop of their own that was in Itawes, and that they could come to and then go home to their own churches to hold their own VBSs. From that time on, this is the way we handled the VBSs. Each church that wanted to have a VBS sent leaders to the Itawes VBS Clinic, which was held in a conference center in Tuguegarao. That year, 46 people registered from 16 churches, and they conducted 36 VBSs. Over 2,000 children attended. We felt this was the best way to go after that.

As a result of our decision to have the Itawes VBS Clinic, Rodger Shewmaker held a VBS Translator’s Conference in June 1990. He had given the lessons to VBS teachers to translate several months before the clinic was held. These translated lessons were checked several times for accuracy before they were ready for individual church delegates who would be attending the clinic.

In June 1991, the Itawes VBS Clinic was a joint effort between Rodger and Dixie Shewmaker and Chuck and me. Neil Kuns, minister of University Christian Church in Los Angeles, one of our two main supporting churches, came and spoke at the graduation night. Over 1,000 children were reached that year as a result of the VBSs held after the clinic.

The next year, we purchased a Sing-Along (Karaoke) machine to be used at the VBS singing assemblies. In 1993, six churches were represented at the VBS Clinic. This was the year that men from Moweaqua Christian Church in Illinois, home church of Rodger Shewmaker, came to the Philippines to build a building for the Church of Christ at Anquiray, Amulung. Thus, the VBS Clinic after this was always held at the Anquiray Church where Eddie and Helen Tallud ministered. We had a staff of people to help with the clinic, including Eddie’s parents, who cooked for us and lived there, too. Eddie and Helen have been the directors ever since. Anquiray is about 40 kilometers from Enrile, an hour’s drive.

We learned that Manila Bible Seminary had an annual VBS Clinic which would be an excellent place for the Talluds to go in order to get all the information needed for putting on a VBS clinic in Cagayan. Standard Publishing Company puts out an excellent VBS program, which they sent to Jeannie Hoffman, President of MBS, and Jeannie uses this in her clinic in Manila. When we realized how this clinic could help the Talluds, we sent them there to get the training and information. They took another girl with them to learn the songs and the moves they wanted to have for the karaoke. Afterwards, they came back to Cagayan and put on their own Itawes VBS clinic. The scriptures no longer had to be translated since we were already using the Itawes New Testament with Psalms. All that had to be translated were Old Testament stories, and we were already in the process of translating most of those that were used in VBS.

Now Anquiray is the place the Itawes churches go in Cagayan to learn how to put on an excellent VBS program in their churches. It isn’t only the Itawes churches who attend, but also a few Malaweg and Agta churches who attend this clinic. The leaders that come are all people who understand Itawes and all but one use the Itawes Bible in their churches. The church in Rizal uses the Malaweg Bible. Malaweg and Agta Churches of Christ from all over the lower half of Cagayan Valley are now VBS churches, and they have young men and women who are very good at doing what they do for the Lord and His kingdom. Many children are won to Christ and living for Jesus because of these efforts. I’m so thankful that Vacation Bible Schools are as wonderful a blessing to the Filipino children as they were to me and my friends when we were growing up. Miss Katie Vee Clarkson would be as thankful, too, and I’m sure there are VBSs held in other countries because of her life, as several of her students became missionaries in different parts of the world.

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