CAMP ZAMA, Japan – More than 140 children from the Army community participated in an annual Vacation Bible School here this week to play with friends while learning a variety of religious lessons.
The event, held in the afternoons from Monday through Friday, had children rotate through stations that included games, arts and crafts, Bible teachings, and music and dancing.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Shari Evans, director of the event, said earlier this week about the turnout. “I hope all the children as well as the volunteers come away feeling special, knowing that no matter who we are, no matter what our differences are, we are all still special.”
Evans, who had two children in the program, said preparations for this year’s event began in January, adding that she was glad to see nearly 60 volunteers involved this week.
“We are just so blessed to have so many people,” Evans said of the volunteers. “They’re taking leave to spend time here with our children, and it’s important for the community.”
Matt Rojas, a senior auditor with U.S. Army Garrison Japan, volunteered with his wife and 16-year-old daughter while his 9-year-old son took park in the program.
It was the seventh time for Rojas to assist with a VBS event, and his fourth time at Camp Zama.
“It’s great,” he said of the program. “You get to interact with the kids and try to be a role model to them.”
Hannah Burke, an Army spouse, also volunteered and credited all the behind-the-scenes work for making the event a success.
“All of the volunteers have really rallied and come together,” she said. “Hours and hours have gone into this to make sure the kids are having fun and also learning and being engaged with the material.”
Maj. Andrew Calvert, acting chaplain for USAG Japan, said the selfless service by the volunteers has helped expand the capability of the Religious Support Office.
“We are so grateful for the volunteers that do come and help, because there’s no way that this would happen without our volunteers,” Calvert said.
Following the lessons, the chaplain said the children would present what they learned during the various chapel services on Sunday.
One of the children, Justice Turner, 9, who will attend fourth grade at Arnn Elementary School, said she enjoyed how the program was set up to be educational but also playful.
“While playing the games, we’re also learning,” Justice said. “There are a lot of stations and they’re really fun to do, so I’m happy about that.”
Evans said children were also able to practice being a good person as they navigated through the stations.
“They’re learning to be kind, they’re learning manners, and they’re learning patience as they wait their turn. They’re learning just some basic discipline that I think all the teachers will be excited to see in the classrooms in a few weeks,” Evans said, smiling.
The biggest takeaway Evans wanted the children to get from the program was to be confident in themselves.
“It is so important for our children to be comfortable with who they are and not be too influenced by some external factors, such as Instagram, TikTok and all those different things,” she said. “You don’t have to change. You don’t have to be like anybody else. You are special and you are perfect.”
While the program was intended for Christian denominations, the chaplain said the RSO supports all recognized faith groups.
Since military chaplains are endorsed by a specific denomination, he said they can still help train volunteers, called distinctive religious group leaders, to assist with certain religious needs that cannot be met by available chaplains.
“We can have lay leaders fulfill those religious leadership responsibilities that other chaplains cannot fill,” he said. “We just make sure that they have the right training and they have the right background checks and things of that nature.
“On Camp Zama right now, we don’t have any other groups that have made themselves known,” he added, “but we are more than willing to have resources available to support such groups.”