VBS and Camp Review 2023: Operation Restoration

“Operation Restoration: Mending God’s World” by Augsburg Fortress is one of Building Faith’s top picks for new Vacation Bible School and summer camp curricula this year. This VBS curriculum encourages children to participate with God in mending and restoring the world.

Snapshot

The Basics

  • Theme: Being “menders in God’s world”
  • Website: https://www.augsburgfortress.org/promos/operation-restoration/
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress (Oct 2022)
  • Church affiliation: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
  • Intended ages/grades: preschool – adult; includes options for preschool, lower elementary, upper elementary, all kids mixed ages, and intergenerational programs
  • Format: onsite at church
  • Number of sessions: 5
  • Types of activities: art, music, science and nature, service learning, Bible storytelling
  • Starter kit cost: $140 (kit contents listed at this link)

Scope and Sequence

  • Day 1: Feed | Exodus 16:1 – 36, God Gives Enough Food for All
  • Day 2: Heal | Luke 13:10 – 17, Jesus Heals Those Who Are Sick and Hurt
  • Day 3: Forgive | Matthew 18:21 – 22, Jesus Forgives Us and Tells Us to Forgive
  • Day 4: Pray | Luke 11:1 – 4, Jesus Teaches Us to Pray
  • Day 5: Rest | Exodus 16:23 – 30, 20:8 – 11, 23:10 – 12, God Gives Sabbath for All Creation to Rest

Where It Shines

A restorative approach to a restoration-themed VBS
This curriculum intentionally sets aside elements like “mascots” and “theme songs,” and it does not require extensive set building. With fewer side components involved or prescribed for purchase, it can help simplify planning for busy directors.

A theologically generative and socially significant theme
The curriculum’s focus on mending, repairing, and restoring relationships with God, people, and creation offers a theologically constructive and empowering message for participants. Most of its treatments of scripture illuminate this theme in sound and fruitful ways. The daily skit’s premise reinforces its theme by featuring a woman who is working to start a nonprofit to provide housing for unhoused mothers, and the activity rotation includes opportunities for participants to do community service projects.

Materials that prioritize diversity, inclusivity, and historically underrepresented groups with respect to race and disabilities
This curriculum suggests a number of African American spirituals and other songs created and developed by communities of color in its recommended music options. Its guide for a nature walk activity recommends assessing the accessibility of the course in advance.

A robust set of director and volunteer leader resources
The curriculum provides a comprehensive director guide with tips and ideas for each aspect of organizing a VBS program. The publisher also provides a number of free downloadable resources for leaders, like fillable PDF registration forms and sample photos of art projects. The curriculum offers multiple options for tailoring activities to different age configurations, which enables communities to group kids by grade levels, form mixed-age groups, or create an intergenerational program.

A lower cost than many other VBS curriculum kits
At $140 for the starter kit, this is one of the least expensive curriculum options to purchase.

What We Miss

Deeper theological and social justice engagement with the scriptures and daily topics
Some of the work with the scriptures and topics remains at a fairly basic, sometimes superficial level. We would have appreciated more attention to contemporary situations of hunger and food inequities in the “Feed” lesson, along with more nuance around illness, injury, and health in the “Heal” lesson (particularly for addressing possible hard questions from participants in the wake of global pandemic about people not recovering from illness). We also would have liked the skit to provide a more rounded portrait of situations of homelessness so that it might gravitate less toward the “doing for” power dynamic and do more to show impoverished and unhoused people as subjects.

More sensitivity to historical social context in interpreting scripture
In the leader script for the story about Jesus healing a woman in Luke 13:10 – 17, the word “crabby” is used to describe the leader of the synagogue and other opponents of Jesus. In light of a long history of Christian supersessionism, this characterization can prevent participants from gaining a full picture of the social and religious context in which the story is situated, and it can implicitly convey negative messages about ancient Judaism and its leaders.

More attention to gender diversity and inclusivity
While the skits feature main characters identified as female and male and note that the pastor and hungry adult characters can be played by persons of “any gender,” the skit scripts use language for family relationships (“son,” “aunt”) and titles (“Mr.,” “Ms.”) for many key characters that implicitly reinforces a gender binary. We would have liked to see more speaking roles shaped to be inclusive of people who identify as nonbinary.


Featured image is by Jasmin Schreiber on Unsplash


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