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1 Million Vacation Bible Schoolers In 'Everest'-Themed Church Program Sold Before Deadly Earthquake

By Brandon Mercer

(CBS SF) -- Call it the Hand of Providence or an awkward coincidence, but this summer more than 1 million children are attending a Mount Everest-themed Vacation Bible School program produced and sold months before the 7.8 magnitude quake struck Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring over 23,000.

"We really weren't sure how churches would respond. Initially we got some feedback with some concerns about doing a VBS program that's set at the scene of a tragedy," said Tracy Watkins, VBS Product Manager for publisher Group.

Children are climbing rock walls, wearing T-shirts of the infamous mountain where avalanches killed 19 people on April 25th, and singing songs along with the publisher Group's accompanying DVD.

"Because the program was already produced and released before the earthquake we really didn't have a chance to respond programmatically. We encouraged churches to consider providing help for the earthquake victims," Watkins said.

As news coverage of the quake wanes and Americans' attention naturally shifts to tragedies closer to home, this summer something different is happening. Over 1 million children are talking about the Nepal region and thinking about the theme, "Conquering Challenges with God's Mighty Power."

The Everest VBS program was the most popular title sold by the publisher for the season, and many churches buy it a year out.

Watkins said the response has been amazing, "I cannot think of an instance where anyone has declined to use the program because of the tragedy."

Dozens of Bay Area churches including Hope Lutheran in El Sobrante, St. John's in El Cerrito, and Cornerstone in Livermore are all using the program.

"As things developed," Watkins added, "churches quickly took hold of the idea that it's a great opportunity to help people in the region and show kids how to be the hands of God."

Hope Lutheran Church Pastor Deborah Butler said it fits in well with the ministry.

"It's a tradition for VBS participants to share an offering to benefit people in need. We've provided mosquito nets and wells and goats for families in Africa and Latin America. This year our gifts are going to assist Lutheran World Relief in their work with earthquake victims in Nepal," Butler explained.

It's hard to tell just how much aid is flowing to Nepal since there is no central tracking of the various denominations outreach efforts, but social media from congregations shows they are getting the message out, and making a difference.

The publisher also has a partnership with an organization in southern India, and has worked with them to adapt the program for Christian organizations there, closer to the devastation.

Next year, Group is offering VBS programs including Cave Quest, Expedition Norway, and Egypt.

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