Father Anil Thomas of St. Peter Catholic Church in Pine Bluff brought the world to a group of 49 children taking part in a five-day vacation Bible school program that concluded Friday.
Thomas, a native of India, said he wanted to do something to broaden the cultural horizons of area children and hit upon the idea of contacting the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters.
“I first met them when I was in Mississippi,” Thomas said. “I saw the work the sisters did with the children and I wanted that for our children here.”
Thomas contacted Sister Mary Miller, a no-nonsense nun who clearly cares for children and for her fellow sisters. Miller then enlisted the aid of Sister Josephina Kudo — a native of northern Japan; Sister Rebecca David from South Sudan; Sister Catharena Liliek — originally from the Indonesian island of Java; and lay volunteer Katrin Weiss from Germany.
“As Missionary Sisters we are ready to be sent wherever God wishes us to go,” Miller said. “This is actually coming home for me. I used to teach right here at St. Peter School 40 years ago.”
Miller said the women were each responsible for one of three age groups of the children — ages 5 to 12 — as well as a creative component.
“This week our theme was God’s Rainbow of Peace,” Miller said. “The sisters used music, art and drama to teach the children one biblical theme each day this week. There was also a Bible story for each day. Monday they were taught that they are special with the theme of creation. Tuesday was about friendship. Wednesday was about forgiveness. Thursday’s theme was joy and today’s was peace. Each of these elements are important for peace.”
Kudo was the music teacher and served as homeroom teacher for the middle group; David taught art and supervised the youngest children; Weiss taught drama and led the oldest students; and Liliek assisted David.
“I got in touch with the sisters at the beginning of the year,” Thomas said. “Sister Mary came to Pine Bluff and saw the need here and she organized the week’s activities. I wanted the children in this community to get exposure to other cultures. The more they are exposed the more open they become. It is all about making this a better place for the people who live here.”
Thomas was pleased with the number of children participating in the program.
“A lot of these children are not even Catholic but the point is to better the lives of as many people as possible,” Thomas said. “We have a number of Hispanic families who brought their children from St. Justin [Catholic Mission] in Star City. We also have children from St. Raphael [Catholic Church] here in Pine Bluff and some from St. Peter.”
Kudo said that she has taught music for a while.
“But this is my first experience teaching music in English,” Kudo said with a kind smile.
David arrived in the United States five years ago as a refugee from the Sudanese conflict.
“I joined the congregation in 2008,” David said. “I have worked with special-needs children and the disabled. This is my third time working with kids in Bible school. The other two times were in Mississippi.”
Liliek said that before joining the Missionary Sisters she was a nurse in Indonesia.
“I have been with the Sisters for eight years now,” Liliek said. “This is actually my first experience working with children but I love it.”
The children performed several songs, skits and other exercises in the St. Peter Church sanctuary at the conclusion of the Bible school. The performance was attended by family members.
Kudo taught the children a series of stretching exercises that were very evocative of eastern cultures.
The children also learned how to meditate, which Miller said is useful for both prayer and homework.
“Usually young children tend to be wiggly but you can see how calm they were,” Miller said. “They were taught to make their bodies still to be in a prayerful posture but this can also be used to help them to do their homework.”