Before the summer of 2009, I had not once been in charge or even participated in Vacation Bible School as an adult helper. That is my confession. I attended Vacation Bible School as a child, and I ate my fair share of Hydrox cookies and drank a decent amount Wyler's tropical punch out of tiny Dixie cups... just enough in those to make you want more. But at VBS, no refills. VBS workers were usually frazzled and kind of grumpy. I don't think I ever even asked for more. I will tell you, though, attending VBS as a child does not make one an expert in VBS directing. I learned this the hard way during the summer of 2009.
Several years before, though, I was a full-time mommy to my sweet nephews, and they attended VBS at a church in our small Tennessee hometown. After night number one, they came home with little headbands that were stamped with the Jewish symbols of their assigned tribes. Each night, they went to VBS and put on little robes and belts and traveled back in time to the city of Bethlehem. They came home each night talking about the fun they had, and carrying little boxes and crafts they had made. On the last night, I went with them, and I experienced the busy marketplace, complete with bread making and a jewelry shop and an outdoor petting zoo. At the end of the week, we attended a special VBS service where the kids, dressed in costume, filled the aisles and sang a song based on Deuteronomy 6:5. By the time they were finished, I was crying (kids singing almost always does this to me), and I was sold on Vacation Bible School and the impact it could have on kids.
Summer of 2009. I did enough research to find out that Group Publishing created the Bethlehem program that my kids had attended. Looking into Group's newer programs, I was thrilled at the program. I loved the music, the fact that the program was titled "Easy VBS". I had no idea what I was doing. Easy was all I could do. I decided to adopt a "Fake it till you make it" attitude, and so I ordered the kit for Crocodile Dock, and I muddled my way through that first program. We followed the directions, built the set, learned a few songs, and by golly, we had VBS. Sixty-five kids showed up. Games were played, the gospel was presented, kids were saved, and no one was injured or permanently maimed. I called it a success.
Summer of 2010. Egypt. We decided to go with something a little more complex. We bought excessive amounts of foam board. We built an Egyptian city with paint and foam board and pop up canopies. Our church people gathered together, and we made Egypt happen. There were costumes and Cleopatra eyes everywhere you looked. The kids made bricks out of mud and straw. They weaved baskets. They sat and watched as the palace magician amazed them with his tricks. They decorate black collars with jewels, and played a real Egyptian Senet game, which, by the way, might be the most boring game in the world. But it all worked together beautifully to tell the story of Joseph, of his journey from the prison to the palace, to tell of God's purpose and plan for each of our lives. Each night we stood around a city center fountain made of cinder blocks and blue cellophane, and kids and adults alike sang out "How Great is our God" to the one true God that our Egyptian friends knew nothing about. Our kids learned to be a witness to our "Egyptian" marketplace shopkeepers.
And here we are again. It's that time of year. VBS starts on Monday, and I could not be more excited. This year's theme is simple. It involves Pandas and Psalm 139. Our church is decorated with lanterns and cardboard pandas and enough paper to be hazardous in case of fire. And while I can't wait for the kids to arrive on Monday evening, my favorite part of VBS has already taken place.
In the business of children's ministry, I usually work alone. I rarely have adult help on Sunday mornings. I spend my days in an office, preparing lessons that no one older than twelve will ever hear. And our children's ministry isn't large enough to necessitate a huge number of helpers, so most of the time, I am content to function with one or two people by my side**. But this time of year, I can't go it alone. That was what I learned the summer of 2009. And so last year I asked for help. Begged, even. And I got it. Our church people pulled together to sew costumes, purchase supplies, measure and build and paint. A women with a walker came in and sat at a table, creating 90 name tags and attached them to lanyards. Everyone got involved.
This year was no different. I begged, people responded. Everyone worked together. Our program is not as complicated as last year's. It didn't require as many hands or supplies. But my favorite part of Vacation Bible School is seeing our church people come together to use the diverse gifts that God has given them. We have incredibly talented people, and when everyone allows God to use their talents, beautiful things happen. In the past week, we have had three official work days and today served as an unofficial one. But working side by side with people that I usually see in the hallways on Sunday morning, people I run past as I am rushing to get from the church van to my Sunday School class to the choir to the Kids Church room and then back to the church van, I feel very blessed. I am not working alone. We all get to be a part of this.
Our church is almost finished in its transformation into a panda-filled bamboo forest. The main set lacks just a few small details, and the classrooms look more like China than China does. And on Monday night, I am praying that we will be bombarded with 100 kids to fill those classrooms. We will tell them about how much God loves them and that He listens to them. My prayer is that little lives are changed, and I believe they will be. But I have already been blessed and encouraged by the willingness of people, my church family, to work together. So thank you, TBC, for giving me a job and then making it easy for me to do it.
*Okay, so maybe it was just one confession.
** I'm talking 'bout you, Katie Schooling.