by JoJo McGuire
I recently had the privilege of taking my 5th grade daughter to Vacation Bible School (VBS). For those of you who do not know about VBS, it is a weeklong “school” in which children attend a few hours per day, normally at night, and learn about the Bible and Jesus. (It also helps the parents have a few hours away from their children since it is during summer vacation.) Kids normally learn a passage from the Bible each day and hear stories that reinforce the chosen passage. They also learn a LOT of songs. These songs, often sung as loudly as possible, help reinforce the lesson of the day and the message of the week. Normally it is comprised of “Jesus Loves You- You Should Do as Jesus Asks- Love Each Other- Obey Your Parents-Pray Every Night.” And, best of all, VBS is free.
Watching the closing of each day’s lessons, I couldn’t help but think back to my own experiences of VBS. With seven kids in my family, my parents had to try to entertain us as cheaply as possible. During the summer, that became harder and harder to do as the days wore on. There were only so many games of kick the can, tag, and hide and seek that could be played. By the end of June, we were bored. Enter VBS.
My parents would load the youngest five of us into a van the size of a freight truck, cart us to that year’s chosen VBS and send us on our way. My siblings and I listened as my parents drove off, their muffler heard a mile away, hoping that we would at least be put in the same groups. Most of the time we were separated. It didn’t matter though. We always had fun. Heck, I continued to go to VBS and church camp until I was a sophomore in high school and got a job.
Although those who know me do not believe it, I was always a shy person. But in VBS, you don’t have a chance to be shy or introverted. You are immediately divided up into age appropriate groups and herded off to play, have a snack, learn, make new friends and develop crushes. I can remember to this day the feeling of camaraderie that was developed, the friends made, and the promises to stay in contact. (Much harder back then than it is now.) The whole process of VBS is to show kids that they are not alone and that they can learn about God, Jesus and the Bible and still have fun in life. I did not realize it at the time but I do now. It was a great experience that I am glad my parents took us to each year.
Remembering all of these experiences and feelings, I could not help but smile as I pulled into the church lot and saw my daughter running around, smiling and laughing, ponytail flying behind her. I noticed that most of the kids in her group were new and she probably did not know them. (She can be shy like I was and I am always amazed and grateful to see her outside of her comfort zone and interacting with others.) I arrived a few minutes early so I took in the scene. There were at least 50 kids attending that night and they were all giggling, shrieking and playing. I wondered if my daughter had developed any crushes. (She is at the age where she does not tell me much about that anymore.)
As they were herded into the sanctuary, I noticed that all of the VBS leaders were teenagers with a few college kids sprinkled in. This is a new concept; one that I think is great. The church asks a youth group from an affiliated church in another state to help run VBS with some college students. They stay at the church all week and are chaperoned by a few adults. I think of how much easier it is for the kids to relate to other young adults. My daughter proves this every night, talking about her youth leaders and the new friends she has made.
As I listened to the closing part of the “school” for the day, I was grateful that the VBS was not run as a fear factory. I have heard stories of people leaving other VBS in tears; afraid that they or their parents will burn in hell. I do not want religion “scared” into anyone. It should be explained and taught. Why scare a child into fearing something which should be loved and respected?
At my daughter’s VBS, they end with a recap of the day’s lesson and Bible verse followed by a youth group member “witnessing” or explaining how they came to be a Christian. No Hell Fire and Brimstone from an adult looking down physically on a child, just straight talk from one kid to another. Then, the last “leader” speaks. He is a college student who immediately jumps to his feet and tells everyone to jump up and grab their air guitars. All of the students scream and do as they are told. The music starts and all of the kids and leaders start into the loudest rendition of a church song I have ever heard. They are smiling, laughing and singing at the top of their lungs. Even the parents are enjoying the show.
This is how it should be in church. Kids having fun. Not being told that others are going to Hell if they don’t believe. Singing, not chastising. Laughing, not crying. The whole time learning, not being lectured to. I hope she will remember this fondly: the friends, the leaders and the songs. Watching her brings back memories.