When I was very young, my parents heard of a new idea for children during summer when school was not in session. It was aptly called Vacation Bible School. They jumped in with enthusiasm, being teachers themselves. They called on Brother W. C. Reeder, the minister of the church in nearby Portland, to assist. He had started a Vacation Bible School at the Portland church and was delighted that the Clearview congregation wanted to have a VBS, too. Where Steve went to church in Bedford, Indiana, they had a 2-week Vacation Bible School, but I only remember ours being one week—one glorious week.
Mother and Daddy organized our small country church so that we had teachers for all ages and a crew for serving refreshments half way through the morning. We were able to use the rooms in the country school across the road, and so could accommodate children from miles around. Everyone invited their neighbors’ children and the children loved the relief from summer boredom and chores. The teachers got together flannelgraph pictures and all sorts of posters and crafts that came with the curriculum they purchased from the Gospel Advocate.
Bro. Reeder knew lots of new children’s songs that we’d never heard. Actually, until he came to Clearview, the only ones I remember singing were “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” He taught us “This Little Christian Light of Mine,” “The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock,” “Peter, James, and John in a Sailboat,” “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy,” and others. Some he’d even made up himself to the tune of familiar hymns. One I remember is “Daniel Was a Man of Prayer,” to the tune of “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.” He printed the words in colored chalk on large blackboards and in the small building we could see them easily. Each song got a different colored chalk so he didn’t have to waste space between songs. I guess that was the old-school version of PowerPoint slides!
After 30 minutes of raucous singing, we would go to our classes. Each age had its own teacher. We’d be with her (always a woman, partly because in that country community all the men were working in the fields) for 30-40 minutes, then we’d have recess time. Long trestle tables held our refreshments, usually cookies and Kool-Aid. Once a week we’d have popsicles, the best treat of all.
So, over sixty years later, Steve and I are still working in Vacation Bible School. (I love it when we see our parents in ourselves and our children in us–in good ways, of course!) Our theme is “Joseph of Egypt: From Prison to Palace.” Steve is either Joseph or a guard, depending on what other men are available that day. I have two roles: I am a shopkeeper in ancient Egypt, teaching children how to write their names in hieroglyphics and put them on a cartouche. Then after they’ve gone to see Joseph and visited a couple of shops, music time or the playground, and snacks, I meet with the same group each day to review what they learned that day. We talked about the continuing story of Joseph and how it relates to their lives. Monday’s point was “God gives us hope.” Tuesday was “God gives everyone special abilities.” Today, “God gives us wisdom.” My childhood VBS stressed stories and songs. We still have those, but we also stress Bible truths such as these.
The church building looks like a different place with all the pyramids, camels, a sarcophagus, and other artifacts to make us think we’ve been transported. It all looks fabulous. We’ve done a lot and another congregation shared what they’d made for a previous week, so we have an abundance of Egyptian décor.
Who’s to say which way is better? We still meet at the beginning and the end to sing and review the story. We have dozens of people involved in the whole process. The children love it. I enjoy not having to teach a new lesson each day, but I also miss the daily extended contact with one group of children.
And each year they learn the new songs that came with the curriculum materials. And those songs endure—a least a few of them. We still sing “My God is So Big” from a VBS in the 80s, and others as well. Song leaders draw from their own memory banks to lead songs from their childhood.
And it all works. Never perfect in a worldly sense, but always perfect in attitude and mindset to glorify God. Our director is a whirlwind, a force of nature, a blessing to all. She makes it all work.
Many churches have gone to evening VBS, or Sunday-Wednesday VBS, or none at all. Each congregation must do what works for them. But I’m glad that we can still have the summer morning Vacation Bible School I recall from my childhood. We are blessed to have enough workers available to do it, whether retirees, teachers, workers on flexible time, or stay-at-home moms.
Praise God for these people who will give so much of their time—far beyond each morning for five days—to serve and teach children about God!