By Lesli Nolen
Published August 2013
For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
—2 Timothy 1:7
This verse and a roller coaster are the theme for this year’s Vacation Bible School at the church we attend, Harris Avenue Baptist Church.
With the hallways and classrooms decorated we prepare for a week of Bible study, games, songs, snacks and prayer. We usually average around 100 kids ages 4-18. Most VBS’s do not include high school-aged kids, but we have done so the past two years. Last year we averaged 12 high school youths and look forward to at least that many this year. It’s exciting to see the older kids coming in with the same excitement as the younger children.
We begin each night with a short video that relates to the Bible verse and theme. We say the pledge of allegiance to the flags and Bible then close in prayer before breaking into groups. The youth, or older kids group, breaks off and goes upstairs to the youth room. There we have tables, chairs, ping pong table and art supplies. We start off with a little game to get everyone comfortable. We then begin our Bible study. Having older kids, we are allowed different time restraints. We still rotate stations, but not as quickly as we do with the younger kids’ group. Our youth Bible study is usually 30 – 40 minutes of active participation. We then have arts and crafts time, snacks, songs and prayer time. We are blessed to have the space upstairs so we can implement a whole VBS series.
This year was extra special for our youth kids. We had missionaries from the Ukraine join us for an evening. Slavik and Sasha told many amazing stories of how God has been important in their life, from allowing them to be able to start a church to their being united as husband and wife. They related how God and prayer were the reason for all things they share. Our kids really enjoyed listening to their stories and seeing how real God is in their life.
Most churches hold their Vacation Bible School, or VBS, sometime during the summer months. It is usually a week long event that focuses on religious eduction and activities for children.
Vacation Bible School all started back in1894, when a Sunday school teacher by the name of D.T. Miles, who was also a public school teacher in Hopedale, Ill., felt like she was limited time-wise in teaching Bible stories to children. So she started a daily Bible school during the summer. Her first Bible study enrolled 40 students and lasted four weeks.
Eliza Hawes, director of the children’s department at Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City began teaching an “Everyday Bible School” in 1898. Hawes continued to teach the children in a rented out beer parlor for seven years in New York’s East Side.
Dr. Robert Boville of the Baptist Mission Society became aware of Hawes’ summer program and recommended it to other Baptist churches. He then started a handful of summer programs taught by students at the Union Theological Seminary. During one summer, 1,000 students were enrolled in five different schools. In 1922 he founded the World Association of Daily Bible School. In 1923, one year later, Standard Publishing produced the first ever printed VBS curriculum. Material was provided for a five-week course on three age levels (kindergarten, primary and junior).
Many churches today hold their own themed VBS without being under the umbrella of the national organization. And there is usually no fee for kids to participate in a VBS program.
In our church, after a week of Bible study, songs, arts and crafts and prayer the children get to perform what they have learned for their parents, grandparents and friends on the final night. They present the flags, say the pledges, sing songs and watch a slide show of pictures we have taken of them all week, and then close in prayer. Many of the kids will hug you and tell you they can’t wait until next year. We have seen many children grow through the years of VBS—another reason we implemented the youth VBS. We want them to come back year after year.
Again, God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and sound mind. He gave us His spirit to live in us. If one child comes away believing this, all our hard work is worth it and, most importantly, God gets the glory.
I attended VBS many years growing up. Not much has changed. It’s a time to learn about God, meet new people and be reminded of how much God truly loves us. Sometimes, the week of VBS is the only time a child hears about the love of God. I’m so thankful to be a part of such a wonderful group at Harris Ave. It was an awesome week!