God made you. “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex.” (Psalm 139:14)
God is for you. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
God is always with you. “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
God will always love you. “Your unfailing love will last forever.” (Psalm 89:2)
God made you for a reason. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Last night ended one of the longest but most rewarding weeks of our family’s summer:
Vacation Bible School at First English!
(The statements above are the lesson points for each of the five nights of VBS.)
My wife, Kari, and I both serve as instructors at different stations where the various groups of kids rotate through each night. By the end of the mere two hours of leading groups you are left exhausted, but also left with a sense of peace and thankfulness.
It’s really amazing to see how much work goes into putting on a VBS each year and how many people contribute to making it a success. Preparations start months in advance. The week before the program is spent setting up all of the props/scenery. Instructors prepare their lessons for each night and gather supplies. Volunteers prepare the service projects the kids complete during the program to help others in need.
And that’s just a start! The church’s praise band, Stained Glass, provides live music for the program opening and closing each night. A huge crew of volunteers serves as leaders for the 15 different groups of kids who go from one activity to another each night. Kitchen staff prepares snacks for all the kids to enjoy about halfway through the program (on top of serving a meal each night before the program starts to all the staff members and their families). Additionally, we have a variety of congregants who show up to help randomly throughout the week or specifically for the setup/teardown work.
And of course, none of this would happen without our amazing youth leader, Raylee Brown. God has blessed this woman with seemingly unlimited energy and drive. (And a very healthy dose of patience, too!) She leads the whole effort and more or less lives at the church for several weeks in order to pull this off.
It is truly a labor of love. And it shows.
We ended up having 50-60 kids this year who attended; I don’t have the exact figures. That’s 50-60 young people with whom we were able to share the love of God and promise of Christ this week. We have a lot of participation from our own congregation. However, we are making a deliberate point to reach out to neighbors in our church building’s neighborhood, the Peoria East Bluff. Each year, we have lots of kids from the area join us, and it was even more so this year. It was wonderful!
I instruct a portion of the program called “Bible Adventures.” The objective is to take the Bible story and lesson of the day and make it into something interactive so that we “relive” the story rather than just hear it. We have a lot of fun in my rotation, but it can be hard to compete with other parts of the program like “Kid Vid Cinema” and “Games!” Keeping the kids’ attention is a challenge, both with younger and older ones and their levels of “energy” vary from night-to-night.
As we get towards the end of our session, I really try to drive home the key lesson. Throughout the night, I make a point to not “kidiefy” the message, but still make it appropriate for their age. I speak with the kids honestly and frankly. You can tell they appreciate not having things “dumbed down” or being talked to “like little kids.”
There are nights where the Holy Spirit really makes her presence known.
You can see it in the faces of the kids. They’re not scrambling around on the floor or looking around. They look directly at me as I speak to them. When I share the promises God has made to us–to love each of us, without any merit of our own, forever–you can see their expressions soften, their eyes get a little wider and brighter, and room takes on a calmness that at any other time in the night simply cannot exist. You can tell they’re listening and you can tell the Spirit is working in them.
As if that were not enough or a reward, I had a few different kids I hadn’t known previously come up to me and ask for a high-five and thank me or run up and catch me by surprise with a big hug at the end of our last session.
Maybe I read too deep into it, but if God was able to use me to bring even a small bit of faith or peace to one kid, I’ll be back to VBS year after year after year!