Helping children learn who Jesus is, receive Him as their personal Savior and hide God’s Word in their hearts while having a great time is the goal of Vacation Bible School.
At Mason Dixon Baptist Church in New Freedom, Pa., VBS director Susan Ester takes all that fun very seriously.
“Our kids love VBS,” Ester said. “In fact, our whole community loves VBS.”
Lifeway offers a full line of resources for Vacation Bible School each year.
Ester and her cadre of volunteers work for weeks before VBS happens, creating decorations, getting snack ideas, learning music and motions, seeking donations from local businesses and getting ready to welcome children with a wonderful razzle-dazzle.
This year Mason Dixon welcomed almost 200 children to their VBS; only about one-third were “church kids.”
“Our VBS has a great reputation in the area,” said Pastor Terry Felton. “Parents expect great things for their kids from the church. Their children have fun and learn about Jesus. Susan is so passionate about VBS that everyone here catches it.”
Fun and a little frantic
Laura Martin and Rick Lewis worked with the 4- and 5-year-olds. Lewis has worked with that age group for years and Martin has been with them for three years.
“These kids are so fun,” she said. “They get really excited about everything. Really excited! It’s a little like herding cats, but in a good way.”
When the children all gathered together in the sanctuary for the daily opening and closing sessions, their enthusiasm for the music and memory verse showed. The singing was loud and energetic. The memory verse — “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Jesus Christ.” Romans 10:17 (HCSB) — was learned quickly and said with determination.
“It’s really easy for the children to learn the memory verse. It’s words they know and understand,” Ester said. “Jeff [Slaughter] incorporates it into the music so not only do they get to say it, they get to sing it and that helps them memorize it.”
Ester also tries to make the family night fun for the kids and for their parents.
This year, she invited North American Mission Board missionary Andrew Mann and his dog Proof to come for family night. Mann was featured in the VBS mission portion. He heads up Graffiti 2 Ministries in New York’s South Bronx.
The mission offering donated by the children and their parents — more than $2,000 — was given to Mann to use in his work. The children also collected dog treats and toys for Proof.
“I think Proof will have a year’s supply of dog treats,” Ester said.
Training makes all the difference
Ester is completely sold on the idea of getting VBS training every year.
“My goodness, why wouldn’t anyone go to VBS training if they could,” she said. “First of all, most of the training is free! You get the opportunity to learn from Lifeway’s VBS people and your state convention VBS leaders. You get the chance to talk with VBS leaders from other churches and pick their brains about what they are doing. You can even find other churches in your area that will swap decorations with you. I just think it’s crazy not to take advantage of at least some of the training opportunities!”
The hundreds of training events, many of them done at no charge, sets Lifeway’s VBS apart from the rest, according to Jerry Wooley, Lifeway’s VBS specialist.
“Our VBS team here at Lifeway trains state convention VBS teams; then they train associational VBS teams, who in turn, go on to train local church VBS teams,” he said. “Getting the training is the key to having confidence and getting ideas for your own VBS.”
Ester and her “right hand,” Kelly Dean, have been to Lifeway’s home office in Nashville, Tenn., for the VBS Preview training events. This year the New York Metro Baptist Association offered two VBS site visits for VBS leaders and Ester and Dean were able to go to New York and see the Big Apple first hand.
“Seeing the places we were going to be ‘visiting’ in VBS made it all come alive even more,” Ester said. “While I was there I was able to pick up so many free things that I worked into the decorations, like subway cards, subway maps and little souvenir items.”
The whole shebang
Ester and Dean are deliberate in choosing and creating the decorations, music, crafts, stories and everything else.
“It’s so important that we do VBS well,” said Dean. “We want this whole week to be about the kids learning about Jesus.”
Using the whole Lifeway VBS curriculum makes doing VBS easy.
“The people at Lifeway who put all this together make sure that everything works together to present the gospel to the kids in a way they can understand,” Ester said.
“I know there are some people who leave out one part or another, maybe to save money or something, but they are losing an opportunity,” she continued. “The music leads into the missions; the missions leads into the recreation; the recreation leads into the snack time. Every piece is important.”
Upcoming training in 2012
Ester and Dean already have made plans to attend one of the VBS Preview events Jan. 27-28 in Nashville. Other previews will be Jan. 6-7 at Lifeway Ridgecrest Conference Center; Jan 13-14 in Fort Worth, Texas; Jan. 26-27 in Nashville; and Feb. 17-18 in Kissimmee, Fla. Go to Lifeway.com/VBS to register for the preview events.
by Polly House, Communications Department