” 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children[a] among you.”
1 Thessalonians 2: 6-7a
Vacation. That is a word we hear frequently this time of year. Families are planning and taking vacations. Co-workers are on vacation, leaving envious employees behind. Worship attendance is notoriously lower as congregants vacate the pews in favor of vacation or just a summer break from church. It happens!
Churches also advertise their Vacation Bible School programs heavily during the summer as they gear up to welcome in large and small groups of children who are eager for games, crafts, music, and hopefully a little bit of God’s love. VBS programs are a major undertaking in even the smallest churches. There are materials to gather, volunteers to recruit, meals to plan, halls to decorate, lessons to organize, and so much more. There never seems to be enough time or help. It can be an exhausting experience for all involved in the VBS process. It can also be an incredibly rewarding event for both volunteers and children.
Our church kicks off our VBS program tonight. We are doing Cokesbury’s Operation Overboard, where kids can “Go Deep with God.” Our director and co-director have done a fabulous job getting things organized this year and have worked very hard preparing. I am confident that the children who come through our doors will experience God’s love and grace in deep ways and will have a blast doing so.
As I was helping transform our church into an underwater adventure on Saturday I had a few moments to reflect on the VBS process while nursing Kasen. I had seen the weariness of our leader and other volunteers who were helping prepare the church and materials for the week-long event. It caused me to think about the other times I had either led or helped with a VBS event, and how tiring the preparation process and event were. I felt God nudging at me to reflect on something more, but I just wasn’t sure what. I decided to pray for our current VBS and all those helping out, and especially for the children who we were trying to reach. As I prayed, God brought to mind one particular VBS I had organized.That VBS was a very special one. It took place in Rio Bravo, Mexico on a mission trip with the church Aaron and I were working at in Norman, OK. I recalled being so excited to be in charge of such an important part of the mission trip. The children! As I thought about the preparations I made for that VBS, I couldn’t help but compare the stark differences to the current preparation taking place for our current VBS.
For the Rio Bravo mission trip VBS I was allowed to fill two 26inx18x6 plastic containers with all the materials and decorations I would need for a multi-day program. I didn’t know how many kids I would have or how many days I would be able to put on the VBS. I also had to figure in various age levels and a language barrier, although I was blessed to have two wonderful young men as interpreters. I still wanted to be able to communicate the message of God’s love to them myself, and in their own language. So I packed my totes as full as I could of paper, various craft supplies, stickers, crayons, small prizes, and snacks. I learned how to sing “Jesus Loves Me,” and play Duck, Duck, Goose in Spanish. It felt so paltry compared the the large VBS events I had prepared before.
But it was enough!
When our group arrived on site where we were building the house and hosting the VBS, the smiles on the kids’ faces were priceless, and they only got bigger as the week progressed. My two little totes were more than enough to supply our material needs, and God more than supplied the grace and love to reach deep into the hearts of the kids. The simple crafts we made out of paper plates, string, popsicle sticks, and stickers became treasured possessions to these children who are used to not having enough. I was even shown “treasures” that some of them had made in previous years when churches put on a VBS. Even more than making things or playing games, these children wanted to sit on my lap, hold my hands, listen to me tell stories about how special they are, and be listened to. They wanted to matter and to be known. That was the true treasure of the week. The pure joy the children demonstrated at such a simple few days will always be a hallmark in ministry for me.
So often I think we can get caught up in creating this spectacular environment in our church and pulling off a smooth VBS that we lose a little focus on the true treasures of the week; the childrewn and the job of loving them. We have the luxury and benefit of being able to create amazing events for children and that is a wonderful gift that helps draw kids in. I’m the first to admit that I love to go big when it comes to VBS. I even have a VBS board on Pinterest. I just hope we all can remember to focus on the call to share God’s love in the simple things such as a held hand, a hug, or a pat on the back as being just as important. Sometimes less is more than enough.